When I work with endurance athletes I find they often put the emphasis on getting enough protein. Or, more protein. Or, lots and lots of protein. Your body uses protein to build and maintain muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood as well as in the production of hormones and enzymes. Your body doesn’t like to use protein for energy. I’ll occasionally see an endurance athlete over-eating protein and under eating carbohydrates and suffering from fatigue and tiredness. Our bodies like to use fat and carbohydrates for energy, not protein. Hence, if you eat too much protein and not enough carbohydrates, you may be really tired. Adding in some extra carbohydrates can give you more energy and fight fatigue.
How much protein is enough? The research shows that about one gram per pound of body weight (up to 35% of total calories) is about the most our bodies can use. The research has also shown that having about 30 grams of protein each time you eat is optimal for building and maintaining lean body mass. If you’re having a protein shake with 40, 60 or more grams of protein that doesn’t mean you’re going to build a lot of muscle.
What does your body do with excess protein? One of two things typically happens with protein. If you are eating too many calories, your body can turn it into fat and store it. The second thing that can happen is your body can turn protein into glucose that is used for energy through a process called gluconeogenesis. Your body can also turn fat into glucose through gluconeogenesis.
If you don’t know how much protein you are eating, logging your food for a few days can help. There are some great apps/websites out there such as MyFitnessPal, MyNetDiary, LoseIt, and DailyPlate. Understanding how much protein you are eating can help you fine tune your nutrition plan and help you reach your goals!