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The Best Time for Protein

Your performance and recovery depend on getting this right.

When Olympic marathoner Shalane Flanagan sits down for post-run bison meatballs, she’s doing her body a big favour. Protein, made up of amino acids, is so important to muscle repair, recovery, and building that runners should have a greater portion of the nutrient after their workouts than at any other time of day, according to new research from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy), and the Dietitians of Canada. Indeed, instead of looking at general intake guidelines, runners should plan their daily protein consumption around their workouts–and readjust intake on days when they aren’t exercising. This, researchers say, will help your muscles become stronger and more adaptable to training.

“Protein helps repair damaged muscles to prevent injury and make you stronger”, says Kerryn Boogaard, a sports dietitian from Newcastle, NSW. “Stronger equals more speed and more endurance.”

Most runners should consume between 1.3 and 1.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight across the day. Although these relative amounts are important, research shows the distribution of this protein intake is key. “Aiming to consume 20-25 grams of good quality protein, such as that coming from dairy foods, quinoa, fish, poultry or beef, at each main meal and within 30 minutes of training to help to build and repair muscles effectively”, says Boogaard. This absolute quantity of good quality protein, scheduled four times a day is suitable for males and females of varying weights, some extra protein will also creep in via plant based options such as grain based foods.

Of course, as a runner, you still need a side of carbohydrates with your protein. In general, on easy run days, aim for around 3-5 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight. For higher-intensity training sessions, like intervals, or for long runs, have up to 7-10 grams per kilogram. “Fuelling and refuelling with carbohydrate around key sessions helps to improve training outcomes and assist in muscle recovery to back up for future sessions.”

 

GOOD SOURCES

These foods contain all nine essential amino acids crucial for muscle health.

CHIA SEEDS

A complete plant protein with 3 grams per tablespoon, these are a great mix-in for yoghurt or oats.

OILY FISH

Providing omega-3 fats and protein, 100g tin tuna and salmon provides around 20 grams of protein.

GREEK YOGHURT

High protein options such as Chobani plain yoghurt has 20g per 100g – this aids recovery thanks to its leucine, which your muscles love.

MEAT AND POULTRY

Choose lean meats: chicken breast or lean read meat. Sixty grams of cooked steak has 25 grams of protein.

QUINOA

1 cup of quinoa provides 8g of good quality protein with additional healthy fats and fibre. Pair with 50g of chicken or a small tin of legumes to completes requirements.

POWDER*

When time is tight, mix powder into a smoothie or yogurt. Choose brands with little sugar and few additives.*Check the label to make sure you are getting 20-25g of protein when using powders. Some manufactures recommended larger serving sizes than required. Try to choose powders with the Informed Sports certification.

SOYBEANS

These come in many forms, like edamame and tofu. A half cup of shelled edamame has 9 grams of protein.

 

RUN AND RECOVER

The guide below shows you how a female adult recreational runner can achieve a spread of adequate protein across the day within a well-balanced diet. Notice the variety of protein sources providing a range of vitamins and minerals. The bolded foods are sources of good quality that your muscles love.

On hard days, have a postrun snack with more protein. If you’re running long or doing speedwork, aim to have the higher amount of protein in your meal or snack; for easier runs, the lower amount. On rest days, divide your daily total protein intake evenly among meals and snacks.

Spread the rest of your protein needs across remaining meals and snacks to ensure that your body is able to absorb all the amino acids to build and repair muscles. Pairing protein with fat and carbs further nourishes your body and sustains your workouts.

Breakfast Rolled oats made on milk with an added dollop of Greek yoghurt, chopped nuts and strawberries
Snack Piece of fruit
Lunch 2 hard boiled eggs, 1 cup of quinoa, fresh herbs, chopped salads and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Pre-training snack approximately 2 hours before training

 

Having enough fuel (i.e. carbohydrate stores) in the tank is important for high intense interval sessions. Adjust the snack size depending on your needs.

 

A little protein pre-run makes amino acids available so your body doesn’t break down the protein in your muscles. Limit intake to 10 grams–the nutrient slows digestion, which could lead to GI troubles.

1-2 rice cakes topped with a spread of peanut butter, sliced banana and a drizzle of honey
Training 60 minute Interval session
Dinner

Within 30 min of training

 

Adjust the carbohydrate component (e.g. soba noodles) depending on your needs. Your muscles absorb higher amounts of protein and carbs up to 24 hours after your workout.

 

Small salmon fillet, stir-fried greens and soba noodles
Snack 200g natural or Greek yoghurt (e.g. Chobani) with seeds (e.g. sunflower, chia or pumpkin seeds) and mixed berries

 

This is a guide only and is based on a 65kg female recreational runner who is looking at maintaining her current body composition and recovering well from this training session.

 

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