Runners, Get Your Protein Here! These Are The Best Natural Sources Of Protein For Beginning Runners to Ultra Runners
Why Runners Need More Protein
You probably know how important protein is for the overall functioning of the body, but if you’re a runner, protein is even more vital to your athletic performance and recovery. As we run, the force and impact of our stride breaks down the muscle fibers in the body. Protein helps to rebuild those muscle fibers so you can build strength and endurance over time.
Protein is commonly explained as the building blocks of the body, and it’s true: you can find protein in each and every one of your cells! On average 17% of our body is composed of protein alone, and it assists important jobs like muscle building, blood clotting, maintaining hydration, and hormone and enzyme production.
Protein is made of 20 amino acids--11 non-essential and 9 essential amino acids. You don’t need to worry about consuming non-essential amino acids because your body produces them on its own. As for the essential amino acids, you need to get those from your diet by consuming complete proteins. Complete proteins include all 9 essential amino acids and can be found in animal proteins (including fish and dairy) and plant-based proteins. Certain foods like rice and beans are incomplete proteins alone, but when eaten together they become complete proteins.
Ultra runners and other endurance athletes need more daily protein than the average person. If you don’t eat an adequate amount of protein, you will feel fatigued after a workout because your body does not have the nutrients it needs to recover. But before you start scarfing down three steaks after your run, find out how much protein your body needs based on your overall composition and your goals. If you’re a female endurance runner and you simply want to replenish your body after a workout, then your protein consumption will be different than a male sprinter who is trying to pack on muscle. In general you want to aim for .5 to .75 g of protein per body pound, but this will scale differently depending on your goals.
The Best Time To Consume Protein
Running is one of the best full-body exercises you can do, but it also depletes your body of nutrients because you use them all up for energy. Eating a balanced post-workout meal with proper amounts of protein and carbs helps to replenish those nutrients and restore your body before your next run. For runners, protein timing (or strategically eating protein at certain times of the day) can improve your performance and optimize your recovery time.
Start Your Day with Protein
In general, runners need to increase morning protein intake on training days. This helps you front load your protein intake so you have a stable amount of protein for the day ahead. Make sure you match your protein intake to the type of exercise you will be doing that day. If you plan on running 6 miles after work, then your protein intake will be much different than if you are planning on double runs with a total of 20 miles.
The Post Workout Recovery Meal
You need to be consuming protein within 30 minutes after your run to hit this recovery period window. Aim for 25-30 grams of protein, depending on your weight.
Have a Protein Snack Before Bed
We’re not suggesting you grab the leftover steak from the fridge 10 minutes before bed, but having a bit of protein (preferably dairy protein if that’s easy on your stomach) can actually help you recover faster. A serving of cottage cheese or a glass of chocolate milk provides the right balance of sugar, carbs and protein to lull you to sleep while also nourishing your body.
The Best Natural Protein Sources For Runners
The best proteins have a good balance of amino acids, healthy fats and other essential nutrients like vitamins A, B, E and CLA.
20-23 g per 3 oz plus omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B-12
Tuna has a crazy high protein count per ounce, plus it’s a lean protein and A-OK for those avoiding red meat. Mix it up with some mustard, onions, and mayo (or for an added protein punch, substitute mayo with greek yogurt) and spread on some whole grain or gluten free toast.
6 g per oz plus vitamin E and fiber
Almonds have an impressive amount of protein as far as plant-based proteins go. Whether you add a scoop of almond meal or almond butter to a post-workout smoothie or toss whole almonds in a hearty summer salad, this go-anywhere snack makes a versatile addition to hundreds of recipes.
40 g of protein per .5 filet plus omega-3 fatty acids
Salmon is a mighty protein source with an awesome nutritional profile. Loaded with protein, omega-3 fatty acids (which many people are deficient in), and other essential vitamins, wild salmon provides all the delicious nutrients your body needs after your weekly long run. Enjoy with a side of quinoa and a light salad within 30 minutes of your workout.
28 g of protein in one skinless chicken breast plus vitamin b6 and selenium
You can’t go wrong with chicken breast! Skinless chicken breast is a powerhouse lean protein that all meat-eating runners should keep in their diets, especially if you’re watching your red meat intake.
14g per serving plus fiber and iron
Quinoa is a rockstar plant-based protein that provides everything vegetarian runners need to stay energized throughout their workout. Quinoa is also a versatile ingredient and can be used as a base for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Hemp Seeds and Chia Seeds
11g; 4 g protein
Hemp seeds and chia seeds make adding protein meals extremely easy. Because they each have a mild flavor, you can sprinkle them into a diverse list of recipes and get the benefits you need without any extra effort.
6-7 g of protein per serving
While the world was a bit cautious about eggs for a while because of cholesterol content, we now know that the cholesterol in eggs is not harmful if you consistently eat it. If you’re not a yolk fan, that’s OK too! The egg white from a single egg contains 3-4g of protein. Also, since egg whites are relatively flavorless, you can scramble them up and mix them into oatmeal or a veggie stir fry for a complete post-workout snack. You can also purchase egg white protein in vitamin stores and certain grocery stores.
26g of protein per 4 oz plus omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, B, E and CLA
Grass-fed beef is hailed as the most protein-dense food out there. If you eat meat, having a grass-fed beef steak every once in a while can greatly improve your muscle recovery. Grass-fed beef has more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef, so opt for a leaner grass-fed cut.
17g of protein per serving plus calcium
Unsweetened yogurt is a versatile protein source with an incredible 17-20g of protein per serving. Add a dollop to your smoothies, eat with some fresh berries and granola, or use it as a substitute for mayo or sour cream in some recipes.
24 g of protein per 3 oz, plus vitamin b6, niacin, selenium
One of the simplest post-workout (or after-school!) snacks is a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread. Turkey breast is a tasty lean meat that you can wrap up in a lettuce wrap, add to a salad, or gobble up on its own.
Did we miss any? What is your favorite natural protein source?