Motivation Monday – Protein!

Americans consume a 12% protein diet and most body builders eat a 25% to 30%
protein diet, per Paul McCarthy’s How Much Protein Do Athletes Really Need?
Physician and Sports Medicine

SOOO – how much do runners actually need? Somewhere between 12-30% of total caloric intake? I’ll focus on endurance athletes in this post.

For higher mileage athletes, I recommend  between .8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. I’ve seen other recommendations as well: 1 gram per pound of lean body tissue, 1 gram of protein for “ideal” body weight (for those looking to lose weight), etc..

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook states that protein recommendations in general are:

    • Sedentary adult 0.4 per pound of body weight
    • Active adult 0.4-0.6
    • Growing athlete 0.6-0.9
    • Adult building muscle mass 0.6-0.9 

Alright, Nichole, you’re telling me to take in anywhere from 85-150+ grams of protein/day. What?!? How can I even hit close to that target? (Most common comment from females – males apparently have no problem adhering to the “more protein in your diet” recommendation!)

For those that embrace meat, I encourage you to do so. Meat is a great source of protein, and if you make sure it’s red, it’s also an AWESOME source of iron. If you don’t, there are plenty of other sources as well. Here is a short list of my go-to protein sources:

  • Meat, poultry and fish: 7 grams per ounce * 
  • Tofu: 5 grams per ounce
  • Greek Yogurt (my favorite easy form of protein!!!): 22 grams per cup! (Dannon Oikos brand, 120 calories per cup)
  • Protein supplements: ~15 grams/scoop (~80 calories/scoop/serving). A protein shake is GREAT post-workout or as a snack. You can add milk/almond/soy milk, frozen berries, bananas, yogurt, etc.
  • Beans, dried peas, lentils: 7 grams per 1/2 cup cooked 
  • Peanut Butter: 8 grams per 2 Tbsp
  • One large egg: 4 grams. I love hard-boiled eggs as a side to lunches or as a snack mid-day.
  • Milk: 8 grams per cup
  • Bread: 4 grams per slice
  • Cereal: 4 grams per 1/2 cup
  • Vegetables: 2 grams per 1/2 cup 
  • Cottage Cheese: 13 grams per serving (1/2 cup) in Land O’ Lakes’ Probiotics Cottage Cheese (90 calories)
*One ounce of meat = 1 slice of deli meat. Three
ounces of meat is approximately the size of a deck of cards or the palm
of a woman’s hand.
A vegetarian or vegan athlete should be particularly careful when working through protein needs. It is so important to make sure you’re taking in complete proteins (those containing 8 essential amino acids). One source says you’ll need to consume 20 to 25 percent more plant-based protein to
reap the benefits that animal-derived sources provide (Dr.
Tarnopolsky). That seems like a lot, but you get the point 🙂

One example of an easy complete protein vs. incomplete protein substitution: Instead of almond milk (incomplete), switch to Soy (complete).

I’ve looked at a lot
of athlete’s nutrition logs. The most common deficiency is protein
intake. DON’T be that athlete! You need protein to rebuild the muscle tissue you are breaking down in your workouts. Being deficient means you can’t recover as quickly or effectively!

*Disclaimer: I am not a licensed
nutritionist, but I have done my fair share of reading and research, and
have worked with some very good nutritionists over the years. Take what
I recommend as a general rule, and consult a nutritionist to refine
things for your personal situation.  

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  1. I agree with this. I saw a tremendous improvement in how (less sore, recovered faster) I felt about a year ago when I dramatically increased my protein. I will add two anecdotal items. When you concentrate on increasing your clean protein intake (so lean fresh meats are clean … chicken nuggets not so much) you are full faster longer and less inclined to eat other not so good stuff so it's helpful in staying lean. Second, it's a really good idea to drink a lot of fluid when you increase your protein intake. Just my two cents.

  2. The Tarahumara, famed for their endurance running, get 10-12% of their calories from protein. The marathon monks of Mt. Hiei in Japan (who run 54 miles per day for 100 days in a row), even less than that. Just felt it important to show that there are always exceptions.

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