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Are you eating enough protein?


(picture source)

As an endurance athlete, you should not overlook the importance of protein in your diet.

Sadly, in our society, we tend to go from one dietary extreme to another when it comes to eat this, don't eat that. Therefore, when one macronnutrient is heavily emphasized or de-emphasized, it's easy to overlook other important nutrients that are necessary to optimize health and athletic success.

In the wake of some pretty extreme, unhealthy and unrealistic eating habits among endurance athletes, it's important for athletes to understand that a low energy and/or low carbohydrate diet is not healthy or performance enhancing.
Certainly "low" can be defined differently among athletes and nutrition experts.

Seeing that protein supports muscle and tissue growth, assists in immune system health, helps with tissue structure and supporting enzymatic reactions and fosters healthy endocrine functioning, without sufficient protein in your diet, your active body can suffer.

Therefore, any athlete who is following a low energy or low-carb diet should take the necessary steps to fine-tune the diet to ensure that dietary protein intake is adequate (otherwise, health and performance issues could arise).

I'm not advocating low-carb or low energy diet but if you choose this dietary route, be sure to not skimp on dietary protein.
Endurance athletes should aim for 1.2-1.7g of protein per kg body weight per day. If you weigh 130 lbs (59kg), this equates to 71-106g protein per day.

Here are a few take-home dietary messages:
  • If you are intentionally trying to lose weight, you will want to focus on the higher end of your protein needs to preserve lean muscle mass as you lose body fat. 
  • On longer duration or high intensity workout days, daily protein needs should be higher to optimize training-induced muscle adaptions.
  • For all athletes, don't miss out on the great opportunity to recover post workout by including protein with your post workout snack or meal.
  • Although the recommendations for post workout carbs/protein will vary based on the individual, workout intensity/duration and fitness goals, here are a few suggestions for post workout fueling:
-If you are eating only a snack post workout, aim for 10-15g of protein and around 20-40g of carbs. As a example, 10g whey or vegan protein + 1/2 cup cow's milk (or almond milk) + water (as needed) + 1 banana.  

At your next meal, aim for around 15-25g protein and 40-60g of carbs.  As an example, 2 eggs + 1 egg white (or 3 ounce lean meat) + 3/4 cup oatmeal + 1/2 cup berries + 1 tbsp maple syrup + 1/2 ounce chia seeds.
If only eating a meal (and no post workout snack), aim for 25-30g protein and 50-90g carbs. (higher end of protein and carbs after long duration or very intense workouts)
These are guidelines, not rules. Certainly, it is important that you find the best combo and nutrient timing that works for your workout and life regime.
  • As an athlete, it is important to get familiar with the best (and easy to find, prep and consume) sources of protein and carbs in your diet so that recovery nutrition is not an afterthought but instead, easy to execute on a daily basis. 

(For the record, I am absolutely not anti-fat but for the purpose of this blog, I am specifically focusing on protein in the athletes' diet).
  • It's important to spread your total protein intake out throughout the day (example 25-30g each meal) so that each meal helps to fulfill your total protein intake needs. Plus, protein (along with fat) increases satiety which can help with overeating and cravings.
  • If your typical breakfast is oatmeal and fruit or toast with avocado and an orange, add 3/4 cup Greek yogurt, 20-25g vegan protein powder, 2 egg whites + 1 whole egg or 4 ounce lean meat or fish to your meal for a more balanced meal with adequate protein.


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Some of my go-to plant strong protein sources are:
Organic 1% milk
Tempeh
Tofu
Beans
Lentils
Edamame
Cottage cheese
Eggs
Whey protein
Greek Yogurt

Cheese

I also get protein from nuts, seeds, nut butter, chia seeds, hummus and grains.

Are you eating enough protein in your diet?