Protein - yes! Even runners have increased and specific protein needs! Gone are the days when protein was only important for those looking for huge muscle gains. We know that protein quality, timing, and amount are also critical nutrition strategies to enhance a runner’s performance. For the vast majority of runners (unless you are an ultra runner) protein prior or during the run is not necessary for that running session. In order to run faster and farther for optimal recovery and better performance, protein becomes most important after the run.
We want our bodies to adapt to the training we do. We want that sprint workout to increase our speed. We want that long-run to increase our endurance. One of the ways to do this is by consuming protein after the run. Protein needs will vary, but we do know that...
Eating a meal/snack that contains ~0.25-0.3 grams of protein per kg of body weight after a workout is enough to promote optimal muscle growth and encourage favorable adaptations.
Don’t forget about the carbohydrates. You need a mix of both. Carbohydrate is important to replenish those energy stores that have been depleted during your run. Contrary to popular belief, there is no ideal carbohydrate to protein ratio. Just like protein, the carbohydrates you may need are more dependent on the specific training you are doing (i.e. duration, frequency, intensity, and body size of the athlete).
Not all protein sources are created equally. Each protein source is unique in how it will be digested and absorbed in our body. Protein is made up of what we call amino acids. When we eat a source of protein, our body breaks it down into these amino acids. Our body can actually make some amino acids, but there are some amino acids that can only be obtained from food sources. We call these amino acids essential amino acids (EAA). Research shows that EAA’s are the primary stimulators of muscle protein growth. One of these EAA’s, called Leucine, has shown to be particularly helpful to stimulate muscle growth.
THE BEST SOURCES OF PROTEIN POST-RUN
DAIRY PROTEINS (Whey/Casein)
Yogurt, Milk, Cottage Cheese
Frothy Milk Latte 3/4 cup of Yogurt
1-2 cups of dairy milk Granola
Flavor with spices/sweetener of choice Banana
My favorite: cinnamon and honey Scoop of nut butter
One of my favorite, easy to prepare meals!
Simply top rotisserie chicken on pesto pasta and cooked spinach.
Stir fry scrambled eggs with rice, veggies, and seasoned with
sesame oil and soy sauce.
BEEF BURGER! This is my all-time favorite!! This is a picture
of a meal served at a wedding I attended. A WEDDING! How
cool is that?
To date, dairy proteins (whey/casein) are superior to other tested proteins, largely due to their amino acid content and make-up. More research needs to be done, though, for further comparison and in conjunction with vegetarian proteins. Consumption of whole foods will offer additional benefits outside of simply muscle synthesis compared to supplements/isolated nutrients - so shoot for the majority of your post-run snack/meal focused on whole foods if you can.
Maddi Osburn RDN LD
Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance.
Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. Sports Nutrition: A Handbook for Professionals. 6th ed., Chicago: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017.