Protein is discussed a lot and it’s easy to get confused about how much is the right amount for you. Bodybuilders and protein-shake sellers might tell you that the more the better but others say excess protein can be harmful. Let’s take a closer look at what the science says about protein intake for a cyclist working on endurance.
Why even care about protein?
When it comes to endurance cycling, protein is helpful for two reasons: it helps recovery and maintenance of optimal weight. Proteins are the building blocks for growth and repair of muscle tissue and production of enzymes and hormones. So, sufficient protein intake makes recovery much easier. Protein is also very filling and keeps hunger away and it lowers the chance of overeating.
How much is enough?
The World Health Organisation recommends 0,8 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight per day. For a cyclist that weights 80 kg that would make 64 g of protein per day. But this recommendation is only meant as the minimum to avoid disease for a sedentary person. Most people trying to live an active healthy life will need more. Research suggests that endurance athletes should get between 1,2 and 1,4 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight a day. For an average 80 kg cyclist, this would mean eating between 96 – 112 g of protein a day.
What kind of protein do you need and when?
You don’t have to eat protein immediately after exercise but research suggests that spreading protein intake evenly across the day helps maintain strength and muscle mass. This means including roughly 20-30 grams of high-quality protein in each meal. High-quality protein should have a favourable amino-acid ratio and good digestibility. This would mean mostly fish, meat, eggs, and dairy. Check out our previous article if you’re interested in plant-based sources of protein.
What does a daily dose of protein look like?
If we go for a middle ground of 1,3 g protein, then our model 80-kg cyclist would need roughly 104 g of protein every day. If we also want to spread it somewhat evenly across the whole day using four meals, it might look something like this:
Breakfast – A bowl of porridge and a 2-egg omelette (20 g of protein)
Lunch – 150 g of grilled chicken breast with rice (40 g of protein)
Snack – 140 g of Greek yoghurt with nuts and berries (15 g of protein)
Dinner – 150 g of roasted salmon with potatoes (30 g of protein)