Opinion

Thiel: Protein intake important for endurance athletes

Because of my training as a sports therapist, I see quite a few runners and endurance athletes in my practice.

During the course of my history and examination, I usually give the endurance athlete a sports profile questionnaire to fill out.

This does not just apply to competitive athletes; it applies to anyone who is engaged in training that is endurance in nature.

This would involve your runner, swimmer, cyclist—you get the picture. If you get your heart pumping for a duration in excess of 30 minutes, this applies to you.

One of my questions, I feel, is most crucial in determining your ability to overcome the rigors and demands of endurance training.

I ask them: “How much protein do you take in one day?” It is necessary for the body to adapt, heal and build post exercise.

On average, 80 per cent of the endurance population is not getting enough protein.

For an athlete, protein is the most important food item needed to allow for tissue repair and muscle building.

Our muscles are made up of amino acids. These amino acids are the building blocks for protein.

Our body does not make amino acids or protein as a rule, therefore, we need it from our diet.

Most find it surprising that endurance athletes need more protein than do bodybuilders.

By the sheer nature of endurance sports, we break down our protein, or muscles by the repetitive high-need demands of endurance activities.

In other words, a runner, say, would break down their protein in their muscles every time they train hard.

Well, that muscle is not only going to need to be replaced, but you will need even more protein to have an adaptation, or building response.

This is why we train; to get stronger and faster.

To deplete your dietary intake of protein is entering into a futile cycle.

Without it, you will never improve and you run a much higher chance of contracting an injury. Your exercise is only as effective as your recovery.

Protein is also very important in maintaining a strong immune system.

Without it, you are more susceptible to getting sick.

How much protein is the necessary amount for a proper training and adaptation response?

Dr. Maro DePasquale is an exercise physiologist who has spent his career answering just this question. His research, working out of the Boston Medical Centre, cites that the endurance athlete should ingest a dietary equivalent of one to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass.

This is you minus your fat. The trick is in knowing what has what amount of protein.

How much does an egg have, a chicken breast, a can of tuna etc?

It is easy enough to look up. Become a label reader—it is often some of the most important reading you will do.

So, if you are an endurance athlete, do not go to the trouble of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Make sure you monitor and supplement your protein appropriately.

All of my athletes now know this could be your edge. After all, a Ferrari is no good without gas, is it?

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