The Lone Runner Series: Top 8 Protein Sources for Marathon Runners

Top 8 Protein Sources for Marathon Runners by Ben Connelly

Most marathon runners know the importance of carbohydrates in the second half of marathon training. But many underestimate the importance of protein. In the first half of training, runners should prioritize protein consumption. While it will play a role throughout training, protein will also be important during post-race recovery.

Protein is critical for muscle recovery. Especially during mileage buildup and peak mileage. Runners need protein to repair muscle damage caused by long runs, high mileage, and hard workouts. In order to maximize recovery and rebuild your body stronger and faster, you need to eat protein.

Many runners may not eat enough protein. While the FDA recommends 50 grams of protein per day for the average adult, athletes need more. Bodybuilders often use two common rules of thumb:

  • 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight
  • Or 20% of your daily calories from protein

Runners may not want to build muscle, but they do put a lot of stress on their bodies. In order to recover from 20-mile long runs, you need plenty of protein. Do not worry about gaining weight. As long as you do not eat more calories than you burn, you will not gain weight. (And if you overeat on a low-protein diet, you will gain fat, not muscle.)

Top Protein Sources:

  1. Meat: Especially chicken or beef. Vegetarians can skip this one, but for everyone else, meat is one of the best natural sources of protein. Opt for lean, minimally-processed meats. Chicken has more protein per ounce than beef, turkey, or pork. Older runners, or those with certain health conditions, should cut back on red meat.
  2. Fish: Another excellent source of protein. Fish and shellfish also contain fatty acids crucial to cognitive function.
  3. Eggs: Unfairly demonized for years, eggs are actually very nutritious. One large egg has 7 grams of protein, along with micronutrients, and healthy fat.
  4. Beans, Lentils, and Legumes: One of the best protein sources outside of animal products.
  5. Nuts: Especially almonds and pistachios. Keep in mind that they are easy to overeat.
  6. Synthetic Sources: In a pinch, you can turn to protein bars, protein powders, or protein shakes. Make sure to read the nutrition label. Check actual protein content, the ratio of protein to calories, and sugar content.
  7. Vegetable Sources of Protein: Edamame, peas, broccoli, and even spinach. While lower in protein than meat, these vegetables also contain fewer calories and many important micronutrients. They can help you add a few extra grams of protein to your meals.
  8. Certain Grains: Most marathon runners eat grains for the high-quality carbohydrates. To boost your protein consumption, you can opt for protein-containing grains. Mainly quinoa, but rice and oats also contain protein.

While not exhaustive, this list should give you a good start. Once you start tracking protein and making an effort to eat more, you will find it easy to eat enough to fuel your recovery. You may not build muscle, but you will ensure your body repairs itself after long runs and hill workouts.

Ben Connelly is a freelance writer and an experienced runner. He has written multiple e-books on running and general fitness, including a marathon training guide, which you can purchase here. You can find him at his Amazon Author page, or at his website.

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