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Protein Intake and Performance for Runners

Proteins are vital to up your marathon game as they are needed for muscle development and repair. They also serve as a source of energy when the energy (glycogen) reserves decline in the body. Muscles support the energy needs, especially during exercise and its build-up is enhanced during the recovery period. Increased activity would require more protein. Hence, as a marathon runner, it forms an important component of your diet!1-3

How much protein do I need?

It is generally recommended that around 10% to 20% of your calories must come from proteins. In other words, although adults require

1 g/kg body weight of protein, runners must aim at consuming 1.5 g/kg body weight.1,3,4

What is protein quality and how does it matter?

Proteins are made up of tiny molecules known as amino acids. A total of 18 amino acids exist, of which 9 can be made by your body and are known as non-essential amino acids, and the rest need to be consumed through your diet and are known as essential amino acids.

A protein is considered to be of good quality when it contains all the essential amino acids. It is important that you consume a mix of protein-rich foods to ensure that you get all those tiny essential amino acids!1,4

Animal food sources such as milk, eggs and meat help achieve the required amino acids and are considered to be of good quality. However, this is not true in the case of plant sources. However, a planned vegetarian diet, which includes a combination of different food groups such as beans, nuts and soya milk, can help fill the gaps and provide optimum protein. Moreover, the difference in the digestibility of plant and animal proteins demand vegetarians to consume approximately 10% more protein.5-7

What are the consequences of excessive protein intake?

Excessive protein consumption will not benefit you in any way. On the contrary, when you consume excess proteins, there is a high possibility that your body is unable to digest it. In addition, it may also increase the body’s water requirement and may contribute to dehydration as the kidneys will require more water to eliminate the excess load of proetin.8-10

Pump up your protein intake2,11

A few protein options that provide approximately 10 g of protein have been listed below.

2 small eggs 35 to 50 g meat, fish and chicken

30 g (1½ slices) cheese

2 cups cooked pasta or 3 cups cooked rice

70 g cottage cheese 150 g (¾ cup) lentils or beans

1 cup (250 mL) soya milk

200 g baked beans

300 mL cow’s milk 120 g tofu or soya nuggets

20 g skimmed milk powder

60 g nuts and flax, sunflower and chia seeds

In addition to these food sources, protein supplements can also help scale up the protein intake. It is best to consult a nutritionist for further guidance. Also, make sure you read the food labels to understand the protein contents in the product you buy.11


1. Baker A. Essentials of nutrition for sports. San Diego: Argo Publishing; 2016.

2. Australian Institute of Sport. Current Concepts in Sports Nutrition. Bruce, Australia: Australian Institute of Sport; 2016.

3. American College of Sports Medicine, the American Dietetic Association, and the Dietitians of Canada. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000:2130-45.

4. Expert Group of the Indian Council of Medical Research. Nutrient Requirements and Recommended Dietary Allowances for Indians. Hyderabad, India: National Institute of Nutrition; 2010.

5. Australian Sports Commission. Vegetarian Eating. Bruce, Australia: Australian Sports Commission; 2009.

6. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – which is best? J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3(3):118-30.

7. United States Department of Agriculture. Protein and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: USDA; 2005.

8. Wilson J, Wilson G. Contemporary issues in protein requirements and consumption for resistance trained athletes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2006;3(1):7.

9. Antonio J, Peacock C, Ellerbroek A, Fromhoff B, Silver T. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11(1):19.

10. Martin W, Armstrong L, Rodriguez N. Dietary protein intake and renal function. Nutr Metab. 2005;2(1):25.

11. Nutrition Working Group of the International Olympic Committee. Nutrition for Athletes: A Practical Guide to Eating for Health and Performance. London: Commonwealth Games Federation; 2010.