This macronutrient comes in many forms from many different sources. Here’s how to choose the right one for you.
- Runners need to get enough protein for muscle repair and proper cell function.
- There are many different types of protein sources out there—some are animal-based, while others are plant-based.
- You need a variety of protein sources in your diet so you can maximize the benefits of all the nutrients available.
As runners (and—you know, humans), we need certain essential nutrients so that our bodies can function at their best. One of the most important and well-known is protein. But over the years, as more and more protein-packed foods and products become available, the confusion around the different types of protein grows.
To help us cut through the clutter, we turned to Kelly Hogan, M.S., R.D., a New York City-based registered dietitian, and Leslie Bonci, R.D., sports nutritionist at the Pittsburgh-based Active Eating Advice, to explain everything from what protein even is to which types should be staples in your diet—and which you might want to use in moderation.
What is Protein, and Why Do We Need it?
Protein is one of three primary macronutrients—the other two being fat and carbohydrate. Macronutrients are the types of food we need in large amounts to stay alive. “From an athletic standpoint, [protein] is important for muscle recovery and muscle building after hard runs and workouts,” Hogan says.
While protein is indeed important for your performance as an athlete, it’s also necessary for other bodily functions, too. For instance, it helps keep you feeling full and aids in rebuilding all of your cells, Hogan adds.
Athletes like us need more protein than the average person due to the extra stress we put on our muscles from workouts such as long runs, speedwork, and strength training. Hogan recommends runners get anywhere between 1.3 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, while non-runners are fine with around 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. So, if you weigh 170 pounds, you’ll want to take in about 77 grams of protein daily.
“It’s hard for your body to utilize and absorb more than 20 to 25 grams of protein at a time,” Hogan says. Because of this, she advises spacing out your protein intake throughout the day with each meal or snack. “The rest is gone to waste or stored as fat,” she says.