WHY IS PROTEIN IMPORTANT FOR ATHLETIC RECOVERY?

For athletes, proper nutrition is an essential complement to physical training. Don’t sell yourself short during recovery periods and aim for these protein-packed foods shared by endurance running coach and nutrition Expert Claire Shorenstein.

Athletes who undergo intense training and workouts are often depleted and require optimal ways to replenish their body’s resources. High intensity and long workouts (>60-90 minutes) tap into glycogen (energy) stores, damage muscle tissue, and stimulate muscles to adapt.  That’s why the recovery period becomes so important, characterized by adequate rest and nutrition that facilitates:

Nutritionally, the recovery process involves consuming carbs for glycogen re-stocking, protein for repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue, and fluids and electrolytes lost to sweat for rehydration.

Protein often gets the most attention where recovery is concerned, and that’s because athletes need more per day than healthy sedentary people – anywhere from 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight depending on how active you are, compared to 0.8 to 1.0 g/kg, respectively.

Aim for 15-20 grams of protein along with carbs within 30-60 minutes after exercise to increase muscle protein synthesis and optimize reloading of glycogen stores. Refueling with carbs and protein during this window of time is ideal because your muscles convert carbs into stored energy much faster than usual, and protein stimulates this process. If you are unable to refuel within this window, however, do not fret; recovery continues past the one-hour mark! Just make sure to include protein in your meals and snacks throughout the day.

Not sure which foods are rich in protein? Here are some examples:

  • 3 oz chicken breast = 24g
  • 3 oz wild salmon = 23g
  • 3 oz tofu = 12g  

  • 3 whole eggs = 18g 

  • 1⁄2 cup edamame = 9 g
  • 1 cup beans/lentils= 15-18g
  • 1 oz (1 slice) cheese = 8g
  • 1⁄2 cup cottage cheese = 14g
  • 8oz Greek yogurt = 22g
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter = 8g
  • 1oz (23) almonds = 6g
  • 1⁄2 cup cooked quinoa = 4g
  • 3 Tbsp hemp seeds = 10g

To refuel after exercise, aim to eat a balanced meal or snack instead of more processed recovery products. Some simple ideas include:

  • Turkey avocado sandwich with side salad
  • Veggie omelet with a small sweet potato
  • Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts
  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter, or with eggs and avocado
  • Wild salmon (or other protein) with quinoa (or other starch) and veggies

It’s also common to have a reduced appetite immediately after a hard or long workout. If you’re not hungry, have a light snack or something drinkable, such as a smoothie made with yogurt and fruit. Refuel with a balanced meal as soon as able, or try prepping your post-workout meal or snack in advance if you are on the go or don’t have time to make it when you finish.

Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: PATRYK DZIEJMA

Claire Shorenstein, MS, RDN, CDN is a NYC-based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Road Runners Club of America certified coach. As an avid runner over the past 20 years, Claire has competed in numerous team and solo running events from the 5km to 50-mile distance, and combines her personal running experience and expertise to help athletes achieve their performance goals. Learn more about Claire at Eat For Endurance.

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