Protein and the Endurance Athlete

Platter of vegetables and dip
January 20, 2017

Mike Ricci


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Q: I train 5-6 days a week for triathlon and consider myself well trained. I am experiencing increased soreness; how much protein does an endurance athlete need?

A: As we head into pre-season training, the question arises: how much protein does the endurance athlete need? How much protein do I need if I want to stay lean and not get "bulky"? When considering protein needs, it is based on the individual, volume of training, and type of training. With that being said, when in an endurance state of training, you actually need more protein than that of a typical "strength training" athlete. Let's explore why...

Are you doing "2 a day" training sessions? How many days off are you taking in a week? How's your sleep? How are you fueling before a brick workout? You need to recover from multiple hours of training, right? Not just 3-4 times a week in the gym. Think of it this way: every foot strike, revolution on the bike, stroke in the pool is a repetition; you're contracting the muscle, doing multiple repetitions over a longer period of time. Think about how many repetitions you do on a 5-mile run, 2500-meter pool workout, it’s a lot! Much more than a person curling a few weights in the gym for 45 minutes!

The other question that may arise is the uncertainty that women might get "bulky" from protein – completely untrue. First off, getting "bulky" depends on the mode of training (heavy weights at a low rep range with 48-72 hours of rest). Secondly, a female doesn't have the level of hormones (testosterone) to get "bulky"; hence, this leads to a female having to work even harder at keeping lean mass (lean mass is our calorie-burning furnace allowing us to train). This would indicate a need for slightly higher ratios of protein as well. Ultimately, they are likely to get firmer and stronger.

Consider a 170 lb athlete training 12-15 hours a week, needing to consume about 4000 calories. Even on the low end, taking in 20% of calories from protein would yield 800 calories or 200 grams of protein. That’s about 33 grams spread out over 6 meals. In the end, recovery is increased, less soreness, an increase in metabolism, and greater glycogen retention because of repair.

Everyone is different, and there is not a "one-size-fits-all" formula that fits every person and athlete. Get educated and work on formulating a personal meal plan that fits your energy and recovery needs before, during, and after training to optimize your results!

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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