What? Protein immediately brings the image of a big steak to mind, but I argue plant proteins are a better choice for endurance athletes. While animal proteins tend to come packaged with saturated fats, plant proteins usually provide carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fats, and other vitamins and minerals that will benefit health and performance. Grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and even veggies will give you as much protein as you need.
How much? Endurance athletes need roughly 0.5 grams protein/lb body weight. You may need a bit more (0.7 g/lb) if you’re vegetarian, restricting calories to lose weight, or strength training in the off-season (yes, you should do that!). This may seem low compared to what you typically see from websites and magazines, but, trust me, it’s plenty.
When? After a training session, a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein within an hour helps promote recovery. Carbohydrates are critical here: repairing muscle requires energy and if it’s not supplied from carbohydrates, protein will be converted to energy instead of being used for its intended purpose. Don’t bother exceeding 30 g (at any meal) because the body can’t use that much at once.
How? Store bought protein shakes can be convenient and effective, but often lack carbohydrates and can be expensive. I’m a ‘real food first’ fan and suggest trying homemade: blend water or your favorite milk, fruit, nuts/nut butters, seeds such as chia, flax, or, my favorite, raw pumpkin seeds (aka: pepitas), and perhaps some tart cherry juice.