Protein. It’s the stuff that helps us build our muscles and repair the damage from hard workouts, so that we are stronger for our next run. We know we need protein. But how do we know if we are getting enough?
Standard recommendations call for between 0.8 grams (for sedentary individuals) and 1.2 grams (for active individuals) of protein per kg of bodyweight on a daily basis. If you are highly active (more than 6 hours working out per week), the recommendation goes up to 1.6 to 1.8 grams per kg bodyweight (or even 2g/kg for ultra endurance athletes).
But numbers can be confusing. What does how much you should be eating really look like, in real life?
Let’s take yours truly, for example. I am 135lbs (61kg) and currently highly active (running daily plus strength training 3-4x/wk), therefore I want to be eating about 1.6 to 1.8g/km per day – that’s 98 to 110 grams of protein per day.
However, in my off-season, I only required about 61 grams per day.
Or lets take a 160 lb (73kg) male who runs 3 times a week and strength trains twice a week (thereby requiring 1.2-1.4g protein per kg) – he would want to be eating about 88-100 grams protein per day.
But here’s an interesting fact – research from McMaster University has found that our bodies can only use 20-30 grams of protein at one time for anabolic processes (muscle building) – if we eat more than that, it’s simply burned as energy. Protein cannot be stored for later (unlike carbs and fat, which are easily stored).
This means you want to distribute your protein intake evenly throughout the day.
So let’s take a look at how the above examples would want to break down their day as well as what to actually eat.
1) 135lbs – low-moderately active (1g protein/kg) – 61 grams protein per day
- breakfast (11g) – oatmeal with dried tart cherries, walnuts and chia seeds
- am snack (5g) – green smoothie and handful of trail mix
- lunch (15g) – one serving chili
- pm snack (6g) – ~20 Mary’s crackers with mashed avocado (½) and salsa
- dinner (24g) – one serving tri-plate (quinoa/kale/hummus)
2) 135lbs – highly active (1.6-1.8/kg) – 98-110 grams protein per day
- breakfast (25g) – chocolate cherry breakfast smoothie
- am snack (15g) – green smoothie with 2 boiled eggs
- lunch (23g) – one serving red lentil soup with a biscuit
- pm snack (14g) – apple dipped in 2 Tbsp almond butter & 1 Tbsp chia seeds
- dinner (28g) – 3 oz chicken breast with kale, cherries, mushrooms, zucchini
3) 160lbs – moderately-highly active (1.2-1.4g protein/kg) – 88-100 grams protein per day
- breakfast (20g) – almond granola with banana and a green protein shake
- am snack (12g) – veggies and Mary’s crackers dipped in ½ cup hummus
- lunch (25g) – southern baked tofu dipped in honey mustard sauce with sautéed veggies
- pm snack (8g) – one apple plus a handful of almonds
- dinner (30g) – 4 oz baked salmon with greens, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus and zingy lemon dressing
*recipes for many of the above mentioned meals can be found here
Overall low protein intake is very rarely a problem I see. You’re likely getting enough protein. However, properly distributing protein intake throughout the day is definitely an area many of us can improve upon.
Happy running 🙂
Sarah J Cuff, RHN
PS. Check out this inspirational story from Satinder Sidhu – she knew her eating habits could use an overhaul, but she was hesitant to sign up for an eat 2 run plan because she knew she’s a “picky” eater and doubted her ability to stick to a plan. Click here to find out how she did!