Protein is an important and essential macronutrient, not just for performance but also for general health. In fact, it is found throughout the body, from our hair and nails to muscles and hormones. The building blocks that make up protein are known as amino acids. One of the most well known function of protein is centred around the muscle – to repair and build. However, with carbohydrates being prioritised, protein intake often takes a backseat. While an endurance athlete may not require as much as a strength athlete, it is still required for efficient recovery and preservation/building lean muscle mass.

A survey conducted by the Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB) in 2015 concluded that 9 out of 10 Indians consume a protein deficient diet. While this was not an athlete specific population, one can only wonder if recreational athletes get their required intake! Hence, it is of priority that endurance athletes get their individualised amount of high-quality protein to support muscle recovery and also for the body to function optimally.

What kind of protein should you consume?

Protein from animal sources and plant sources vary in the amino acids that they contain. When all essential amino acids (those that your body cannot make and need to be obtained through food) they are called complete proteins. The ones that do not contain all the essential amino acids are called incomplete proteins. Animal sources like eggs, meat and dairy are complete proteins. Plant sources like quinoa and soy are complete proteins but lentils and legumes are incomplete proteins. The type of protein consumed will depend on the individual’s preferences and lifestyle. While animal sources do have all essential amino acids, it is possible to meet protein requirements by consuming a variety of plant-based sources.

How much protein should you eat?

The general recommendation for daily protein intake for endurance athletes is 1.2-1.4g/kg body weight. This is about 84-98g/day for a 70kg individual. However, these requirements further vary with the intensity, duration and type of training. Ideally, consuming about 20-25g of protein per meal would ensure optimal intake through the day.

When is the optimal time to consume protein?

With optimal timing of protein, two things need to be noted. First, overall protein intake through the day is very important to ensure that you obtain your required amount of protein on a day to day basis. Second, is timing of protein after a training or event. While you do not need to get some protein as soon as the event/training is over, it would be preferable to consume a protein and carb rich meal or snack within 2 hours of exercise completion. It is imperative to note that protein consumption for recovery is not just dependant on protein intake after the exercise but also your total intake through the day.

My recommendations

Chicken breast, fish, eggs, Greek yoghurt, milk, whey/pea protein, tofu, soy products and paneer are excellent sources of complete proteins. Protein smoothies are a light and refreshing post workout snack. Plant based sources like chickpeas, yellow dal, rajma amongst others are also good sources of carbohydrates. These can be incorporated into meals. Try and incorporate each of these sources into your meals to ensure optimal protein intake.

  • Some examples would be;
  • Chicken breast (curry/grilled) with rice and vegetables
  • Greek yoghurt with fruit, nuts and seeds
  • Whey/pea protein smoothie
  • Egg curry with roti/rice and vegetables
  • Tofu burji with roti/rice and vegetables

It is time we understand the importance of this macronutrient. As Indians, we are used to consuming a carbohydrate dominant diet. Especially, with regards to sports performance, recovery of muscle and lean muscle mass play and important role in determining future performances. Hence, it is imperative to consciously include protein sources into our daily meals for optimal performance.

Sharmada Venkat
Sports Nutritionist 
Part of Dream Runners

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