The Importance of Protein for Triathletes - 52 Weeks to Mont Tremblant - Week 30

This is the fourth article in a five week series where we discuss proper nutrition for triathletes. The week focuses on the importance of protein in the endurance athlete’s diet. Moving forward we’ll share strategies to calculate your daily caloric expenditure and the proper macronutrient breakdown to improve your athletic performance.

In general, protein intake for athletes should be about higher than for the average non-athlete. That means, for a general approach, athletes should be consuming 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. That’s a great place to start and then progress from there. 

The importance of protein

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As I mentioned last week, current health, and athletic goals will play a key role in determining the best macronutrient manipulation for a specific athlete. For example, a body builder will require more protein and fewer carbohydrates than a long-distance triathlete. Because long distance triathlon is an oxidative sport, protein intake is lower than it would be for athletes in other sports where fast twitch muscles and explosive power is required. However, triathletes should still consume more protein than the average non-athlete. I believe having 15-20% of daily calories come from protein is the proper target range for endurance athletes.

How much protein do I need?

To arrive at the total calories and grams of protein per day (depending on the level of activity) I took my total calories for the day, which I’ll show you how to do in a future article, multiplied that by .15 and then divided that by 4 because there are four calories per gram of protein. The breakdown looks like this:

Training days: 514 calories of protein, 128g

Recovery days: 463 calories, 115g

Competition days: 708 calories, 177g

(Example calculation: 3,425 / .15 = 513.75, rounded up to 514. 514 / 4 = 128)

What should I eat?

The food used to ensure adequate protein intake will consist of mainly whole food sources such as poultry, lean meats, fresh and canned fish, beans and lentils, along with a daily whey protein supplement post-workout on training and competition days.

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As we continue to dive into proper nutrition for training and racing, we’ll cover a variety of topics. Next week we’ll focus on calculating your own caloric needs and finding the ideal macronutrient breakdown for your needs.