The Science behind Protein: Supplementation for the Endurance Athlete

Traditionally, endurance athletes solely supplemented their diet with carbohydrate powders in order to sustain their high energy requirements during high volumes of training. However, an increasing body of research suggests consuming protein following periods of prolonged endurance exercise and intense training can support recovery, and potentially enhance endurance performance. Therefore, protein is fast becoming a key nutrient in the endurance athlete’s nutrition plan.

Protein is a critical nutrient in the body and acts in both a structural and functional role. Structurally it is a key element of muscle, bone, ligaments and tendons while also playing a role in a wide range of metabolic interactions such as promoting a healthy immune system. In addition to this the endurance athlete requires protein to repair and remodel muscle proteins to support and improve strength and endurance capacity. Therefore, providing the endurance athlete with high quality protein at key times throughout the day will ensure delivery to the muscle to support recovery and these training adaptations, while also allowing the body to function optimally for health.

It is important to emphasise that whenever possible, runners should meet their unique individual nutrient needs through whole food that complements a healthy lifestyle. Supplementation is not designed to replace a well-designed nutritional plan, instead, its main role is to complement and support healthy nutritional practices.

The benefits of protein supplementation

Where supplementation can significantly benefit a runner, however, is during times of intense, prolonged endurance training. Research recommends an increased intake of protein of between 1.2-1.8g per kilogram of body weight for anyone who takes part in endurance exercise. This equates to 135g of protein for an average 75 kg person equivalent to approximately 4 ½ chicken filets. In fact anyone who exercises intensely for more than 60 minutes 3 times or more weekly should increase their intake of protein to support their body’s ability to recovery after the training session. In addition to their carbohydrate requirements to support training and performance, this represents a considerable amount of nutrients to consume derived purely from whole food. Consequently, supplementation provides an effective way of complementing good nutritional practices to meet the nutritional needs of active runners. Furthermore, while athletes might be able to meet their nutrient requirements during training with whole food, an additional important consideration is nutrient timing and quality. It’s not always possible to consume a meal at specific times directly after training to support recovery; therefore, supplementation provides an efficient and convenient way to achieve macronutrient targets. One 30g scoop of whey protein generally provides 25g of high quality protein similar to that found in a small chicken breast.

The benefits of protein supplementation

Where supplementation can significantly benefit a runner, however, is during times of intense, prolonged endurance training. Research recommends an increased intake of protein of between 1.2-1.8g per kilogram of body weight for anyone who takes part in endurance exercise. This equates to 135g of protein for an average 75 kg person equivalent to approximately 4 ½ chicken filets. In fact anyone who exercises intensely for more than 60 minutes 3 times or more weekly should increase their intake of protein to support their body’s ability to recovery after the training session. In addition to their carbohydrate requirements to support training and performance, this represents a considerable amount of nutrients to consume derived purely from whole food. Consequently, supplementation provides an effective way of complementing good nutritional practices to meet the nutritional needs of active runners. Furthermore, while athletes might be able to meet their nutrient requirements during training with whole food, an additional important consideration is nutrient timing and quality. It’s not always possible to consume a meal at specific times directly after training to support recovery; therefore, supplementation provides an efficient and convenient way to achieve macronutrient targets. One 30g scoop of whey protein generally provides 25g of high quality protein similar to that found in a small chicken breast.

References

 Jager R., 2017. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Protein and exercise.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28642676

Philips et al., 2012. Dietary protein requirements and adaptive advantages in athletes

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4913918/

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