Why do endurance athletes need protein?

Protein is beneficial for runners and other endurance athletes, as it:

  • maximizes glycogen synthesis
  • prevents muscle breakdown
  • helps muscle recover faster
  • improves sport performance

Protein helps endurance athletes replenish muscle glycogen

First, adding protein to your post workout meal improves the replenishment of muscle glycogen.

Adding protein to the carbohydrate-rich meal can increase the rate of glycogen replenishment by approximately 38%. This is vital for athletes of basketball, soccer or every other sport which has very short recovery periods.[1]

Moreover, adding protein to post-workout meals can reduce the total calorie intake, helping athletes stay lean.

Protein after exercise improves sport performance!

Researchers compared the effectiveness of a meal containing only carbs (152 grams of carbs) with a meal with carbs and protein (112 grams of carbs and 40 grams of protein). The meal containing protein helped athletes recover faster from strenuous aerobic exercise.

Also, protein in the post-workout meal improved sport performance. The run time to exhaustion was 21% longer! According to another study, adding protein to the post workout meal helped cyclists ride 40% longer![1]

Protein in the post-workout meal prevents muscle loss

Strenuous exercise can cause muscle damage. Mainly due to physical stress on the muscle, and due to hormonal changes. Also, exercise may cause the breakdown of muscle protein in order to provide the fuel for powering muscle contraction. Most noteworthy, muscle damage doesn’t occur only during exercise, but continues after exercise for many hours.

Muscle damage is bad for sport performance, as it delays the relief of muscle soreness, inhibits the replenishment of muscle glycogen and limits muscle training adaptations.

Therefore, for fast muscle recovery, it’s crucial to take protein as soon as possible after exercise in order to initiate protein synthesis and limit protein breakdown.

Moreover, right after exercise, muscle has increased sensitivity to insulin, which is one of the most anabolic hormones! Insulin increases muscle amino acid uptake, protein synthesis and reduces protein breakdown.

How much protein should endurance athletes get in their post-workout meal?

For fast glycogen replenishment, and the fastest recovery, athletes should have about 4 to 1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. 1 gram of protein per 4 grams of carbs!

Endurance athletes should take protein as soon as possible after exercise!

It’s vital for faster muscle recovery and glycogen synthesis to have a meal with protein and carbs immediately after exercise. Right after exercise, the rate of glycogen synthesis is 50% higher compared to several hours after a workout. Moreover, protein synthesis can be increased 3-fold, compared to protein synthesis 3 hours after exercise.

Keep in mind that endurance athletes shouldn’t consume foods rich in protein, fat, or fiber 2–3 hours before a big race.

How often should athletes take protein?

For fast muscle recovery, athletes should have meals rich in protein and carbs every 2 hours after exercise. Smaller and more frequent meals are also beneficial. Especially for endurance athletes who have to compete in less than 8 hours!

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