How much protein do endurance athletes need after exercise?

Protein intake in the post workout meal can maximize glycogen synthesis, prevent muscle breakdown, help muscle recover faster, and improve 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 storage by approximately 38%! This higher rate of glycogen synthesis is mainly due to a greater insulin response.[1]

So, protein intake after exercise can efficiently increase muscle glycogen storage. This is vital for athletes of basketball, soccer or every other sport which has very short recovery periods during competition.

Moreover, adding protein to post workout meals can reduce the total calorie intake, helping athletes lose body weight.

Last, but not least, athletes shouldn’t depend on energy drinks for muscle glycogen restoration, despite their high-carb content. Compared to a traditional sport drink (6% carbs), a recovery drink with protein and carbs (4% protein, 15% carbs) has up to 128% greater glycogen restoration rate and 55% greater exercise performance!

Protein after exercise improves sport performance!

Furthermore, adding protein to your post workout meal can improve sport performance.

What Happens When I Don’t Eat Eno...
What Happens When I Don’t Eat Enough Protein?

Researchers compared the effectiveness of a meal containing only carbs (152g carbs) with a meal with carbs and protein (112g carbs and 40g 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!

Moreover, according to another study, adding protein to the post workout meal helped cyclists ride 40% longer!

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. For instance, exercise-induced free radicals and acute inflammation play a key role in muscle damage.

Furthermore, muscle tissue 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 while limiting 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. 1g of protein per 4g 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!

More tips about fast replenishment of glycogen stores here.