How much protein do you need?
Most people associate eating protein with strength training. The desire to gain lean mass is typically what drives my clients to ask, "How much protein do I need?" A misguided belief is that it's the protein either in supplements or in food that builds muscle mass. Actually, it's the strength training that builds and strengthens muscles, not the excess protein.
Yes, protein needs will differ between a runner and bodybuilder as well as their carbohydrate requirements. Likely, our marathoners understand that they must have a good carbohydrate base to provide fuel like our bodybuilders understand that protein supports their intense weight lifting. Additionally, endurance athletes must understand that they need a sufficient amount of protein as it does provide fuel when our glycogen stores (from carbohydrates) are depleted. In the same way, bodybuilders will not be able to perform without proper amounts of carbohydrates.
Generally, a well balanced diet will provide enough protein throughout the day. Even vegetarians can get sufficient protein although they may need to pay a little more attention to the foods they choose. The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have defined protein levels for the average endurance athlete:
Male endurance athletes: 0.5-0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight
Female endurance athletes: 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight
For a 150lb female that would be 75 to 120 grams of protein. This may seem like a lot, but consider that 4 oz of chicken is about 35 grams and ½ cup of cottage cheese is about 15 grams. Reaching your daily goal will be no problem. A good website for finding the nutrition info in foods, including protein, is www.calorieking.com.
For additional information or diet related questions, email Kristen O'Connor, RD, LD at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on twitter @ramblingsofanrd. Kristen is a registered dietitian with a degree in medical dietetics from The Ohio State University.