The Power of Protein

plant protein sources

Today we are going to delve into the the power of protein. If you are an endurance athlete, you may not think of yourself as a body builder. Yet, your training load places significant demands on your body for maintaining, repairing and growing lean muscle mass. While carbohydrates may be your staple fuel, there is a time and a place for protein in your diet.

What is the value of protein? 

Proteins have an important role in the body which is particularly relevant for endurance athletes, and they will:

  • Contribute to lean muscle production;
  • Repair muscle damage caused by exercise;
  • Contribute to the formation of haemoglobin, the protein that transports oxygen around your body to exercising muscle;
  • Play a role in controlling your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance; and
  • Optimise your immune system function

How much protein do YOU need?

When protein is consumed, it converts into amino acids, which rebuild and maintain muscle. The human body cannot store amino acids, so these must be supplied daily as protein, from the foods we eat. Most Australians eat far more protein than they actually need, so deficiencies are rare and eating a little extra to accommodate training needs is usually not that difficult.

The recommended dietary intake (RDI) in Australia for protein (measured in grams per kilogram of bodyweight) is 0.75 g/kg for adult women and 0.84 g/kg for adult men.

As an endurance athlete with higher exercise commitments in terms of intensity and duration the RDI is also higher and generally in the range of 1.2-1.4g/kg.  This higher requirement is as a result of:

  • the breakdown of muscle tissue and the release of protein into the bloodstream during exercise; and
  • the depletion of the body’s glycogen stores which leads the body to “rob” amino acids from muscle tissue as an alternative source of energy.

“Low dietary protein in the context of ‘over training’ can contribute to longer recovery time, muscle weakness, suppression of your immune system, and even anaemia”

three sTrategies for protein intake

Even if you are taking in adequate protein in your daily diet, and you don’t consider yourself an elite athlete, you could still consider a strategic approach to protein to maximise the benefits you will receive from it. Simply embarking on a new training program, regardless of athletic ability, will place more stress on your system. The timing and quality of your protein intake will support your body as it adapt to the increasing exercise load.

1. Use Protein post-exercise to kick-start lean muscle development

Muscle growth can only occur when the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceeds the rate of muscle protein breakdown.

The best time to stimulate muscle protein synthesis is not when you are actually exercising but rather while you are at rest immediately after your workout, when your body is focussed on repairing or replacing damaged muscle fibres to generate and grow new muscle protein strands (myofibrils).  This is your body’s phase of ‘adaption’ to exercise.​​​​​​​ Research shows that a protein supplement (for example, Bindi’s Organic Pea Protein) during the first hours of post-exercise recovery maximises muscle protein synthesis rates.

2. COMBINE carbohydrate and protein

Carbohydrates do not make a difference to protein synthesis but they do rapidly restore glycogen to muscles and therefore slow muscle protein breakdown. Carbohydrate ingestion is especially important after exhaustive endurance-type exercise to restore your energy. A recovery snack consisting of carbohydrates and protein, in the ratio of 4:1, is recommended.


David Bryant (Catalyst Dietitian) spoke recently about being a ‘Smart Carber’ and getting the timing of carbs and quantity right .  Well, this approach applies to protein too! Also, consuming small amounts of protein 5 or 6 times a day may be beneficial for athletes who undertake multiple sessions of training on the same or consecutive days.

The Power of Protein: Summary

Protein is vital for muscle development, recovery, immune defence and athletic performance.  Timing both protein and carbohydrate intake throughout the day to match requirements can be beneficial, as can ensuring the quality and quantity of protein intake. 


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Beelen et al. (2010). Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 20: 515-532. Accessed February 2017 at:

Betts et al. (2007). The influence of carbohydrate and protein ingestion during recovery from prolonged exercise on subsequent endurance performance. Journal of Sport Sciences, 25 (13): 1449-1460. Accessed February 2017 at:

Burke L (1992). Protein and amino acid needs of the athlete. National Sports Research Centre, No. 28. Accessed February 2017 at:

Thomas T (2016). The endurance athlete’s guide to protein. TrainingPeaks. Accessed February 2017 at:

Research based interview with Dr Louise Burke on athlete nutrition (April 2013). CXC Academy. Accessed February 2017 at:

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Taste our clean & natural, Australian nutrition products and you won’t look back! All the energy you need to achieve peak performance is right here.

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