We all know we need protein to help build muscle and keep our strong bodies healthy, but if you’re an athlete it can be confusing to understand just how much protein you need. While the USDA recommends most people consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (0.36 grams per pound) of body weight per day, for endurance athletes this number rises to 1.0 to 1.6 grams per kilogram a day (0.45 to 0.72 grams per pound).
Basically this means you need to conscientiously make sure you have a good amount of protein at every meal if you get more than 30 minutes of exercise a day. I’ll break this down into examples of daily meals and good sources of protein in the following paragraphs. It is entirely possible to get enough protein by eating whole foods, which means you don’t need to load up on protein shakes to get enough protein in your daily diet.
I personally had been slipping as far as getting enough protein and my recent breakfast choices for sure didn’t have enough protein. Lately, I had been having a serving of a healthy grain (often a homemade zucchini muffin) and a serving of chia seed pudding made with coconut milk which had only around 8 grams of protein even with the sliced almonds I would sprinkle over the top. Lunch typically includes Greek yogurt, which has around 15 grams of protein. My main course for lunch may include anything from tuna fish to lentils to homemade leftover pizza or other leftovers from dinner. Dinner typically includes a high protein source like chicken, fish, or sometimes beef. During the day, I usually have a serving of fruit that has zero or minimal protein and a fruit and nut type cereal bar with 3-5 grams of protein for snacks.
When I added it up, my protein consumed throughout the day was surely falling short of the recommended levels for endurance athletes. I recently read something that was a great reminder to increase my protein Runner’s World article. Short of having eggs every day for breakfast, protein shakes for lunch, and piles of meat for dinner, what is the best way to achieve more protein in your diet?
Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, meats, fish, milk, dried lentils, lunch meats (look for natural varieties which don’t have all of the added chemicals), nut butters, nuts, tofu, edamame, avocado, green peas, wheat germ, and quinoa are all good sources of protein, as well as protein powders when necessary. It is possible to get all of your proteins from whole foods, however, and whole foods are always better for your body than processed food (including powders).
What would a typical day look like that provided an endurance athlete enough protein to fuel their body?
Breakfast might be Greek yogurt and a banana covered in 2 tablespoon peanut butter and coffee with 2% milk: 29 grams
Lunch could be a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, an apple, and a handful of nuts: 40 grams
Snack might be a serving of cheese: 7 grams
Dinner could include a piece of salmon, baked sweet potato, mixed greens, broccoli, and green beans: 32 grams
This adds up to 108 grams of protein. For most endurance athletes, this would be enough protein, even nearing the high side of 0.72 grams per pound. You could always supplement with a snack of hummus with baby carrots or sliced cucumber, or add a serving of beans to lunch or dinner, or have a protein shake if that’s not enough protein for your body. You could also make your own high protein energy bars.
Lately, I’ve changed my breakfast choices to include a protein so that every meal has roughly 30 grams of protein, and I’ve been making my own hummus with chickpeas for a high protein snack. I also try to eat more fish for dinner to limit red meat and try to incorporate salmon at least once a week. While, I’m not touting a high-protein, low-carb diet, I do feel a diet higher in protein can benefit most athletes. Personally I think high-quality healthy carbohydrates are a necessary part of everyone’s diet and they get a bad reputation when they’re lumped in with other carbs such as refined sugar. I feel that everyone’s body is different and what may work for one person may not for another, but in the case of protein, athletes definitely need more than the average sedentary person.
What sources of protein are your favorites? Any good ones I left out?