Most triathletes and endurance athletes are aware of the need for carbohydrates during competition, as well as before and after training and racing. These same athletes often are not concerned with protein, however, and do not monitor how much they are consuming. Protein is essential for a number of bodily processes, including muscle growth and repair following a workout, as well as maintenance of enzymes, hormones, bones, cartilage, hair, and skin. Additionally, protein works to suppress hunger, preventing overeating and its associated weight gain. Protein is essential in the recovery process to allow for the rebuilding of our muscles and studies have shown that the consumption of a protein plus carbohydrate combination within 30 minutes after a workout enhances muscular glycogen levels above consuming carbohydrates alone.(1)
Athletes require higher protein intake than sedentary individuals due to the stress that we put on our bodies during training. Athletes engaging in triathlons and endurance training need approximately 0.55 to 0.65 grams of protein per pound of body weight, so a 170-pound triathlete needs to eat roughly 94 to 110 grams of protein per day to meet training needs. That said, consuming too much protein can also be detrimental to your health and training, as excess protein will be lost to oxidation and potentially converted to fat stores. Larger intakes have no beneficial effect on performance, but a chronic deficit, even slight, can promote fatigue, lower cellular repair and other impairments affecting training quality and performance.(2)
The type of protein we consume after a workout may also make a difference in how well our bodies recover. Numerous studies have shown that the consumption of milk-based protein after resistance exercise is effective in increasing muscle strength and favorable changes in body composition.(3,4,5) A protein shake or even just a glass of milk (I prefer chocolate!) can provide the necessary protein and carbohydrate balance to kick-start recovery and enhance muscle glycogen.
As you can see, protein is an essential component for the triathlete and endurance athlete for optimal performance. Athletes should be aware of the benefits of proper daily protein intake as well as recommended consumption post-workout. For more information about proper fueling and your specific needs, please feel free to contact us and we can connect you with our team of registered sports dieticians.
1. BETTS JA, WILLIAMS C. Short-term recovery from prolonged exercise: exploring the potential for protein ingestion to accentuate the benefits of carbohydrate supplements. SportsMed. 2010: 40: 941-959.
2. Kruseman M, Lecoultre V, Gremeaux V. Nutrition for long-distance triathletes: facts and myths. Dtsch Z Sportmed. 2020; 71: 229-235.
3. Josse AR, Tang JE, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Body composition and strength changes in women with milk and resistance exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2010; 42(6): 1122–1130.
4. Hartman JW, Tang JE, Wilkinson SB, et al. Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007; 86(2): 373–381.
5. Josse AR, Atkinson SA, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Increased consumption of dairy foods and protein during diet- and exercise-induced weight loss promotes fat mass loss and lean mass gain in overweight and obese premenopausal women. The Journal of Nutrition. 2011; 141(9): 1626–1634.