Protein is a seriously important nutrient for recovery, providing the body with key elements to repair, regenerate and remodel the muscle after exercise. Each time you exercise, there is some degree of muscle damage, the more intense and prolonged the session, the more damage and therefore the increased need for protein.
Endurance athletes often neglect their protein intake as traditionally it was incorrectly associated with increasing muscle bulk and size. Eating protein cannot increase muscle size unless the muscle is stimulated through an appropriate resistance training plan, protein simply compliments your training programAn endurance athlete needs protein to support muscle repair and to some extent growth after each session which is essential to provide your legs with the power to perform.
Endurance training primarily drives the growth of mitochondrial proteins in the muscle. The mitochondria are the power plants of the muscle where carbohydrate and fat are broken down to provide fuel to the contracting muscle. Protein is needed to facilitate their increasing size and volume with increased training allowing you to use fuel more efficiently increasing performance economy.
Eating the right amount of protein per day for your body weight and training will enhance these training adaptations and ultimately your performance.
Protein is made up from amino acids which are the building blocks of muscle and other structures within the body. As protein is not stored in the body, it needs a continuous supply of protein through food to support repair and recovery.
Research recommends an intake of between 1.4-1.6g of protein per kg body weight per day for the endurance athlete, so if you are 75 kg (75 x 1.6), this is 120g/d. To support muscle repair and growth, I advise spreading out your protein intake evenly throughout the day, ingesting roughly 0.4g of protein per meal, which would be 30g (75 x 0.4) per meal.
This is easy to achieve at dinner but may need some planning for breakfast, lunch and snacking. Try this tasty protein packed salad for lunch to increase your protein intake this week. Although, I recommend trying to get all your protein from food first, in some instances this is not always possible and supplementing with whey protein can be a convenient solution to increase protein intake in meals and throughout the day without compromising quality.
Whey protein can be easily added to porridge, smoothies and yogurts to increase the protein content of meals and snacks. Whey protein is also an ideal option for the fast delivery of amino acids to the muscle after an intense training session.
Although there has been some controversy in the scientific community around whether the ingestion of protein after exercise is warranted for recovery, there is no doubt amongst practicing sports nutritionists that this is a great opportunity to maximise muscle recovery to enhance training adaptations.
Protein should be a vital part of your recovery. Its role in repair and regeneration will allow the body to adapt appropriately to your training session so you are able to train more intensely for your next session. The more intensely you can train and recover, the further you can push the body to ultimately drive performance improvements.