Why Runners Need More PROTEIN

Once in a blue moon a distance or endurance athlete (contra fortitudo) will approach me for questions or for training programs. Like a timid dear they are very slow when approaching my advice and counsel. I don’t know why, but even with our modern age of science and research distance runners avoid weight rooms like hillbillys avoid the dentist. My guess is that runner magazines keep pumping out silly articles based on opinion. The fact that I get any kind of attention from long legged athletes is a positive sign that the truth is getting out there. That being said, not enough distance runners (or even mid distance) spend quality time improving the force and power production of their, normally, very mild muscles.
Eric showing us what quads made in the weightroom can do

On top of the lack of iron being moved by road warriors, a lack of proper nutrition is rampant among them. CARBS! All a runner needs is a healthy amount of carbs, right? True, they do need sufficient blood glucose and muscle glycogen (fuel) to kick it into the next gear, they also need plenty of fat (low intensity fuel) and protein (muscle retaining and building) to create a complete package.

We’ve all heard of carbo-loading. Whether you heard a hefty man weighing 3-hundo joke about it at the golden corral, or a serious marathon runner talk about their pre-race feeding you’ve had to have heard about it. But there’s more to carbohydrate storage than just eating a whale-sized amount of them. Let me introduce you to a runner’s secret and neglected friend: Protein.

Amongst things like promote muscle growth and recovery, protein has been shown to do marvelous things with carbohydrates. When carbohydrate-protein feedings where studied among Type II diabetics, like in this study (Mary C Gannon 2003), blood glucose levels were more controlled and less spastic. This hints at the fact that protein has some kind of complimentary effect on how the body handles carbohydrates. In another study (Zawadzki 1992) protein was shown to improve muscle glycogen storage after a workout – as in protein puts the carbohydrates in the muscle more efficiently and faster. In yet another study (Michael J Saunders 2004) no drink, carbohydrate drinks, or protein plus carbohydrate drinks were consumed during aerobic exercise. The protein plus carbohydrate drinks reduced time to fatigue and reduced muscle damage the most when compared to all of the other drink combinations. Guess what, another author (Eric S. Niles 2001) showed that protein+carbohydrate beverages consumed after high intensity exercise improved glycogen storage and it also improved performance in exercise done later that same day. That means whether you’re sprinting miles or grinding through two a days, protein-carbohydrate drinks are a must go.

The list literally goes on forever. Protein-carbohydrate consumption is unquestionably a solid combination for muscle glycogen improvement. It’s just an added bonus that it may also improve performance. However, many runners will friend-zone protein for the same reasons they avoid the gym.

“I don’t want to gain too much muscle, it will make me heavy, I don’t want to be fat, etc. etc. etc.” Here is the truth behind all of this. Protein will promote protein synthesis, but it will not turn you into the hulk. Taking 25 grams of whey protein is not the equivalent to shooting steroids for the past 10 years. For endurance athletes, gaining weight can be a win lose situation. When a person with the same cardiac output becomes heavier their VO2 max decreases. That being said more muscle mass can result in more force and power production resulting in faster sprint speeds. All of that information is mute though when we realize that protein is the leanest of all calories (25% of protein calories are used to digest and process protein), making weight gain on lean proteins very hard. As for making you fat, protein is turned into glucose if it’s not used (gluconeogenesis), and distance runners burn plenty of calories. All in all, there is literally NO REASON NOT TO TAKE PROTEIN IF YOU’RE A DISTANCE OR MIDDISTANCE RUNNER.
Barack O'Bicep

Can you hear me loud and clear?

As a runner you should aim to consume 60-70% of your calories from carbohydrates (4-5 grams per lb bodyweight). But you should also want to consume ~20% of your calories from protein (~1 gram per lb bodyweight). The remaining 10%– 20% should come from fat. [*NOTE: carbohydrate and fat levels should alter between training intensities and seasons]. If I haven’t convinced you to add more protein to your training nutrition then I don’t know what will (maybe a flashy add in a runners magazine?). The science is there, you just have to use it!

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About Me

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance

The Effects of Glucose Supplementation on Barbell Velocity and Fatiguability in Weightlifting - A pilot study"

The Accute Effects Of Different Squat Intensities on Vertical Jump Performances
The Accute Effects of Different Squat Intensities On Jump Performance

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.