How much protein you should really be eating

On a recent trip to the supermarket I saw several products like peanut butter, muesli bars, biscuits and even Greek yogurt all boasting added protein.

Protein supplements used to be for bodybuilders, but no it appears in loads of products packed that claim to do all manner of things including helping to lose weight, suppress hunger and bulk up.

Don't get me wrong – I know protein is important for our bodies, but what I really want to know is do runners need to add it in bulk to their diet?

Get into it

Naturopath and Clinical Nutritionist Cliff Harvey says it's essential.

"Many of my endurance clients worry that increased protein in the diet will make them bulky or will crowd out carbs or fat required for fuelling, but these fears are typically misplaced," explains Harvey

"Protein is essential for optimal recovery from exercise, and it helps to increase lean body mass and reduce fat mass. It's also equally important for general health, and let's face it, if you're sick, you can't run."

Essential nutrition

Harvey says there are loads of benefits for optimising your protein intake including improved bone health and immunity; reduced inflammation, post-training muscle soreness and overtraining risk; increased lean muscle mass; improved strength and power; and better recovery and repair from exercise.

"As athletes, runners need more protein than the average person and by boosting your intake just a little, your recovery, performance, and health will thank you," he adds.

The recommended daily allowance for protein is only 0.8 grams per kilo of bodyweight per day, but athletes, including runners, need to take in at least 1.3 grams per kilogram,  over three meals, each day. This would equate to about 37 grams of protein per meal for an average sized male and 30 grams per meal for an average female runner.

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Taking additional protein as a recovery drink after training and running events is also good practice.

"This should be around 0.4 grams per kilo of bodyweight, or around 35 grams for a man and 30 grams for a woman. The easiest way to take this meal, for convenience – and because you may not want to eat a full meal straight after finishing an intense session – is to have one to two serves of a quality protein powder".

Eat like a runner

What's the best way for runners to increase their protein intake?

Harvey recommends making the base of every meal a quality protein like meat, fish, free-range chicken or eggs, sprouted lentils or a good quality protein powder like Nuzest.

Harvey says that if you can't prepare a good, wholefood meal, consider a protein smoothie with a nutrient 'booster' like Good Green Stuff , which is a real food based multi-vitamin, multi-mineral, veggie, berry, and herb blend. Apparently, it tastes good too!

Informed choices

If you're on the hunt for a good protein powder keeps these tips in mind:

High in protein, low in carbs, zero added sugar

The most important thing to look for in a protein powder is protein. When total protein content is high enough, other factors like the amino acid composition are less important.

Free-from anti-nutrients

While not the bogeyman that some say, anti-nutrients (such as trypsin inhibitors, saponins, and phytic acid) can reduce protein digestion and absorption and promote gastric upset. It's best to find a protein that has low levels of these chemicals.

High digestion and absorption rates

If you can't digest and absorb protein, you can't use it. Choose a protein that has good digestion and absorption rates to help utilise the protein that you're taking in.

Naturally complete (without the need for inferior protein blends)

Because we eat a mixed diet we don't always need to eat complete proteins, as we will, in general, get enough of what we require over a day. However, to ensure the best nutrient support, you should choose a protein that is complete (contains all nine essential amino acids) to cover your bases and ensure that you're getting the aminos you need.

Trusted quality

There have been cases of labelling hijinks and undisclosed ingredients in the supplement industry. Choosing a premium product, produced in reputable facilities from quality-controlled and tested ingredients, is the best way to ensure that what you're taking is what you think it is.  

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill on Twitter

Have a protein source of choice? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.