Your protein intake determines your running performace

Friday, 27 November 2015 975 Views 0 Comments
Your protein intake determines your running performace

By Deepali Patil

Protein – Often under-appreciated, this food source goes a long way in determining how far you go as a runner

It is common to find that endurance athletes pay more attention to carbohydrate intake than to that of protein. But very few are aware that protein deficiency goes a long way in determining a runner’s performance.

The amount of proteins a runner needs is much higher than the normal requirement in a healthy adult. Another common misconception among athletes is that only body-builders need high protein diets; In fact, endurance athletes such as runners have similar protein requirements as that of a body builder, although the way this food source is utilised by the body is very different.

There is absolutely no doubt that carbohydrates are the body’s first source of energy but proteins act as energy and muscle reservoirs.  But when the glycogen stores in muscles get depleted after 90 minutes of endurance training, the body looks for an alternate fuel. This causes the muscle tissue to undergo a process known as ‘gluconeogenesis,’ meaning synthesis of glucose from fatty acids and amino acids. This results in soreness and stiffness of muscles. Hence it is imperative to add sufficient amount of proteins to prevent tissue damage.

Amount of proteins needed:

The RDA of proteins in adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body mass. In lay man’s talk this means that for a person weighing 70 kgs, the protein consumption should be 0.8 x 70 = 56 grams per day.

However, according to the Sports and Exercise Journal, athletes have higher requirement of proteins than the normal standard RDA. Endurance athletes such as runners require 1.2 grams of proteins per kilogram of body mass to cover daily protein loss. In general an athlete’s protein requirement depends on the type of sport and varies between 1.4 to 1.8 grams/kg of proteins per day.

How to know if an athlete is getting enough of these proteins in the body?

The simplest way to know this is to determine the athlete’s ‘nitrogen balance.’ Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and the body’s main source of nitrogen.  A negative nitrogen balance happens when the body loses more nitrogen through sweat, urine and stool than it can replace, indicating protein deficiency in the athlete.  Based on this concept of nitrogen balance, the RDA of proteins is set at 0.8 grams per kilogram of body mass in a normal adult but for runners the need is much higher.

As per the Journal of Applied Physiology, the daily protein intake depends on the body’s size and the amount of running done.

For a beginner who has just started running, the protein need can be between 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight, which is similar to the RDA for a healthy adult.

For recreational runners, who run less than 5 runs of 30 min each per week, the requirement slightly increases to 0.9 grams of proteins per kilogram of body weight, per day, to maintain nitrogen balance.

But if you are a seasoned runner or are training for a half marathon, then the protein requirement goes much higher to that of 1.2 grams per kg of body weight.

In case of full marathoners, the need for proteins is even higher and you need at least 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kg of body weight, on daily basis. However this protein intake will fluctuate depending on the intensity of your daily endurance training and hence one must start at 1.2 grams per kg and gradually increase it depending on the rate of recovery.

Intake of proteins must be such that the recovery happens quickly and the athlete feels good immediately.

Sources of proteins:

When runners lose weight there is a loss in muscles too. In fact 30 per cent of weight loss is contributed to loss of muscle.  To replenish this, a diet rich in high proteins is necessary. A high quality protein is the one which contains all the nine essential amino acids that help build and maintain muscles. A good source of protein helps to repair damaged tissue and helps in development of new tissues in the body.

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, good sources of high quality proteins are milk protein and egg protein. Lean red meat, sea food, chicken, are all rich sources of ‘Leucine’, an essential amino acid that accelerates protein building after a rigorous training session.

The vegetarians can opt for dals (whole grains), legumes, nuts and seeds, milk and milk products, soy products. Eating a mix of all these foods provides a balance of all essential amino acids.

The Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, suggests a maximum protein intake of 2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.

Signs of protein deficiencies:

Endurance athletes undergo constant breakdown of tissues due to everyday training practices. Proteins help to repair these muscular tissues along with the growth of lean muscle mass in the body.  A diet that is low in proteins will cause the muscles to weaken, the immune system to suppress and put a strain on recovery time.

A body with high deficiency of proteins is subjected to fatigue, lethargy, and anaemia. In rare cases, it can lead to severe and chronic health issues.

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