Eat Like A Runner Series Day 2: Power up with Protein – The Importance of Protein in a Runner’s Diet
The Importance of Protein in a Runner’s Diet
When most of us think of a runner’s diet the first thing that we think of is carbohydrates. We think of the carbo loading sessions with massive amounts of pasta being consumed and while it is true that carbohydrates are the main source of energy that our body uses when we run it is definitely not the only thing that we should be eating. Elite runners who are putting in very high mileage weeks should be getting about 60% of their daily calories from carbs, but that is not usually true for recreational runners. A good ratio for the rest of us is usually somewhere between 40-50% from carbs and that leaves 50 – 60% of our diets that need to come from proteins and fats. I will hit on the importance of fats in tomorrow’s post but today I want to focus on the importance of protein in a runner’s diet.
Proteins are often referred to as the building blocks of life and they are essential for so many reasons. Protein is essential for building and repairing things. Your organs, muscles, skin, hair, nails, bones and certain hormones are all made up of some amount of protein. Proteins help with the majority of chemical reactions that occur in cells. Proteins even play a vital role in actually making movement possible. Some proteins are responsible for transporting vital materials from the outside of the cell to the inside of the cell. Proteins also play a vital role in our immune system and fighting of viruses and disease. In addition to all of their biological functions proteins take longer to leave the stomach which helps to make us feel full for a longer period of time which can obviously help in weight loss or maintenance.
To determine your daily caloric needs as well as the amount of proteins, carbs and fats that you shuold be consuming here is a good resource at freedieting.com. A good resource for tracking your daily calories from each of the different areas is fatsecret.com. They even offer a smartphone app that allows you to very easily track by scanning barcodes from your phone. It makes calorie counting and tracking much easier.
Protein comsumption needs to start with breakfast. Because of proteins ability to make us feel full for a longer period of time, when eaten for breakfast it can have a dramatic effect on hunger and appetite for the rest of the day. Protein also does a good job in keeping your blood-sugar at a steady level, which prevents dramatic swings in blood sugar. Donald Layman, professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Illinois, recommends consuming at least 30 g of protein for breakfast.
Obviously meats are usually the first foods that you think of when you think of protein but there are many different sources of protein and it is a good idea to try to get protein from a variety of sources. High fat meats should be eaten very moderately and in small portions. Here is a good list of some different protein sources:
Low-Fat Yogurt and Greek yogurt (opt for light and low-fat or fat-free versions),
- Reduced-Fat Cottage Cheese
- Eggs or Egg Whites (omelette, burrito, scrambled, hard boiled, scrambled, etc.)
- Skinless Poultry (turkey, chicken)
- Ham, Pork, Veal or Lamb
- Fish (all white fish, salmon, swordfish, herring, trout, bluefish)
- Cheese and String Cheese (lowfat)
- Protein Shakes and Bars
- High Protein Cereals (Kashi and Special K Protein)
- Higher Protein Veggies (Asparagus, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Artichoke, Watercress, Sweetcorn, Peas, Chickpeas, Spinach)
- Potatoes (all varieties, I love sweet potatoes)
- Beans (Soy, Black, Pinto, Garbanzo, Lima, Kidney, White, etc)
- Nuts (Especially Almonds, Cashews, Peanuts, Pistachios, Walnuts, Hazelnuts
- Beef Jerky (Watch the sodium)
- Low-Fat Milk
Another good rule of thumb for athletes is to try to eat a higher percentage of carbs before your workout and a higher percentage of protein after your workout. It makes sense to consume carbs when you know that you are going to need some quicker energy and then to consume protein when your muscles need help in the muscle building and repair process. It is also best to consume proteins when you have a longer period of time to digest. Dr. Douglas Kalman, Ph.D., R.D., who has done extensive research on the effects of protein in a runner’s diet says,”With every footstrike, a runner carries two to seven times his or her body weight, Protein is what keeps your body healthy under all that strain.” Adequate protein intake accelerates muscle growth and speeds recovery by helping rebuild muscle fibers stressed during a run. Since protein helps muscles heal faster, runners who consume the right amount are less likely to get injured.
The bottom line is to keep your diet balanced. Make sure that you are giving your body everything it needs to run smoothly. Check out Day 3 tomorrow about the importance of good fats in a runners diet and keep “Running Through Life.”