Skip to content

Endurance Athletes Need Protein Too!


Endurance athletes can gain that competitive edge they need to progress and win by optimizing their protein intake. If you’re an endurance athlete and haven’t taken the time to understand what protein can do for you, now is the time! Believe it or not, protein is for more than just Arnold Schwarzenegger and his army of “Swoldiers”. An ultra-marathon runner may actually need a higher intake of protein in their diet than a well-trained strength athlete. Take a second to learn about what protein requirements you may need to benefit your endurance activity!


Oxygen is #1 BUT…

Endurance exercise is aerobic in nature, meaning it utilizes oxygen consumption as a fuel source. Obviously, oxygen isn’t the only fuel source and the remaining energy comes through nutrition. Protein energy production amounts to about 1-6% of the total energy cost for aerobic activities such as running so why would it be important to understand? The role of protein in this scenario isn’t actually to provide fuel but more to provide the strength to recover and rebuild properly. Research shows that each year over 50% of all runners in America will experience some sort of running-related injury. This can often be prevented through proper training techniques, adequate nutrition and hydration and then of course proper recovery. Looking at the specific roles of protein, it’s noted that it is required to grow, maintain and repair muscle and other bodily structures. Protein is specifically needed to build collagen in ligaments, tendons and other mending materials (i.e. scar tissue). As an endurance athlete, aren’t these structures crucial to your performance? Our team of personal trainers fully agree with you.


So now you know what protein does and why it is important for any endurance athlete but you’re left wondering, “How much protein do I need?” As you’d expect, the answer is actually more complicated that a simple blanketed recommendation. There are multiple factors that determine the correct amount of protein you should intake for optimal recovery. These factors include the exercise intensity, duration, nutrition status, hydration status and the background training status of the individual. If you increase either the intensity or the duration of your exercise, then you’ll need to increase your protein intake as they are positively related for protein utilization. In regards to nutrition or hydration status, you want to make sure you’re taking in plenty of calories in total before concerning yourself with specific protein intake. With adequate energy intake (specifically carbohydrates), this spares muscle protein and promotes protein synthesis. In simple terms, don’t burn the muscle you’ve earned. If you aren’t getting in enough calories, you aren’t doing yourself a favor! Keep in mind, weight loss is a different ball game so we are focusing on endurance athletes at this time.


The training state/status is also a factor that determines the amount of protein an athlete should be consuming. If you are a rookie and just starting an endurance training program, you will need more protein to support myoglobin, aerobic enzymes and the formation of red blood cells. To put it simply, have more protein initially to help out your cardiovascular system. After 1 to 2 weeks of endurance training, you can begin decreasing your protein needs. Eventually once you’ve become a well-trained endurance athlete, training will actually spare protein utilization. This means that your protein requirements are lower than when you initially started your program.

To move from pounds to kilograms, divide your weight by 2.2.


So how much do you really need? According to the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range or the AMDR, 10-35% of your total daily calories should come from protein. The recommended dietary allowance states that the typical adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

(NOTE: To change your body weight from pounds to kilograms, take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2. This will give you your weight in kilograms.)

  • General Athletes: A range of 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight

  • Endurance Athlete: An absolute minimum of 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight

  • Ultra-Endurance Athlete: Up to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight


What you need to consider are the factors that make up YOU as an athlete. How long have you been training? Are you taking in enough calories? How intense was your run today or yesterday? These are questions you need to ask yourself when deciding on how much protein you should take in. As we stated earlier, there is no blanketed recommendation for everyone. So our personal trainers try to educate their endurance athletes on how to decide their own protein consumption by asking them these very same questions.


You Need to Know This:

It IS possible to consume too much protein. If there is an excessive amount of protein ingested and not enough calcium, the body can become acidic. This causes the body to respond with excretion of calcium from the bones to bring the pH level back to normal. So, if your protein is high and calcium is adequate it WILL NOT increase your risk of osteoporosis. If your protein intake is high and calcium is inadequate, you WILL increase your risk of osteoporosis. The RDA for calcium is 1,000 mg a day.


Good sources of protein: meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs

  • 1 egg (6 grams)
  • 1 oz. lean meat, poultry, fish (7 grams)
  • 1 oz. cheese (7 grams)
  • 1 cup milk, soy milk, yogurt (8 grams)
  • 5 oz. tofu (10 grams)

While we are known for our in-home personal training in Northeast Ohio (Akron, Canton, Cleveland), we also have a registered dietitian on the team who builds sport specific meal plans. Our team of fitness trainers have all worked with numerous types of athletes so give us a call today for your fitness plan.

If you have any questions at all on our personal training services or on our nutrition services, feel free to email us at [email protected] or call (419) 906-0204.