Fuel Your Endurance Performance - Personalized Meal Plan

SEP 10, 2020 · BY THE TRAININGMEALS NUTRITION TEAM

For the human body to keep working in tip-top condition, it requires and consumes many nutrients. One of the most essential nutrients is protein.

Fuel Your Endurance Performance - Personalized Meal Plan

For the human body to keep working in tip-top condition, it requires and consumes many nutrients. One of the most essential nutrients is protein.

Protein for endurance athletes is mostly overlooked in one way or the other.

In this article, we will talk about:

  • Is protein beneficial only for weightlifters?
  • How does protein help with endurance exercise?
  • How does protein work?
  • Common nutritional wisdom for endurance athletes
  • Myths about protein consumption
  • What is the "right" type of protein for an endurance athlete?
  • When should I increase my protein consumption?
  • When is the best time to consume protein?
  • Protein and immune system
  • Final thoughts and summary

Is protein beneficial only for weightlifters?

Due to the supplement marketing machine, protein is viewed as an essential macronutrient useful only in strength-based sports such as weightlifting and bodybuilding.

Endurance athletes are triathletes, ultra-marathoners, ironman athletes. They focus more on carbohydrate intake. Ideally, for better long-distance performance, they shouldn't be carrying excess weight. Compared to weightlifters with short bursts of explosive energy, new research suggests that higher protein intake can boost the performance of endurance athletes across the board.

How does protein help with endurance exercise?

Our muscles, hair, skin, bone, and internal organs are dependent on amino acids, which are made out of protein. So are our nervous system and immune system. According to nutritionists, the standard recommended protein intake for an average person is 0.8g per kg of body weight per day. For example, an average human weighing 70kg would need to consume 56g of protein daily, about one standard-sized chicken breast fillet.

However, for athletes, this is increased to about 1.4g to 2g per kg of body weight - slightly over twice the amount of an average person, which works out to 2 chicken breast fillets. This is due to the body needing to recover from the extensive muscle damage that occurs during training. More protein in the endurance athlete's diet improves the repair and remodeling of damaged muscle tissues and will ultimately leave the athlete stronger than before.

How does protein work?

During any exercise, the body breaks down muscle proteins to keep energy levels at peak condition throughout hard training. Due to the body's function of exchanging muscle protein for energy, the body needs to replenish protein losses during rest.

If not adequately replenished, the consequences can range from slower recovery time to loss in muscle strength and density, which is always bad for any athlete.

Common nutritional wisdom for endurance athletes

When it comes to consuming energy sources in a personalized nutrition plan for training, carbohydrates, and fats are commonly known to be the most effective nutrient type that keeps you going during endurance training.

Fats supply your body with the energy it needs during exercise. The fat we get from our food is first broken down into fatty acids, travels down the bloodstream, and is picked up by hungry cells that need that energy to keep your body going for longer.

On the other hand, Carbs are the macronutrients that the body chooses to use first. They convert to glucose, increasing blood glucose levels. During periods of high endurance training, your body is incredibly hungry to quickly capture all that glucose goodness in your bloodstream more readily than fat.

The consensus among endurance athletes is that a carb-heavy diet gives you the optimal amount of glucose required for the body to operate at constant challenging activity levels for a longer time.

A Triathlete requires a higher than average amount of blood sugar before embarking on training or race. Otherwise, the body entirely will run out of energy and shut down. This is what you might have seen at race finish lines where athletes simply cannot continue, not even for another 100 yards.

The addition of protein in the endurance athlete's diet provides a series of benefits that might not be as apparent as, to say, glucose or fatty acids during exercise - but is still as important as consuming enough carbohydrates and fats.

A study by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal shows that higher protein intake in an endurance athlete aided sped up muscle recovery.

Myths about protein consumption

There's one misconception about protein consumption that has stayed popular over the decades of sports nutrition research. The claim that protein supplementation and consumption bears a direct correlation to an increase in muscle size and density has proven to be enduring.

For endurance athletes, being too bulky is a disadvantage over their leaner peers. Consuming protein in isolation without resistance training involved in the exercise regime does not affect muscle size. If anything, properly-managed protein consumption improves muscle quality and supports muscle adaptability, resulting in increased endurance when applied for long periods.

In short, consuming excessive protein to bulk up is not what we're going for. Instead, finding the right amount of protein to facilitate recovery and becoming stronger on the race day is our goal.

What is the "right" type of protein for an endurance athlete?

There are many different protein sources, from natural ones such as meat and dairy to the highly synthesized versions you get for supplements and shakes.

The kind of protein that is proven to be the most beneficial to the endurance athlete would be meat, fish, eggs, pulses, grains, nuts and seeds. Obtain your protein from whole food sources whenever possible because wholefood protein is generally higher in vitamins, minerals, essential fats, and fibers. Avoid consuming protein powders more than once a day - they may be convenient, but they are not as beneficial as whole food protein sources.

Endurance athletes who follow a strictly plant-based diet can get their protein from legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that because of the body's reduced ability to unlock the amino acids from plant-based foods than animal foods, you may have to increase your portions if you are obtaining your protein solely through plant sources. There is also the issue of consuming too much fiber when eating larger amounts of plant-based protein from whole foods, which might upset the gut.

When should I increase my protein consumption?

As an endurance athlete, you're constantly preparing for the next big event coming up, and sticking to a training and dieting regime is undeniably the most important part of that preparation process. As mentioned above, the regular protein intake is 1.4g to 2g per kg of body weight - but there are some times where it might be appropriate for an endurance athlete to increase their protein consumption beyond those figures. They are as follows:

  1. You're planning to increase your muscle mass

    Usually during the off-season when the main events of the year are finished. If you feel like your body is starting to reduce in muscle mass, take this time to increase your focus on strength training before the next season starts up again.

  2. You want to lose body fat without compromising muscle mass
  3. With more protein in your daily calorie intake, you feel fuller for longer than carbohydrates can provide. You can still maintain an overall caloric deficit, leading to lean body composition.

  4. When you are attending exhausting endurance events
  5. Ultra-marathons, Ironman competitions, Triathlons - you get the idea. These events are incredibly demanding on the body and require some extra nutritional boost.

When is the best time to consume protein?

Generally, an endurance athlete should aim to consume high-quality protein up to 90 minutes after training. It increases muscle regeneration, promoting muscle endurance.

If you don't have enough time to prepare a meal rich with protein after training, make a protein shake. It facilitates muscle recovery effectively in the window of opportunity where the body's cells are more receptive to absorb micronutrients and macronutrients.

Protein and immune system

Apart from helping your muscle tissue recover efficiently, protein also builds up your body's immune system. The antibodies in our system that fight off bacterial infections are all powered by protein. Too little protein present in an endurance athlete's diet - or any person's diet for that matter can lead to weakness, poor immunity, and overall bad health, which puts a damper on performance in the long run.

Final thoughts

Endurance athletes are in a class of their own. The work they put themselves and their entire musculoskeletal system through to learn how to operate over prolonged periods of time makes one wonder how their bodies sustain such energy strain.

Summarizing the article - nutrition is the key to endurance athlete's peak performance. It all starts in the kitchen, and while sport science and nutritional research have come a long way, there is always room for discoveries. Carbohydrates are the preferred choice of fuel for endurance athletes, and the consensus doesn't seem to point to changes anytime soon.

However, the stress that endurance sports put the body is slow, yet it has consequences to musculoskeletal health. Adding protein into the endurance athlete's diet will help counter adverse effects by ensuring the athlete's body stays strong and healthy for much longer.

Here at TrainingMeals , we put all our efforts into providing truly personalized nutrition based on your natural endurance abilities, physical activities, and training plan without compromising on taste. Learn more, or just try it. Start your 10 day free trial now.

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