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How Much Protein Does a Female Runner Need?

By Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.

Athletes require more protein than sedentary individuals to help build, repair and maintain muscle mass after strenuous workouts. However, carbohydrates are still a runner’s main source of energy. The amount of protein a female runner requires daily depends on the running workouts she participates in and her body weight.

Protein Grams per Pound

Female runners who train heavily at high intensities need more protein than women who participate in more moderate running workouts. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that endurance athletes who engage in light to moderate training need 0.55 to 0.8 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily, while athletes who participate in high-intensity workouts for long durations often require 0.7 to 0.9 gram of protein per pound of weight daily. For example, a 130-pound female runner may need 72 to 117 grams of protein daily, depending on the intensity and length of her workouts.

Timing of Protein Intake

To optimize running workouts and maximize muscle synthesis and recovery, women runners should divide their daily protein intake into three or four meals or snacks, each containing about the same amount of protein, suggests a 2011 review published in the “Journal of Sports Sciences.” One meal or snack containing carbohydrates plus protein should be eaten after runs to enhance running performance and optimize muscle recovery, suggests a study published in 2012 in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise."

Maximum Safe Intake

Since carbohydrates are a runner’s main fuel source, eating too much protein can hinder running performance and cause negative side effects. A review published in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” in 2006 suggests a maximum safe protein intake for adults is 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, which equals 1.14 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. This equates to about 148 grams of protein daily for a 130-pound female runner.

Sources of Dietary Protein

Although protein shakes and supplements are sometimes used by athletes, you can actually meet your daily protein needs by eating a variety of protein-rich foods over the course of a day. Lean red meat, unbreaded poultry, seafood, eggs, egg whites, soy products, low-fat dairy foods, nuts, seeds, legumes and seitan are all excellent sources of dietary protein. The 2012 study in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” found that drinking fat-free chocolate milk after workouts enhances protein synthesis and decreases time to exhaustion in endurance runners.

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