Protein needs for runners

by Graeme Hilditch

Amino Acids - Proteins building blocks

Proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids. Their specific structure and order determines what kind of protein they are. There are a total of around twenty two amino acids, some of which can be made by the body when necessary, known as non essential amino acids but others know as essential amino acids must be consumed through the diet.

If essential amino acids are left out of the diet, ill health can set in and running performance can be severely impaired. By eating a well balanced carnivorous diet, the chances of becoming deficient in the essential amino acids are unlikely as all meat products contain sufficient amounts. Such types of food are known as complete proteins. Other types of complete protein from non animal products include quinoa and soya.

Incomplete Proteins are all other types of food that do not contain all of the essential amino acids. These include vegetable, fruit and grain products. As a result, vegetarian runners should pay particularly close attention to their diet so that they are not deficient in certain amino acids. A well balanced vegetarian diet, with a wide variety of food products should ensure adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids.

Before protein can be used by the body to carry out everyday physiological functions and regenerate muscle tissue, it must first be broken down by enzymes known as peptides into individual amino acids. The absence of just one amino acid can have a major impact on running performance leaving you feeling fatigued and lack lustre. As a result, it is essential that you make sure your protein intake is not only sufficient but of good quality.

Good bricks build a good body

You’d be forgiven for believing that from the moment you are born, the genes that make you who you are, remain unchanged and, irrespective of what you eat they cannot be altered.

To a degree this may be so but few people are aware realise that genes are a product of protein and are replaced regularly. Your blood, enzymes and even the structure of your genes are made by the protein you have eaten in your diet over the past six months.

If the sources of protein in your diet have been of poor quality, you will have built a poor quality body which is not going make the task of running 26.2 miles as well or as efficiently as it could. Years of eating bad quality food can mean that your muscles, tendons and a multitude of other tissues are not made with the best quality protein and have a detrimental impact (albeit subtle) to your physical health.

To ensure you are providing your body with the best quality "building blocks," try to make sure that the protein in your diet is of high quality rather than cheap processed meats you will find in products such as microwave meals and fast food restaurants. Lean cuts of meat from good sources and organic meats may be more expensive but the quality of your health will be far superior.

How much protein?

There are many theories on the optimum amount of protein a runner needs to consume if they are to meet the body’s demands. Although there is a large middle ground, too little protein will hinder adequate recovery of the working muscles and if the body takes in more protein than it can utilise, it is broken down into waste products by the liver.

Whichever book you read on the subject about protein requirements for endurance runners, you can be sure that you will find a range of suggestions but if you aim to consume somewhere in the region of 1.1g - 1.3g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, you will not go far wrong.

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