How much protein do female runners need? - Women's Running

How much protein do female runners need?

Author: Laura Hilton

Read Time:   |  December 7, 2021

How much protein do we need to support our running? Personal trainer and nutritionist Laura Hilton shares her expertise...

Of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein), it is protein that is the body’s building block. It’s vital for repair and growth of all bodily material including muscle. In order to properly recover between runs and to strengthen the muscles involved in running therefore, it’s important that runners eat enough protein.

When we run we cause microdamage to our muscles. This damage triggers a process that repairs itself, which also helps to strengthen the muscle so that it is better prepared for a similar occurrence in the future. This process is known as Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). It’s the reason that with the right training our muscles become more powerful and/or stronger over time.

Although the importance of protein intake is more commonly associated with strength sports such as weight lifting, research has found that protein intake is just as important for endurance athletes such as runners. If a runner doesn’t consume enough protein their body can’t fully recover between training sessions, which could mean that those sessions actually cause the muscles to deteriorate rather than to get stronger.

The training session is what kickstarts the MPS process, but having enough protein present in the body is crucial for maximising the benefits to be gained from it.
Each runner should aim to eat at least 1.2g of protein per kilo of their bodyweight each day. So if a runner weighs 70kg, they should eat 84g of protein per day (70 x 1.2). However there is one more important consideration to be made in terms of protein, and that is the leucine threshold.

Leucine is one of the 20 amino acids that form protein, and it is a key component in the triggering of MPS. For MPS to be triggered a person needs to consume a serving of at least 2.5g of leucine. As this all starts to get a bit complex it is easier to aim to eat a serving of protein that provides at least 0.3 – 0.5g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, as that will contain the 2.5g of leucine required. So to trigger MPS someone who weighs 70kg needs to eat a serving of protein that is at least 21g (70 x 0.3). Evidence shows that it is better to consume several portions of protein of at least this size and then to have a break of at least 1.5 hours before consuming protein again. This allows the body to return to baseline before kickstarting the MPS process again, which is found to be more effective for adaptations.

Good protein sources are animal and fish products, legumes, nuts, seeds and soya-based foods. Per gram non-animal sources of protein tend to contain less protein, and therefore vegetarians and vegans will need to consume a higher food volume in order to reach an MPS-stimulating amount of protein.

Ensuring a female runner regularly consumes a sufficient amount of protein will ensure that her body reaps all the benefits of her training runs.

Written by

Laura Hilton

Laura Hilton

Nutritionist, personal trainer and mum of three Laura loves running in the countryside with her dog and has taken on numerous marathons

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