Protein for runners: the lowdown

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Compared with sedentary people, runners need a lot more protein. If you run an hour most days, you need about .6g protein per pound of weight (run more and your needs go up). That means a 150-pound runner requires 90 grams a day, compared with 36g for couch potatoes. But don't try loading up at one or two meals; research shows spreading your intake throughout the day is the best way to match your body's needs.

Build muscle

As your mileage and intensity increase during training, your body uses protein to build new muscle fibres so that they get stronger and bigger. Protein also plays a key role in building mitochondria, which act like furnaces inside muscle cells. They're responsible for burning fuel during runs. The harder you train, the more mitochondria you need in order to burn fuel efficiently.

Lose weight

In a study by the U.S. Army, dieters who ate twice the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein while cutting calories lost more fat and kept more lean muscle than those who stuck with the RDA. Another study from the University of Missouri found that eating a high-protein breakfast (with 35g of protein), as opposed to one low in protein (with 13g), curbed participants' appetites later in the day and reduced cravings for high-fat, high-sugar snacks in the evening.

Get the best

Runners need to select quality protein that contains branched-chain amino acids (BCAA's). These acids are key in supporting muscle recovery. Leucine, in particular, helps stimulate protein building after exercise. Eggs, chicken, pork and lean beef are some of the richest sources of leucine. You can also get it from fish, soy and whey, a type of protein found in dairy that the body can quickly digest and use to rebuild muscle post-workout. Legumes, nuts and whole grains also supply protein in smaller amounts. Eating a variety of these foods will provide a balance of amino acids.