How Much Protein do Runners REALLY Need?

In the fitness industry it seems that people are pretty obsessed with protein consumption, and runners are no exception. But how much protein do you REALLY need? The answer may surprise you.

July 20, 2015
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If I had a dollar for every gym member or client that has asked me if they need to be drinking a protein shake, well, I’d be able to buy nearly a lifetime’s supply of protein powder.

I’m only slightly exaggerating.

In the fitness industry it seems that people are pretty obsessed with protein consumption. Open any fitness or athletic magazine and you will see countless advertisements for various protein supplements, each one touting a higher and better protein content than it’s competitors…and likely being consumed by a bronzed, ripped athlete with impressive six pack abs.

Protein powders. Protein bars. Protein cookies. Protein pancakes. Even protein water…the protein products are seemingly endless.

So it’s no wonder the average Joe in the fitness world seems to believe the misconception that more protein is better. After all, how else are we going to look like that bikini model, body builder, or super fit elite triathlete if we don’t slug down copious amounts of protein immediately following our workouts?

News flash: not only is protein deficiency incredibly rare in adults in our society, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, Americans as a whole tend to consume too much protein. But there is a valid reason why athletes should concern themselves, at least somewhat, with protein intake.

Let’s break it down:

Protein is essential nutrient found in animal products, nuts, and beans. Protein is comprised of amino acids; amino acids are essentially the building blocks of our body. Because our bodies are made from these amino acids, it only makes sense that we need protein to help our bodies grow and repair.

Now, when we do something physically taxing on our muscles, such as strength training or a good, hard run, the microscopic fibers that make up our muscles actually tear. In theory, we then rest allowing our body to rebuild those fibers, and voila, we have muscular growth. But what do we need to assist in that repair and contribute to new cells and rebuilding old cells?

Amino acids. Which come from…

Protein.

That is an incredibly simplified version of what actually goes on inside of our bodies, but now you get the general idea of why protein consumption is essential for everyone, but even more so for active people and athletes.

So, let’s get to the point, the whole reason you clicked on this link in the first place, shall we?

How much protein do YOU, a runner, need?

Of course, the exact answer is going to vary from person to person, but for the sake of this article we can give some general suggestions.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition, the average adult requires approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That’s kilogram, not pound, a common oversight. (To convert to kilograms, take your current weight in pounds, and divide it by 2.2.)

An endurance athlete, however, needs approximately 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kg of body weight. The added protein will help with the extra repair needed after all of the stress we put our bodies through training. Again, these numbers can vary based upon training volume and other activities, but they serve as a good rule of thumb. (For comparison purposes, strength and power athletes need anywhere from 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.)

So what does this look like, in real world, non scientific speak?

Simple: a 150 lb non athletic female requires about 54.5 grams of protein a day. A 150 lb female who also happens to be a regular runner requires anywhere from 81.8- 95.5 grams of protein per day. The difference between non athletic and athletic is around 34 grams of protein…or the equivalent of about 4 ounces of grilled chicken (about half a chicken breast.)

As you can see, that’s really not a huge difference.

So, don’t fall victim to all of the hype and advertising that says you NEED tons of protein in order to be a good athlete. Eat well rounded meals, be aware of your protein intake, but save your money on those bulking supplements, and spend them on a new pair of sneakers instead.

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