Q: I train 5-6 days a week for triathlon and consider myself well trained. I am having increased in soarness; how much protein does an endurance athlete need?
A: As we head into pre-season training, the questions arise: how much protein does the endurance athlete need? How much protein do I need if I want to stay lean and not get ‚Äúbulky?‚Äù When you look at 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 ‚Äústrength training‚Äù athlete. Let‚Äôs look at why‚Ä¶
Are you doing ‚Äú2 a day‚Äù training sessions? How many days off are you taking in a week? How‚Äôs your sleep? How are you fueling before a brick workout? You need to recover from multiple hours of training, right? Not just 3-4x/ week in the gym. Think of it this way: every foot strike, revolution on the bike, stroke in the pool is a repetition; you‚Äôre 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúbulky‚Äù from protein ‚Äì completely un-true. First off, getting ‚Äúbulky‚Äù depends on the mode of training (heavy weights at a low rep range with 48-72 hrs of rest). Secondly, a female doesn‚Äôt have the level of hormones (testosterone) to get ‚Äúbulky;‚Äù 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 hrs 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‚Äôs about 33 grams spread out of 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 ‚Äúone size or formula‚Äù that fits every person and athlete. Get educated and work on formulating a personal meal plan that fits your energy and recovery need before, during, and after training to optimize your results!