Proper nutrition helps you perform at your best during exercise. Protein is an essential macronutrient that assists with muscle growth and repair. While protein can help your recovery after a tough run, consuming it will not magically make you run faster or farther. Consuming the right types of protein at strategic times, however, can help you train smarter and harder. The protein itself does not cause you to run faster, but it may facilitate recovery and strength gains that do.
Importance of Protein
Runners, along with other athletes, need a higher intake of protein than the average, sedentary person says the International Society for Sports Nutrition in a 2007 position statement. Protein can help runners adequately recover from training, improve immunity and grow and maintain lean muscle mass. Protein is a component of every cell in the body.
Consuming protein prior to a workout may slow you down. Protein takes energy to digest, which means less for your run. It also takes a long time to break down and absorb, making it a poor source for quick fuel. Endurance coach and adviser to Olympic athletes, Chris Carmichael explains that pre-workout meals should consist of about 80 percent carbohydrates -- think bagels, pasta or fruit -- and only 10 percent protein. Your body turns the sugar in the carbohydrates into glycogen which it then stores in the muscles for fuel.
You still need carbohydrates after a hard cardio workout, such as a run, but you also benefit from some protein at this meal. The carbohydrates help replenish glycogen in the muscles, while the protein facilitates muscle repair and growth. Quicker muscle repair means you can fit in more training sessions, which can help you increase speed. Stronger muscles can also improve your speed.
Most sports nutritionists say your post-run nutrition should contain a ratio of 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 carbohydrates to protein. A meal or snack with 10 to 20 grams of protein post run is usually sufficient, registered dietitian Lisa Dorfman told "Running Times" magazine in 2009. Consuming that snack within 30 minutes of your workout is crucial. Good sources of protein include eggs, chicken breast and yogurt. Soy protein powder, beans and hemp are vegetarian options. Over the course of a day, aim to consume at least 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight -- or 0.64 gram per pound -- to support the needs of your active body, says the International Society of Sports Nutrition. In addition to eating enough protein, include interval workouts and tempo runs that challenge your aerobic capacity, leg turnover and oxygen-uptake rates to build speed.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.