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Ultraendurance-Specific Guide to Protein

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Topics Covered In This Episode:

  • What you need to know about protein
  • How much protein athletes need daily
  • Why ultradistance athletes should ingest protein DURING runs and races
  • Purposes and recommendations for post-workout protein intake
  • Importance of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) for endurance athletes
  • Food sources of leucine

HOST

Corrine Malcolm has been a CTS Coach for more than 5 years and holds a B.S. in Health and Human Performance. She’s a professional ultrarunner, a top ten Western States finisher, and a former U.S. Biathlon National Team member.

Have questions you want Corrine to cover in a podcast? Email her at cmalcolm@trainright.com.

SHOW LINKS

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform


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Episode Transcription:

Please note that this is an automated transcription and may contain errors. Please refer to the episode audio for clarification.

Corrine Malcolm  (00:00):

Hello. Hello, it’s me again, your host coach, Corrine Malcolm, bringing you a deep dive into another fun topic this week. That being protein for endurance athletes a hot topic always. And you know why? It’s because we understand as endurance athletes that fueling your body is in is incredibly important. It’s critically important. We spend a lot of our time, you know, dreaming about the next meal or snack. We’re prepping recovery drinks to have in our car. When we get back to the trailhead, we understand the obvious importance of things like carbohydrates for helping power us down the trail and up the next mountain. So much though that we often forget about another very important macro nutrient and we kinda leave it on the back burner, that being protein. And so that’s what we’re gonna dive into today. You know, kind of ruminating on this idea of, you know, why is protein important for endurance athletes and how can we benefit from it, both pre-run, post-run, and actually also during a run or long effort.

Corrine Malcolm  (00:58):

So let’s dive into it. So what exactly is protein, right? Kind of, once again, Bio 1 0 1. Welcome to class Protein in its most basic form is made up of amino acids. And we often refer to these amino acids as the building blocks for life, the smallest components of anything. And these compounds are critical to us. They’re not only critical for building proteins, but they’re also critical for building hormones and neurotransmitters. They’re kind of involved in everything very, very important. And beyond amino acids, you’ve likely heard of the term essential amino acids. These are amino acids that we cannot make in our body, meaning we have to ingest them, we have to eat them. These are also sometimes lumped together with terms like complete protein. And if you are vegan or vegetarian, you’ve likely had that term come up a lot, adding certain things together to get all of those essential amino acids into one thing.

Corrine Malcolm  (01:51):

There are nine essential amino acids, and those are histamine, iso, leucine. Remember leucine, we’re gonna come back to that later. Methane fennel fellow Fennel alanine. And you can mix that word up too. Thine trip to fan, something you’ve likely heard of before. And valine again, trip to fan, remember that, that’s at reference to like Thanksgiving, Turkey. It makes you sleepy. And that’s gonna come back up again a little bit later too. So remember loose. It’s a very essential, very, very essential important amino acid. Maybe the most essential wink, wink, nod, nod. It’s getting a lot of coverage in the press and in the media. And then trip to fan. And we’re gonna talk about that in conjunction with something known as branch chain amino acids or BCAs that you’ve likely heard about and or ingested in many forms of sports nutrition over the years. What I’m getting at here is that we are quite literally made up of protein and we use it in many, many different ways. The big ones being for muscle protein synthesis. We use this to repair tissues, right? We’re always breaking things down and building it back up.

Corrine Malcolm  (02:58):

It’s also critically important for forming hemoglobin. And it’s actually there are a lot of athletes who I personally struggle with. Anemia and protein ingestion has become one of the important things I have to focus on in order to maintain a healthy amount of hemoglobin in my body. So very, very critical. And then we can actually even use proteins as a source of fuel when we’re running low on carbohydrate stores. So while we think we mostly need things like carbohydrates and or fats even to fuel us down the trail, we can rely on proteins specifically kind of them being broken down into amino acids as a, as a form of metabolic energy. It’s kind of hearkens next to, you know, how much do we need? And the average person needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This is often referred to as the RDA or the recommended daily allowance for protein.

Corrine Malcolm  (03:51):

And again, this is the estimated average requirement and doesn’t necessarily meet the needs for highly active individuals or active individuals. It’s kind of like the basic amount of protein one needs to continue doing things that are human. And why athletes need more protein is because exercise breaks down protein, it breaks down muscle proteins. And while we’re not bodybuilders, endurance exercise still breaks down muscle tissue that we have to repair, that our body needs protein to repair. This means that ingesting the right amount of protein is gonna prevent things like the loss of muscle tissue or the loss of lean muscle mass. It becomes especially critical as we age. It also is gonna help us maintain muscle strength and then further aid and recovery. You know, decrease muscle soreness, allow you to go train the next day, et cetera. So not only is it about building muscle, it’s about maintaining muscle, maintaining strength, and allowing your tissues and your muscles to proper, to function properly rather.

Corrine Malcolm  (04:52):

And for the longest time, the recommendation for endurance athletes when it came to protein consumption was pretty low. Like just above average. I e like, you know, one gram per a protein per kilogram of body weight or one point, you know, one grams. So, you know, not that much higher than average. And more recently that number has changed pretty dramatically. The general consensus actually states that being much higher than that. And this is coming from the International Society of Sports Nutrition and the ioc and the, the newest values actually say that endurance athletes need at least 1.4 to 1.6 grams a protein per kilogram of body weight per day, and potentially as much as two grams per kilogram during high volume and or high intensity training bro blocks, that’s 2.5 times more protein than the average individual and much higher than original, original recommendations.

Corrine Malcolm  (05:47):

So for an athlete that weighs, let’s say approximately 75 kilograms, that’s about 165 pounds, they’re gonna need to consume 105 to 120 grams of protein per day. That’s a lot of protein. So how are we gonna do that? So we’re gonna break this down into, you know, what we need kind of during exercise and then post exercise and then just generally how we can incorporate that into our daily lives. Cause once again, I just said that’s a lot of protein. Something that I know that I personally struggled with, and if I don’t pay attention to it doesn’t happen. I do not, I do not meet the mark. So during exercise, how much protein do you need? And, and truthfully, during most forms of activity, we don’t worry about. During, during exercise protein intake, we worry most about the critical two hour window post activity.

Corrine Malcolm  (06:36):

However, ultra endurance sports, endurance sports are a little bit different. And that is because we have this ability to comfortably both ingest and digest fat and protein on the run because we’re moving at lower intensity. So all of a sudden we have this other macronutrient to play with to utilize during, during long runs and long races with, with added benefit I might add. So as your runs and races get longer, we can add protein to the menu and that general recommendation is going to be ingesting 0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per hour, which for a 75 kilogram athlete, that’s about 18.75 grams of protein per hour. Personally, that seems like a lot and something that I’m probably not gonna hit in many runs or races, but starting to add in protein and protein in conjunction with carbohydrates is gonna, is gonna have benefits like mo most specifically it’s gonna have some metabolic function of, of delaying fatigue, delaying or reducing muscle damage, et cetera.

Corrine Malcolm  (07:41):

That I’ll dive into here in just a second. But historically, I’ve actually started doing this. I’ve done this at Western States, I’ve done this at UT M b, and I’ve done this during my FK t or fastest known time on the Tahoe Rim trail where I was running for 44 hours, which is a long time to do just about anything. And what I did there was I started to add a carbohydrate and protein rich recovery drink. So ingesting both that my crew would mix up at key aid stations. So for Tahoe Room Trail, that meant I was getting this every three to five hours at Western states. I ingested this at approximately just over 50 miles into the race, and then again around mile 80. So not that frequently. Same at UT m b, you’ve got crew access, you know, starting, I think I had it at mile 50 and then again a little bit later, kind of more towards mile 80.

Corrine Malcolm  (08:31):

So once again, crew access is important there, but what I found of getting in this bottle of recovery drink every three to four hours, it was not only comfortable, but it was a really nice addition to my nutrition plan helping me not only avoid pallet fatigue or stomach diff discomfort, but it also allowed me to get in kind of a different form of calories and catch up when I was a little bit behind. So, experiment, right? We’re gonna talk more about that in a little bit. So the biggest benefit from doing this is that it mostly limits exercise associated muscle damage. And this happens because ingesting protein on the run helps to reduce the production of creatine kinase, which is a marker of muscular damage. This allows for a decrease in subjective feelings of muscle soreness and a and an increase in muscle protein synthesis.

Corrine Malcolm  (09:19):

So on the run, really good for recovery, really good for kind of recovery as you’re moving along. And we talk about bca, BCA is later. There’s also a fatigue component that can be important. And this is actually partially mental and has to do with Shan. But yeah, there’s some interesting, interesting research out there to play with. A little bit moving kind of on from during exercise ingestion. Really the big one is when it comes to protein ingestion, immediately post exercise. And we’re gonna try to stick really pretty darn close to that rule of getting protein in within two hours of activity. So oftentimes referred to as the golden window. It’s increased in an area of time where you’ve got increased protein and glycogen synthesis and resynthesis, which is really important for recovery and getting ready to go do the activity again later that day or tomorrow.

Corrine Malcolm  (10:12):

And what what happens here is if it appears that ingesting protein during this time allows for greater muscular and mitochondrial protein synthesis, which again, aids and repairing muscular tissues and also can help aid in glycogen, resynthesis or that kind of more carbohydrate focus resynthesis, where we’re replenishing carbohydrate stores in your muscles, in in your liver where, where glycogen is stored during this window, you’re gonna wanna aim for about 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight or a bolus of about 25 to 30 grams of protein, which is pretty common in most protein recovery products. Most recovery drinks that are in the market have have at least about 20 grams of protein in it. So that’s what you’re gonna aim for. And you’ll hear, you know, this 20 to 30 gram of protein used in a lot of different contexts thrown around a lot.

Corrine Malcolm  (11:02):

And this is because this is about the maximum amount of protein your body can absorb in one sitting or in one bolus or kind of bolus meaning like one big dose. So you’re gonna wanna be able to split this over your meals, right? Instead of getting like one huge dose of protein in every day, you wanna split this 20 to 30 grams of protein, have, have that at each meal, and then combine that with protein rich snacks. So not only is that, you know, 30 grams of protein, that upper end of what you can absorb, you also, there’s also a time component of that. So you wanna be careful and thoughtful of spreading this out every three to five hours up to that 30 gram chunk of protein. So I was alluding to BCAs, and that is because while we understand that the dose and timing of protein ingestion is important for exercise, performance and recovery, the type and quality of protein is also very important.

Corrine Malcolm  (11:54):

You’ve likely heard a lot about BCAs or branched chain amino acids. They’re in just about everything, gels, drink mixes, et cetera. You know, they are, they’re pills capsules, they’re everywhere with a lot of promises. And honestly, they’re, it’s not, you know, unwarranted. These essential amino acids are specifically loose ISO unveiling and there’s a lot of benefits to them including, you know, reducing muscle damage. But the big one actually is that they interact with the uptake of trip tofa, the thing that makes you sleepy. And so actually delays fatigue. So there’s this interesting side hustle that BCAs have when it comes to endurance sports particularly. So super, super interesting that we’re kind of avoiding, avoiding this fatigue set in while getting protein. It also, in recent studies, I came out in 2021 BCAs BCAA ingestion also helped reduce anxiety and depression in individuals.

Corrine Malcolm  (12:56):

So once again, very, very interesting. There’s a lot of cool research out there and I would highly encourage you to go dig into a little bit of it, but I’m getting a little sidetracked here. And while BCAs are important, it seems like LU is kind of the new, the new queen or king of the castle luine seems to be kind of rising to the top of that food chain in which it’s been determined to be really the ideal protein when it comes to protein muscle synthesis. So if you’re looking for foods that are high in leucine, you’re gonna find them in dairy products and other animal products. This is most commonly WHE protein, but you’re also gonna find them in things like pumpkin seeds, peas, navy beans, and cooked oatmeal. So you can find them in lots and lots of places, both you know, Omnis car like caribous and, and if you are vegan or vegetarian, there’s lots of options out there for you. And so while getting protein from whole food sources is definitely a bonus if you’re looking for a good recovery drink mix, you know, either for post exercise or preed time, it’s one of my favorite times taking a little extra protein is you wanna look for drink mixes that utilize either pumpkin seed protein, P protein, or weigh protein, which is gonna be high in loose. So what are the big things that you really need to know, kind of the take home messages, so to speak.

Corrine Malcolm  (14:19):

So big thing, don’t forget about protein. There are a lot of other, you know, there are other macronutrients. We’ve got carbohydrates, we’ve got fats, all very, very important for fueling your body, but we are made of protein, so do not overlook it. Remember that endurance athletes need more protein than the average person that you should be aiming for about 1.4 to two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. And if this is something that you’re struggling with, I highly, highly encourage you to reach out to a registered dietician. There are many who specialize in working with athletes, specifically endurance athletes, and I have

Corrine Malcolm  (14:50):

Personally found that very helpful when it comes to trying to find creative ways to get more protein into my day. It’s gonna help maintain muscle strength, it’s gonna properly repair tissue damage. For me personally, it’s been, it’s been aiding in my, in my battle with anemia. So reach out to someone if that’s something that you’re interested in. I think there’s a lot, a lot of good to be gained there. And it’s, it’s a pretty, for the most part, you know, a very safe way to potentially feel a lot better in your day to day life. I’d encourage you to try adding protein to your next long run or race. Obviously don’t start by adding it to a race. Start in practice, start in training, and then go from there. Experiment. You can go as high as about 0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per hour.

Corrine Malcolm  (15:34):

Maybe try that recovery, drink mid run and then see how that feels and maybe trickle it in elsewhere. Be it maybe nut butter, something like that. Feel a little bit of fat, little bit of protein in it. See how that makes you feel. See what the stick to itness is there for you. Try BCAs, try loose, et cetera. See how that makes you feel. But again, try that in practice first and training first, and then bring it into your racing. Remember that timing and dose are also important. You’re gonna need to spread out protein over the course of your day, ingesting it in 20 to 30 gram chunks, and again, as every three to five hours. So make sure each of those, each of your meals contains about that much protein. And then look for protein rich snacks. I’m not much of a nut person, but I do like a little extra helping a Greek yogurt that’s gone a long way for me.

Corrine Malcolm  (16:21):

And then a little pre-bed time protein protein shake, kind of protein smoothie has been very, very helpful for me to kind of round out my ingestion for the day. Additionally, look for leucine, you know, look for BCAs, but specifically look for leucine. So again, whe protein, P protein and pumpkin seed protein are gonna be rich in those BCAs, specifically in leucine, the king, the queen of the castle of essential amino acids. I think that’s it. I think that for this episode, I hope you enjoyed it. I hope that you are finding that as an endurance athlete you can and should be getting enough protein into your day. Let me know if you have any questions about protein, send them my way. Happy to help point you in the right direction, be that to some literature or to air registered dietician to give you a hand. And if you have any other questions that you’d like to help, you’d like me rather to help tackle in an upcoming episode, send them my way. Having a lot of fun being part of the ultra nerd community week in and week out. I will see you all in two weeks.

 


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