The Latest Protein Guidelines for Runners, According to Science

protein study
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Serious runners—in this case, track and field athletes—put a major strain on their bodies on a day to day basis. They need a strategic nutrition plan to help their muscles recover, initiate training adaptation, and improving or maintaining muscle mass. For years, carbs were thought to be the most crucial to runners, leaving protein mostly overlooked. But new guidelines suggest the macro is essential for sprinters, long-distance runners, and the like; however, knowing how much to consume is tricky.

Luckily, a new study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism has made things a little clearer. The authors performed a systematic review of available research on protein intake and found that to increase muscle mass, runners should consume 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass each day.

“Track and field athletes engage in vigorous training that places stress on physiological systems requiring nutritional support for optimal recovery,” said Dr. Oliver Witard, University of Stirling professor of Health Sciences and Sport and the lead author on the report. “We highlight the benefits of dietary protein intake for training adaptation, manipulating body composition, and optimising performance.”

The findings from this new study have helped the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) create an updated consensus statement on protein (it was last updated in 2007, and sports science has progressed quite a bit since then). For instance, in the past, in some countries, athletes had only been advised to eat about 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body mass.

Although the research is geared toward professional athletes, the findings are helpful for any serious runner. If you’re running and aiming to increase lean muscle mass, shoot for 1.6 grams of protein daily per kilogram of body mass. If your goal is to lose weight and increase lean muscle mass, the study recommends upping your daily protein intake to anywhere from 1.6 to 2.4 grams per kilogram of body mass. Here are some ways to hit those macros in a day.

The Perfect High-Protein Meal Plan for Male Sprinters

Foods provide ∼30g of protein in highlighted meals during the day for a 175lb male:

  • 8:00 a.m. Breakfast: 250g oatmeal and 200ml low-fat milk
  • 9:30-11:00a.m. Strength training: Water and/or sports drink/bar/gel
  • 11:00a.m. Recovery meal: 300g Greek yogurt with granola
  • 12:30p.m. Lunch: Two-egg omelet with cheese, toast/salad
  • 4:00p.m. Dinner: 120g chicken with rice and vegetables
  • 5:00–7:30p.m. Event-specific training: Water and/or sports drink/bar/gel
  • 7:30p.m. Recovery meal: 300g cottage cheese with apple and berries
  • 10:00p.m. Evening meal: 100g tuna in a mixed pasta salad

The Perfect Meal Plan for Female Long-Distance Runners

Foods provide ∼20g of protein in highlighted meals during the day for a 120lb female:

  • 8:00 Breakfast: 200g Greek yogurt and granola
  • 9:30–11:00a.m. Strength training: Water and/or sports drink/bar/gel
  • 11:00a.m. Recovery meal: 500ml smoothie (yogurt and berries)
  • 12:30p.m. Lunch: Two fried eggs and toast/salad
  • 4:00p.m. Dinner: 100g salmon with potatoes and vegetables
  • 5:00–7:30p.m. Event-specific training: Water and/or sports drink/bar/gel
  • 7:30 Recovery meal: 500ml smoothie with yogurt, fruit, and berries
  • 10:00p.m. Evening meal: Ham and cheese sandwich and 200ml low-fat milk