July 10

Are You Getting Enough Protein?


Are You Getting Enough Protein?

Learn how to get enough dietary protein to sustain your running and training goals

Whether you're a new or seasoned runner, everyone should consume a well rounded diet to sustain their physical activity. While total calories are important, being intentional about consuming enough protein can make or break your training goals. When it comes to building and repairing muscle, protein is a crucial component of the equation. Whether you're an athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or simply looking to maintain muscle mass as you age, understanding the role of protein can help you achieve your goals.

The Importance of Protein for Runners

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Protein is often hailed as the building block of life, and for runners, it holds particular significance. From muscle repair to energy maintenance and overall health, protein is indispensable for those who regularly hit the pavement. Let's explore how protein supports runners in various aspects of their training and health.

Protein's Role in Muscle Repair

Running, especially long distances or high-intensity intervals, puts considerable strain on your muscles. This can lead to micro-tears in the muscle fibers, which is a natural part of the process that leads to stronger and more resilient muscles. However, for these muscles to repair and grow, they need adequate protein.

When you consume protein after a run, your body breaks it down into amino acids, which are then used to repair the damaged muscle fibers. This process, known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS), is crucial for muscle recovery and growth. Consuming high-quality protein sources, such as lean meats, eggs, or plant-based options like quinoa and legumes, within a couple of hours post-run can significantly enhance muscle recovery and build strength over time.

Protein and Energy Levels

Not only is protein essential for building and maintaining muscle, but regular consumption of protein can help sustain energy levels. Unlike simple carbohydrates that lead to more pronounced energy spikes and crashes, protein provides more consistent levels of energy over several hours.

Adequate protein intake helps stabilize blood sugar levels, which can prevent energy crashes during long runs. This stabilization is crucial for maintaining consistent energy output and avoiding fatigue.

Additionally, protein contributes to the repair of tissues and cells that get stressed during prolonged physical activity. By ensuring these repairs are efficient, protein helps maintain the body's overall energy balance. This means you can train harder and longer without experiencing the debilitating effects of fatigue.

Overall Health Benefits

Beyond muscle repair and energy maintenance, protein offers a myriad of other health benefits that are essential for runners.

  • Immune Support: Regular intense exercise can sometimes weaken the immune system. Protein is vital for the production of antibodies and immune system cells, which help protect against illness and infections.
  • Hormone Regulation: Proteins play a role in the production and regulation of hormones. Hormones such as insulin, which regulates blood sugar, and human growth hormone, which aids in muscle repair and growth, are influenced by protein intake.
  • Bone Health: Many high-protein foods are also rich in calcium and other nutrients essential for bone health. This is particularly important for runners, as strong bones are necessary to withstand the repetitive impact of running.

Weight Management: Protein helps in regulating appetite by promoting a feeling of fullness, which can be beneficial for runners looking to maintain a healthy weight.

Daily Protein Requirements

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Caloric and protein needs will vary from person to person, but there are general guidelines for active and inactive individuals to help you establish a baseline.

General Guidelines for Protein Intake

To maintain energy levels and muscle development, regularly active individuals need more protein than women and men who are not physically active.

General recommendations suggest that active women should consume about 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, while active men should aim for 1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram. For instance, a woman who weighs 60 kg should target between 72 to 102 grams of protein daily, whereas a man weighing 80 kg should aim for 128 to 176 grams.


Daily Protein Intake per kg of Body Weight


1 kg = 2.20 lbs.

Active Women

1.2-1.7 g

Inactive Women

0.8 g

Active Men

1.6-2.2 g

Inactive Men

0.8 g

Calculate your daily protein intake in grams:

Protein Intake Formula 2

Tailoring Protein Intake for Runners

Runners, particularly female runners, may require higher protein intake to support their intense training regimens and recovery needs. Women tend to have different hormonal responses and muscle recovery patterns than men, which may require a slightly higher intake. We discuss this topic in greater detail with Gnarly Nutrition in this clinic, Nutrition for Women.

Signs of Protein Deficiency

It's important to recognize signs that indicate a lack of protein in your diet. Common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue and low energy levels
  • Loss of muscle mass and strength
  • Slow recovery from injuries and workouts
  • Frequent infections or illnesses
  • Hair, skin, and nail problems

If you experience any of these signs, it might be time to reassess your protein intake. For customized nutrition advice, consult a licensed dietician. Some dieticians even specialize in sports nutrition which may be especially helpful.

Best Sources of Protein

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Individuals can get protein from a variety of sources including whole foods and protein supplements. However, not all sources of protein are created equal. Not only do total protein levels vary by source, but the amino acids in each source vary. Careful planning can help ensure you consume all 20 essential amino acids when you eat protein.

Animal-Based Protein Sources

Animal-based proteins are excellent sources of high-quality protein because they contain all essential amino acids and most closely match the proteins in our own bodies. Some great options include:

  • Lean meats like chicken, turkey, and beef
  • Fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • Eggs and egg whites
  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt

Plant-Based Protein Sources

For vegetarian and vegan runners, there are plenty of plant-based protein sources that can meet your needs:

  • Beans and legumes such as black beans, chickpeas, and lentils
  • Soy products like tofu, tempeh, and edamame
  • Whole grains such as quinoa and farro
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds

Vegetarian and vegan athletes need to combine protein sources to get a complete amino acid profile.

Protein Supplements

Protein supplements can be a convenient way to meet your protein needs, especially for busy runners. Options include protein shakes, bars, and powders. Look for high-quality products such as those offered by Gnarly Nutrition, which provides a range of protein supplements designed to support athletic performance and recovery.

Incorporating Protein into Your Diet

Having a plan is the best way to get enough protein each day. Adopt some of the tips and recommendations below to create a plan that works for your lifestyle.

Meal Planning Tips

In today’s busy, modern world, it’s already a challenge to eat well. Then, when you add in eating to maintain a physically active lifestyle, the challenge can feel even more daunting. The best way to stay on top of your day-to-day nutrition is to plan ahead. Meal planning and grocery shopping one week at a time can help you feel confident and prepared to stick to your nutrition and training goals.

Here are a few helpful tips to get you started — and to keep you going!

  • Plan each meal of the day to include a source of protein, whether it's eggs for breakfast, steak tacos for lunch, or tofu stir-fry for dinner.
  • Establish meal themes for each day of the week. For example, soups on Saturdays or casseroles on Mondays. Make a list of recipes for each theme so that you can easily pick from your meal catalog as you meal plan each week.
  • Keep high-protein snacks on hand so that you have good options between meals. Keep snacks at your desk, in your car, in your gym bag, or wherever you need energy on the go. High-protein snack options may be Greek yogurt, nuts, or a protein bar or shake.
  • Bolster existing recipes with more protein. Add extra meat or beans to soups and salads or sprinkle seeds on your oatmeal.

Pre- and Post- Run Nutrition

Timing your protein intake around your runs can optimize your performance and recovery:

  • Pre-run: Have a light protein-rich snack, such as a small protein smoothie or a piece of whole-grain toast with peanut butter, about 1-2 hours before your run.
  • Post-run: Consume a protein-packed meal or snack within 30-60 minutes after your run to kickstart muscle recovery. This could be a protein shake, a turkey sandwich, or a bowl of quinoa with veggies and beans.

Check out these examples from other athletes on how they maintain daily protein intake.

Common Myths About Protein

High Protein Diets are Only for Bodybuilders
This myth is far from the truth. While bodybuilders do require high protein intake for muscle growth, all athletes, including runners, need adequate protein to repair muscles, maintain energy levels, and support overall health.
Women Who Eat High Protein Diets Look “Bulky”
This is an old myth that has been debunked before, but it’s worth repeating. Women especially need to consume adequate amounts of protein each day to maintain energy levels and to build and maintain muscle. Protein consumption alone will not lead to a bulky or masculine appearance. Adequate protein intake can, however, lead to improved energy levels, mood, and more.
Plant-Based Proteins are Inferior
Plant-based athletes can still get all essential amino acids if they combine protein sources. It may require additional planning to get a well-rounded protein intake, but many vegetarians and vegans find the planning worth it. By combining different plant-based sources, such as beans with rice or hummus with whole-grain pita, you can ensure you're getting all essential amino acids. For more information, check out this Gnarly Nutrition clinic for plant-based athletes.
You Can Get All Your Protein at Once
Spreading your protein intake throughout the day is more beneficial than consuming it all at once. This approach helps maintain a steady supply of amino acids to your muscles, supporting continuous repair and growth.


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