The debate about protein requirements for athletes has heightened recently. Many associate high protein diets with strength and resistance training; while the focus seems to be on carbohydrates for endurance athletes.
That said, the literature demonstrates slightly different findings: while an anabolic stimulus such as strength training does seem to benefit from a higher intake of protein, this is only true in those new to resistance training. This is because the body adapts to the demand of training. But the story is different in endurance sports, where protein can be overlooked.
It’s widely known that consumption of sufficient protein within the diet is necessary to help recover from the oxidative protein losses associated with endurance exercise. But what are the implications for triathletes?
Consuming protein is an important part of any athlete’s diet; current recommendations state around 1.2-1.8g/kg bodyweight (BW)/day protein for endurance sports. For a 60kg athlete, this is in the region of 72-108g a day dependent on your training. More recently it’s been suggested that the body utilises this protein more efficiently if it’s spread out through the day.
I recommend 0.3-0.4g/kg BW protein at meals, which is in the region of 20-25g for most individuals, with 10-15g portions as snacks 1-3 times a day, based on their training and body composition goals. Protein is also useful to aid recovery as it enhances the re-synthesis of glycogen in preparation for your next training session.
20g of protein at meals is equivalent to:
200g portion of Greek (style) yoghurt
Pack of card size portion of fish, meat or chicken
3 medium eggs
1 pint of milk
Some good 10g protein snacks include:
A matchbox size portion of cheese with an apple
300ml flavoured milk
100g edamame beans
30g peanut butter
100g Greek (style) yoghurt with berries and honey
But what about the recovery window we often hear about? And does it matter what type or form of protein is consumed? Some say that if you don’t recover within that 20-minute window post-training, something awful is going to happen. So is this based on truth or just a marketing ploy by sports nutrition brands for you to purchase recovery products? The answer depends on numerous factors:
What intensity training session have you completed?
How long was the session?
When are you going to train next?
When are you going to eat your next meal?
Session 1 If your last session was a high-intensity track session in the evening and this is followed by a steady swim the next morning, it’s likely that there’ll be less than 12hrs for recovery between sessions. This means it’ll be difficult for your body to replenish glycogen stores within that time frame. In this case, the 20min window’s key. By choosing to recover quickly you’ll give your body a better chance of training well in the morning.
Recovery Ideally make your recovery a liquid choice to aid hydration, composed of easily digested protein and readily absorbed carbohydrate. A smart option is milk or flavoured milk, which provides carbohydrate in the form of lactose, and protein in the form of whey and casein.
Session 2 If your session was a high-intensity track session but you’re not going to train again for the next 24hrs, then this gives you opportunity to recover and refuel through meals and snacks.
Recovery Aim to consume a recovery meal within 2hrs of finishing your training session. Start to hydrate as soon as possible, especially if your losses have been high. As this may be late, choose something that’s quick and convenient to prepare – eggs on toast with a glass of milk is an ideal option.
Session 3 If your last session was between meals and there’s over 2hrs until your next meal, consuming a recovery snack is recommended.
Recovery If your next session is high-intensity, make it carb-based with a small amount of protein – e.g. a fruit smoothie or two slices of malt loaf with a glass of milk.
Session 4 As above but if followed by alow-to-moderate or a recovery session.
Recovery Make it protein-focused to help with satiety and also to provide essential amino acids to help repair your muscles. Greek yoghurt with fruit and honey is a perfect choice.
TOP TIPS FOR PROTEIN CONSUMPTION
Follow the below suggestions for optimum recovery to cover every time of day and timing of your next session.
Milk or flavoured milk is an ideal post-race recovery option for that crucial ’20-minute’ window, providing hydration, carbs and protein.
Eat within 2hrs of your last session and choose something simple to prepare – eggs on toast with a glass of milk, for example.
BETWEEN MEALS 1
If your next set is high-intensity opt for carb-based snacks with a small amount of protein – a fruit smoothie or malt loaf with milk.
BETWEEN MEALS 2
If your next session is low to moderate opt for protein-based snacks, such as Greek yoghurt with fruit and honey.