As marathon season quickly creeps up on us, those taking part will be spending a large portion of their spare time carefully planning their meals and snacks that fuel and nourish their bodies. With a lot of conflicting information out there, we’re here to simplify your life and highlight the importance of protein in your pre-race day nutrition plan.
For decades, protein has been hailed as the holy grail of the weight-lifting and body-building world. From shakes to supplements, when you walk into a gym, you’ll never be short of your next protein hit. But for us runners, the important macronutrient hadn’t been championed as much as it should have. Helping to build and maintain muscle mass, speed up recovery, aid in injury prevention and even assist in oxygenating, here’s the low down on protein and why it should be at the centre of attention when it comes to your pre-marathon diet plan…
Why is protein important for runners?
Our muscles are essentially made up of lots of different proteins, so when we train hard and they start to break down, refuelling your body with a sufficient amount of protein will help build them back up, strengthening them further.
Not only will protein help your body to recover faster, but because you're strengthening your muscles further, getting in enough protein can help prevent injury too. Which will be music to every marathon runner's ears!
Protein is also excellent at supporting your immune system, keeping the lurgies at bay and aiding in the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, helping to efficiently transport oxygen when you're putting your body under pressure during your runs.
You can read more on the benefits of protein after exercise HERE
When to consume?
As with all exercise, the first 30 minutes once you finish are the most important and what’s known as the ‘golden window’. It is recommended that within this half an hour is when you should get in a post-run protein hit, to kickstart that muscle recovery and replenish your depleted energy levels.
Alongside this, it’s also recommended that you aim to get one whole protein source included in each of your following meals that day - including snacks! It can seem a little daunting as to where to start with this but don’t worry - a little further down the page, we’ve given you a few ideas to get you well on your way to smashing your marathon PB.
How much should I consume?
The exact amount of protein your need to fuel your training will be individual to you. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it’s recommended that per day the average person should consume 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight. But we runners aren’t the average person! We’ll need more of the stuff to help aid muscle recovery, therefore it’s suggested we should consider going from 0.8g, to between 1-1.6g per kg per day.
Taking the time to accurately calculate your macros will ensure you can train optimally and fuel your body with the right nutrients to carry you through your sessions.
Top post-run protein sources
Luckily protein is hidden in many of the foods we already consume in our day-to-day lives, making it pretty easy to increase our intake. Here are a few protein-rich foods, great for incorporating into your marathon training diet plan:
Protein Balls from The Protein Ball Co
Smoothies using fresh fruit and protein oats
Fresh yoghurt with honey and granola
A typical runner's diet
More often than not, runners will be looking to consume carb high foods to help provide their bodies with the necessary energy to get them through their runs. But as we’ve discovered in this post, it’s also essential we’re consuming not only a diet rich in protein but also plenty of vitamins and minerals to help keep us feeling in tip-top shape. With this in mind, it can be overwhelming as to where you should start, so here’s what a typical day for a runner might look like…
Breakfast - Protein Oats
Oats are an excellent source of slow-release energy, therefore great at keeping us feeling fuller for longer. We like to start our day with a hearty bowl of High Protein Low Sugar porridge from The Great British Porridge Co. This is a great breakfast for when you’re short on time because all you need to do is add some boiling water and give it a good stir. We then like to top this with a dollop of nut butter and some fresh fruit - it’s important we don’t forget those micronutrients!
Morning/Post Run Snack - Protein Balls
As we mentioned earlier in this post, getting a good, natural source of protein in that golden window is essential. Thankfully our High Protein Range make this easier than ever. With 4 different flavours in the range, it’s the perfect quick and easy protein snack that not only tastes great but will also help kickstart your recovery process, all whilst keeping your energy levels topped up.
Lunch - Avocado & Tomatoes with Scrambled Eggs
A well-balanced lunch is particularly important for those of us that like to train in the morning. Once we hit lunchtime, we might likely start to feel a bit lethargic and achy - so a nourishing lunch is just what’s needed. Smashed avocado, seasoned with a sprinkling of chilli powder, stirred in with a handful of chopped baby tomatoes and served on sourdough toast will provide you with a balance of protein, carbs and fats, in one meal. Add in either one or two scrambled eggs depending on how hungry you are to increase your protein intake that little bit more.
Bridging the gap between lunch and dinner can often be a tricky one as many people will reach for something sugary and loaded with processed ingredients. Whilst this may give you a quick burst of energy, it’s not the balanced snack we runners should be reaching for.
A handful of nuts and seeds are an excellent high-protein afternoon snack, keeping those hunger pangs at bay until dinner time. Alternatively, if you prefer something a little sweeter, try a couple of tablespoons of high-protein Greek yoghurt, topped with fresh berries instead.
Our favourite meal of the day, dinner is the time to get creative. One of our favourite post-run high-protein dinners is a chicken stir fry. Made with an array of fresh vegetables and organic chicken, all mixed in with noodles and a homemade sauce, it’s a delicious dinner to finish off a great day of eating! For a veggie alternative, switch the chicken out for tofu for something just as tasty.