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Why Protein is Important for Endurance

Protein consumption is often associated with the desire to grow bigger muscle.

I see weight trainers at the gym leaving daily with their protein shake in hand…. Advertising on protein supplements is often a big bulky guy and very rarely a lean runner or cyclist.

Adequate protein consumption is paramount to improve adaptations and performance for endurance athletes.

Training Adaptation

The goal for training; no matter what your sport, is to improve performance. Physical training does this by stimulating the body to create physiological changes; the body then adapts, gets stronger and more efficient, hence improving your performance over time.

Stimulus for change is created in your training, however the adaptation phase happens within your recovery.

During training, protein structures within the muscles get damaged and need repairing. This is where nutrition is king. Ingested proteins are broken down during digestion into their smallest sub-units called amino acids. These amino acids are used as the building blocks to rebuild, repair and remodel muscular tissue.

Muscular adaptations in Strength Training vs Endurance

Strength Training

The goal for strength training is for the body to become more efficient in carrying or lifting a heavier weight or load. The training session signals a cascade of events within the body, which coupled with adequate amino acids and energy availability, remodels the muscle, increasing muscular fibre size and creating hypertrophy.

Muscular adaptations in Endurance Training

The goal for endurance training is energy efficiency. The muscles are supplied energy by the production of ATP within the mitochondria of cell. ATP is the bodies cellular energy currency, created through the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats and used for fuel.

Unlike strength training, larger muscle fibre size is not going to necessarily improve endurance performance, however creating a more efficient fuelling system to provide more ATP to the muscle will. Given the right tools, the body will work with you to achieve your goals. Endurance training signals the body to create more mitochondria to produce more ATP to supply the muscle with more energy (pretty cool hey).

Endurance training stimulates ‘stress signals’ within the body which reduces building of larger contractile muscle fibres. Instead, these signals stimulate the body to direct the amino acids to build more mitochondrial proteins to supply greater energy to the working muscle. These amino acids are of course also essential in repairing and restoring damaged muscular tissue. The proteins consumed through diet are utilised to build energetic powerhouses for sustained movement and energy efficiency.

This is what leads to improved endurance performance!

How much protein is needed?

Research in this area is continually evolving. Current daily recommendations for endurance athletes ranges from 1.2 – 1.6 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. Example, a 75 kilo athlete would need 90-120 grams of protein per day, depending on training load.

This is optimally consumed in divided doses throughout the day. 20 grams of protein after exercise and at regular intervals throughout the day (approximately every 2-3 hours). Some studies have also shown that carbohydrate ingestion with the protein will not only help recovery by restoring glycogen but also help the building of new proteins.

What is an example of my meals to reach my protein targets per day?

(75 kilos @ 1.4 grams per day = Approx. 100 grams of protein)

  • Breakfast:

  • Smoothie

  • Protein powder/yogurt + berries and veg

  • Snack:

  • Greek Yogurt (high protein) with blueberries

  • Lunch:

  • Chicken (100 grams) and roast veggie Salad

  • Snack:

  • Salmon Patties

  • 100 Grams of Canned Salmon with Sweet Potato & Sweet Chilli Sauce)

  • Dinner:

  • Tempeh with Quinoa and Roast Veg


Moore DR, Camera DM, Areta JL, Hawley JA. Beyond muscle hypertrophy: why dietary protein is important for endurance athletes. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014 Sep;39(9):987-97.


Moore DR, Camera DM, Areta JL, Hawley JA. Beyond muscle hypertrophy: why dietary protein is important for endurance athletes. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014 Sep;39(9):987-97.

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