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Do Endurance Athletes Need Protein?

Posted on April 15, 2014

Do Endurance Athletes Need Protein?Dividerimage

Food is fuel, so eating a quality diet is important. Making sure you consume the correct nutrients at the right time is essential for maintaining energy levels, repairing damaged muscles, protecting your immune system, and ultimately achieving your goals. There are many protein supplements available to provide an easy source of essential nutrition.

Many endurance athletes may overlook the importance of protein and focus on carbohydrate intake to maintain a source of slow release energy. However, macro-nutrients which include both carbohydrates and protein are incredibly important for the endurance athlete. When an athlete focuses on carbs alone the risk of encountering gastrointestinal distress is heightened. Too many slow release carbs can sit in the gut and prevent other essential nutrients from being absorbed correctly when needed. A mixture of both carbohydrates and protein in effective quantities is desirable. 

Protein has proven to be beneficial in the build phase and to promote active recovery. Protein has also been proven to fight fatigue and enhance performance, so using quick release protein before a workout could prove to be incredibly effective for endurance athletes. Endurance exercise breaks down protein to create fuel, so you burn through protein quickly. When protein is consumed it converts into amino acids, which rebuild and maintain muscle. Ingesting protein during or after a workout means that it is not converted into fuel. 

Damage occurs to the body when it is under stress, and protein helps to inhibit the stress response, which can reduce muscle soreness. Whey protein is an excellent source of protein which is absorbed very quickly, increasing levels of amino acids when needed. Whey protein powder is widely available and should not be overlooked by athletes. Protein powders are absorbed very quickly; they provide nutrition, encourage the delivery of oxygen around the body, specifically to muscle tissue, and as well as repairing muscle, they promote desired adaptations caused by exercise.

Ensuring your long term health prospects are insured is part of making sure your long term goals as an endurance athlete are met. Protecting yourself against viruses ensures that you are always at the peak of your health. Protein is essential in creating the healthy growth of immune cells. Lack of high quality protein can result in the inability for the body to create antibodies. Some amino acids such as glutamine are important in promoting immune system functionality. Protein deficiency can lead to overtraining syndrome.

Many endurance athletes may worry about unnecessary weight gain, or bulking out and the effect this may have on their performance. This is in many respects an unnecessary concern. The type of exercise you engage in determines the way your body distributes muscle. As long as protein supplements aren't taken excessively, the benefits of introducing protein to your regime will shine through. In terms of weight gain, protein is brilliant at combating unhealthy eating habits, which in turn may prevent you form filling your body with poorer food choices and improve meal timing. 

To conclude, protein may well be overlooked by many endurance athletes for a selection of reasons. Protein's association with body-building and bulking out, and a primary focus on carbohydrate intake form the major reasons. Protein is still incredibly important to endurance athletes and is necessary for anybody engaging is activities which may cause stress to the body. Protein is invaluable in providing energy and nutrition during a workout, and the means to repair your body afterwards. In short, all endurance athletes should consider upping their protein intake.