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The importance of protein for endurance athletes

April 03, 2020 4 min read

The importance of protein for endurance athletes

Summary: Amount and types of protein for endurance athletes

When it comes to fuelling and recovery for endurance sports, the importance of protein is undervalued. A recent study has shown that long-standing protein recommendations were underestimating the importance of protein for endurance athletes. If you are a runner, a triathlete, or a endurance swimmer, you need to eat enough protein.

So what is protein and why do you need it? As a macronutrient, protein performs structural and functional roles within the body. It also serves as a minor fuel source during endurance exercise. Protein is needed for the repair of muscles and connective tissues, including ligaments and tendons. These tissues are subject to damage and breakdown through their repetitive and sustained use during endurance training. Trail running may increase protein requirements even further. This is due to the extra damage caused the body by tackling challenging downhill and uphill courses. We don’t need to tell you about the extra impact this has on joints and the additional muscle recruitment required! As a fuel source, it is estimated that protein can contribute between 5-10% of energy used while running. This further contributes to the increased protein needs of endurance athletes.

How much protein do endurance athletes need?

Previous protein recommendations for endurance athletes were based on nitrogen balance studies. Based on these studies, protein recommendations were given as 1.6g/kg body weight per day for elite athletes, and as little as 0.8-1g/kg body weight per day for recreational endurance athletes. This is only slightly above the recommendations for sedentary individuals at only 0.7g/kg of body weight per day. However, a 2015 study found that even recreational endurance athletes require at least 1.65g of protein per kg of body weight per day. This level of protein intake will optimize your recovery and reduce chances of injury. In return this will support ongoing participation in your sport and reduce lengthy downtime due to injury.

How can I eat enough protein?

If you are an endurance athlete, the amount of time you spend training can create significant challenges when it comes to your nutrition. Studies indicate that 10-20% of endurance athletes are not meeting their daily protein requirements. While no one disputes that consuming fresh food is optimal, it is not always possible or convenient. For this reason athletes might benefit from high quality protein supplements such as Whey Protein Isolate . For those who find it difficult to eat enough food at all, combined protein-carbohydrate supplements such as a Muscle Gainercould help with this.

What are the best proteins for recovery?

Recovery from an endurance training or events involves rehydration, refueling and repair of tissues. Recovery is optimized by consuming protein in combination with carbohydrate, within one hour of training or your event. This combination of macronutrients increases the rate at which muscles are repaired. An insulin spike stimulates muscle tissue to uptake amino acids at a faster rate. Ingested carbohydrate begins the refueling process by replenishing glycogen stores.

For the time poor athlete, whey protein isolate added to skim milk provides a combination of protein, carbohydrate, electrolytes and water. These are essential for recovery nutrition. Containing both leucine and carbohydrate, this will stimulate rapid uptake of amino acids and begin the rapid repair of muscles. For those with no access to milk or who have to avoid milk due to intolerances, try a Muscle Gainer made on water – it will provide the protein and carbohydrate you need to kick start your recovery.

The ability of your muscles to repair is heightened for 24 hours after you finish a significant training session or event, so ensuring that you are maintaining a protein intake of at least 1.6kg of protein per kg of body weight over the next day, will assist in the repair of your body. A protein supplement can help you meet this protein intake easily.

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Whey Isolate (100% WPI)-Protein Powder-VPA Australia
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Muscle Gainer-VPA Australia
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Whey Isolate (100% WPI)-Protein Powder-VPA Australia
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Muscle Gainer-VPA Australia
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The other roles of protein supplements for endurance athletes

Are you one of those athletes that finds yourself constantly hungry when training for an event? If so, you would know that it’s not uncommon to put on weight despite your huge training hours. Of all the macronutrients, protein is the most satiating. By making sure you include enough high quality protein sources each day, your appetite will be kept in check.

At the other end of the spectrum, some athletes find it difficult to eat the amount of energy they require to maintain a healthy body weight. This is where a Muscle Gainer can come in handy. One serve adds a much needed 240 calories, that can be consumed along-side or in between meals. If you don’t have access to milk, a muscle gainer will do the trick as it is a great combination of carbohydrate and protein. Depending on your training run, you may not need the full 60g serving size that those actively trying to gain muscle and mass need.

We hope this blog has helped explain the importance of protein for endurance athletes. If you think taking a protein powder will help you, VPA has your back! We have the best Australian protein and we sell it in 14 delicious flavours.

Sally Mitchell

Sally Mitchell (BSc, MHumNut) is a scientist, university qualified nutritionist and VPA staff member. She brings a nerdy love of numbers, data, and science wit her to VPA. Her favourite VPA product is coffee Breakfast Shake. She enjoys powerlifting and running but, sadly, does both poorly.

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