Protein for Runners – Your Questions Answered

The topic of protein tends to bring up many questions among runners. Questions like: How much protein do I need when I am training? Will protein make me bulk up and put on weight? Does chocolate milk count as a protein recovery drink? What type of protein is best? Should I be taking a protein supplement?

It’s a lot to think about, but over the course of my next two articles I will shed some light on the topic of protein and get you all the answers you need to be confident in your nutrition plan and protein intake.

How Much Protein Do Runners Need to Train & Recover

The amount of protein a person needs when they are not training is .8 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) of body weight. Protein requirements increase when you are doing endurance or resistance training.

For optimal recovery during endurance training, 1.2 to 1.7 g of protein per kg of body weight is required

For muscle recovery during endurance training, 1.2 to 1.7 g of protein per kg of body weight is optimal. If you fail to consume enough protein when training hard, your body will break down muscle to fuel your body on training runs. The goal with running is to build and maintain lean muscle mass, not break it down for fuel.

To help you along, you can use these formulas to determine how much protein you personally need:

Converting Pounds (lbs) to kg
Divide your current weight in pounds by 2.2
Example: 160 pound male is (160/2.2=) 72.7 kg

Determining amount of protein you need
Weight in kg multiplied by recommended protein intake.
Example: (72.7kg X 1.4 g of protein) = 102 g of protein per day required for a 72.7 (160lb) runner

How To Use the Protein Range for Your Specific Training

If you are training for a 10k – 1/2 marathon

I would suggest starting at 1.2 g of protein per kg of body weight. If you feel great and recovery is happening quickly, then this is the perfect amount for you. If you are not recovering well, you may need additional protein while you are training, so increase your protein uptake to 1.5g per kg of bodyweight.

You can also fluctuate your protein intake based on the intensity of your training day. For example, on hard workout days, you can increase your protein intake to 1.5g while on easy recovery days or rest days, you can bring your protein intake to 1.2g.

Keep experimenting with slight increases in your protein intake until you notice a positive difference in your recovery rate.

If you are training for a marathon

I would suggest starting at 1.4 g of protein per kg body weight and apply the same process as the 10k-1/2 marathon group. Give yourself about a week at each protein level to determine if it is the right amount for you.
Now that you know how much protein you need, don’t feel like you have to watch every gram you consume. As long as you stay within a range of about +/- 10g of protein from the suggested amount for your body weight, your recovery will be fine.

Won’t Protein Cause Me to Put on Weight or Bulk Up?

All runners are hyper aware of their weight and body size. Most of us know that every pound counts, and additional pounds increase stress on our joints and require more energy with each mile we run. It’s also a common myth that carbohydrates are king and protein is for weightlifters.

However, protein, in and of itself, doesn’t increase muscle mass. Rather, heavy resistance training, in combination with a high protein diet, will increase muscle mass and weight.

Endurance training with the correct amount of protein will simply facilitate faster recovery and allow you to train harder on workout days by repairing and growing lean muscle mass. Is Chocolate Milk a Good Options?
Chocolate milk has been toted as a great recovery drink for runners, but is it really all it is cracked up to be? When you break down an 8 ounce glass of reduced fat chocolate milk nutritionally you get :

190 calories
5 g of fat
2 g fiber
24 g of sugar
7 grams of protein

This isn’t terrible, but chocolate milk does lack a few key amino acids essential for optimal recovery. Mainly, chocolate milk does not provide the body with the amino acid L-Glutamine, which can boosts the immune system and can help manage aches, pains, and soreness by reducing inflammation.

So, how does chocolate milk compare to a protein shake made with 1 cup almond milk, 1 scoop Vega Sport’s Vanilla protein powder, and .5 cup blueberries?

180 calories
3.5 g of fat
4 g of fiber
8 g sugar
26 g protein

In addition to having more than three times the amount of protein, less fat and 3 times less sugar, this specific protein shake offers 5,000 micrograms of L-glutamine. Calorie for calorie, the protein shake with blueberries is a healthier recovery drink than chocolate milk.

If it is the chocolate you crave, there are plenty of options of high quality protein powders, supplements, and milk alternatives that come in a chocolate flavor.

Do I Need A Protein Supplement?

Determining whether or not to take a protein supplement depends on what your traditional days look like. Here is a typical 2500 calorie day, for a160 pound male, who runs moderately (5 days a week), but works a sedentary job.

Morning Run
Grande Iced Caffe Latte + 1 c. Oatmeal & fruit = 16 g protein
Tuna Salad Sandwich + chips + Banana = 29g
protein Apple + 2 tbsp Peanut butter = 8 g protein
5oz Baked Chicken Tenders + 1 c. Brown Rice + 1 c. Steamed Vegetable = 25 g protein
1/2 c. Ice Cream = 4g protein

Total Protein: 82 g

As you can see, 82g of protein is 20g of protein less than the 160 pound man in this scenario needs to consume.

If this 20 g protein deficit continues over a series of days, his body will not be able to rebuild or repair the muscle fibers and he will start to lose muscle mass. He may notice an increase in general fatigue and a slowing of his typical easy run and workout pace.

Obviously, these are outcomes runners desperately want to avoid. Adding a protein shake or a protein bar is an easy fix for this protein deficit diet. Here is a menu suggestion or sample runner might consider.

Morning Run
Protein + Almond Milk + Blueberries = 26 g protein
Grande Iced Caffe Latte + 1 c. Oatmeal & fruit = 16 g protein
Tuna Salad Sandwich + chips + banana = 30 g protein
Apple + 2 tbsp Peanut butter = 8 g protein
5oz Baked Chicken Tenders + 1 c. Brown Rice + 1 c. Steamed Vegetable = 25 g protein
Total Protein: 105 g protein

If adding a shake takes too much time in your busy schedule, try mixing some protein into your morning oatmeal and grabbing a protein bar for a snack. See the article I wrote on Healthy Energy Bars for Runners to find the bar that fits best with your daily diet and nutritional requirements.

As you can see, getting enough protein to match the amount of running you are doing is very important, and it is something that often takes some planning. A typical diet doesn’t always supply enough protein for the serious runner.

Next week, I will share some of the important differences between the many protein supplements available on the market, and offer a couple of my favorite protein based smoothie recipes that you may want to try, so stay tuned!

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20 Responses on “Protein for Runners – Your Questions Answered

  1. I run twice a weak of 4 km in each workout. I have been doing this since i was 16 and i am 20 now. 60 kg and 165 tall. You wrote about 10K and more but not less. I am wondeing if i should take protien shakes for running 4 km? Because i feel that i
    I feel that i am thinner than i should be and i think i am not taking the reauired protiens that my body needs. My body always tired and lazy the day after running.

    • Hi Abdul,
      This is a great question. At your current body size, according to the BMI measurement, you are considered a healthy weight. As long as you are eating a balanced diet, your body should be able to handle 4km twice a week just fine. However, if you feel like you are thinner than you should be or would like to be and you are fatigued after your run, adding a protein shake post run, in addition to everything you are eating now would be a great option. If you are not a fan of protein shakes, simply increase the high protein foods in your current diet is another great option.

  2. Hello
    I am 43 year old man that works in the oil and gas industry on a small tug boat. I am 97Kg and 6″1 and have a muscular frame. I am at sea for 5 weeks at a time and live in very confined spaces with little or no room for training. I do 90 push ups per day in my cabin consisting of 3 sets of 14-10-6. ( using a Push up rotational handles which rotate to the left and right on the downward and upward movements)
    1xregular
    1x Narrow
    1x Wide
    We have now set up a treadmill in the tool room with just enough headroom and I run 3km in 18 min per day. I do not eat a lot of sugar but find myself craving it and lately have been binging on biscuits at night. I work 12 per day seven day per week for five weeks .
    Do I need a protein shake and on my 5 weeks off will i reduce the intake if my training is not as consistent?
    Your feed back is appreciated.
    Kind Regards
    Mike.

    • Hard to say without knowing your current dietary intake, Mike. While your exercise routines sounds like it is less than you do when not on the boat, you’re definitely working hard and long hours, which might be burning more calories than usual.

  3. Hello Coaches :)

    I run 7.5 miles x 5 days a day and I am upping the ante to 8.0 miles x 5 days from next week, I am 5’7 and weigh 122lbs. I take 72 gms of protein with around 400 mls of milk. I was wondering whether I should continue with the shakes (I think I am getting a bit chunky in the middle! albeit the rest of my is pretty lanky as my stats indicate), increase or decrease the protein intake.

    Thanks for the article is well, really really interesting read!

    • Thanks for comment, Saad It’s hard to say without knowing your full diet, but given your weight, you need about 66-70g of protein per day. If you’re eating protein throughout the day, then you probably don’t need the extra shake. I would at least decrease by half, probably more 2/3rds. Hope that helps!

  4. Hi i am a 16 year old male, i run around 32km a week and compete in cross country races. I am 5ft7 and weigh around 58kg. i was wondering if taking protein would be beneficial or not?

    Thanks

    • Hi Tom, hard to say without knowing your diet. Take a look at the suggested daily intakes suggested in the article and then add up all the protein you eat in a day. That should give you an idea of how close you are to the specific targets.

  5. Just wondering I’m 32 years old I run 16 miles a day 5 days a week and weigh 122 and I don’t eat meat. How much protien should I be eating/ drinking without putting on weight?

  6. Hi Coach, is any old protein ok for runners or should I be using a protein which is also high in carbs for recovery purposes??

    • Good question – I guess timing would be the most important element. If you’re looking to recover, I would go 4 grams of carbohydrate for every 1 gram of protein. Research has shown it’s the optimal recovery ratio. If you’re just adding protein to meet recommendations, I wouldn’t go out of my way to find carb sources.

  7. Hi, i am female, 39, run on average 6 – 10 miles 4 times a week, spin class once weekly, then aerobics once weekly, resting one day a week, iam vegetarian, weigh 145 pounds 5foot 3, really struggle to eat the right foods, just feel that any positives i get from running i am undoing as think i am stripping my lean muscle post work out, what should i be doing different? Any information greatfully received thanks

  8. hiya coach,

    i am a 34 year old male 105kg and doing a marathon in october, i am about 4 weeks into my training program and my long runs are now getting above 10 miles. i am a little worried about taking protein shakes and getting the right ammount of carbohydrates. i stress very easy and worry about drinking shakes and taking energy gels then eating.

  9. I am a 17 yoa female cross country runner in high school. I eat oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, I try to eat peanutbutter and jelly for lunch, and banana at end of school before race. I am hydrating good. I run out of energy at the end of the race and sometimes feel lightheaded. I run 21 in a 5k and wiegh about 113. Will more carbs before the run get me through the end with more energy or will protein shake help in the begining of the day. I am not sure of the benefit of the protien. We train 5 days a week.

  10. Hi I’m 8 stone and 5ft 6 and I want to bulk up my legs and bum I’m naturally slim but want to have bigger legs would running do this and plz tell me how much protein I need As I burn fat quick!! Thanks

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