Do runners need protein?

Running is an excellent way to improve overall health, fitness, and well-being. Its accessibility makes it an attractive option for many – all you need is a good pair of running shoes to get started. During the recent lockdowns, running’s popularity surged, with one sports retailer reporting a 218% increase in running shoe sales and a 243% boost in running apparel compared to the previous year.

Many new runners often ask about protein intake. Let’s explore the role of protein for runners and address some common questions.

Do runners need protein?

Yes, runners require adequate protein intake. While protein shakes are often associated with weightlifting, they can benefit all athletes, including runners. Protein is essential for muscle recovery and repair after exercise. Insufficient protein intake can lead to fatigue, increased injury risk, and hinder improvements in fitness and speed.

How much protein do runners need?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends:

  • Recreational athletes: 1 gram of protein per kg of body weight daily
  • Serious athletes: 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight daily

For example, a 64 kg (140 lb) recreational runner would need about 64g of protein per day, while a serious athlete of the same weight would require around 128g.

Will protein supplements cause weight gain?

For runners focused on weight loss, it’s important to maintain a calorie deficit – consuming fewer calories than you burn. As a general guideline, running burns approximately 100 calories per mile. Low-calorie protein powders can help support muscle recovery without significantly increasing calorie intake.

It’s a myth that protein supplements will make female runners bulky or overly muscular. While you may notice a slight weight increase when starting a new exercise routine, this is often due to increased muscle mass rather than body fat.

Timing of protein intake

The optimal timing for protein consumption is debated among sports scientists. Consider these options:

  1. Consume protein with quality carbohydrates about 2 hours before running
  2. Take a protein supplement within 1 hour after completing your run

Experiment to find what works best for your body and schedule!

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