Monday, January 11, 2016

Can Endurance Athletes Benefit from Protein Supplements?

To find the video of this post, check out JJ's YouTube video here.

Today we are going to talk about protein supplementation for endurance athletes. I’m also going to take you inside one of my sport nutrition seminars and go through some of that information with you. Before I do that I want to take a second to thank you for subscribing because without you I wouldn’t be doing this blog thing. My goal for fuel for endurance is to educate athletes and into lower the learning curve if you will by sharing my 20 years of experience out there doing endurance sports. Hopefully you will find some value in this content. I would love you to share this information with others and to try get the word out about fuel for endurance.
I would bet at least half of you are on some type of supplement whether it’s a multivitamin or maybe you’re taking a protein powder (that I will talk about today). Others of you are doing gels during long bikes and runs. By definition that still considered a supplement.
There’s no question about it, the King of all supplements is the protein powder. Protein supplements are the most common dietary supplement used by athletes and active individuals.. There are a number of reasons why athletes would supplement with a protein powder. Some supplement for convenience. Like for me, I used to commute 45 minutes one way. Instead of waking up really early, I would make a breakfast smoothie. In this smoothie I would add a scoop of protein powder. Other reasons people might supplement would be if they were vegetarian or vegan. For some a protein supplement makes sense as an insurance policy. If you have a poor diet and want to make sure that you are taking in adequate amounts of protein, then a supplement makes is justified.
Let’s start with a frame of reference. Cows milk is 80% whey protein and 20% casein. Whey is considered a fast acting protein, meaning it’s broken down very rapidly. The amino acids are then taken up into the muscle more rapidly than the casein and soy. Not that casein and soy aren’t important but because are. All three of these are called complete proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids.
Let’s look at this example from my pantry. This EAS brand is 100% whey protein and in this one scoop you’ve got 30 g of protein with over 7 g of branched-chain amino acids.

Benefits of Protein Supplementation

No question over the last few decades protein supplementation has been demonstrated performance benefits in bodybuilders and strength and power athletes. Protein supplementation works. It increases muscle mass, as well as strength and power. For endurance athletes, like ourselves, we want to focus on recovery from workouts immune function as well as there has been some studies that show improvements in aerobic performance which is interesting.

Guidelines for Protein Powder Use

The ways to use a protein supplement or protein powder is before or after your workout sessions. Typically we do it in combination with carbohydrate. You can do it alone but you probably get a better affect in combination with carbohydrate.
Before a workout, the goal is to reduce protein breakdown during the session, improve your protein balance so you got more onboard and then also to the spare glycogen. Also, those branched-chain amino acids we mentioned previously can be used as fuel which helps us to spare glycogen during a long workout.
Post workout is when your most commonly see supplement use for sure. Supplementation stimulates protein synthesis. In particular, whey protein is broken down very rapidly and help you get those amino acids on board quickly and start repairing tissie before your next workout. Also if you’re supplementing in combination with carbohydrate it helps restore muscle glycogen.
Who’s getting the biggest bang for their buck from protein powders? Those who are in a negative protein balance, i.e. someone who’s not eating enough protein in their diet. Whether that be from a poor diet or maybe a vegetarian athlete. Those not meeting their needs will definitely have an ergogenic or performance enhancing effect. The only way you know if you are consuming enough is if you do a food recall or log. Plug-in your food intake and to see how much protein your getting.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is .8 g per kilogram body weight. As endurance athletes, we know we need more. Requirements are 1.2 to 1.5 g/kg of body weight and I’ve even seen up to 2 g/kg during heavy training phases. up to 2 g of protein per kilogram body weight.
So what’s the effective dose? That’s the big question right– about 25 g. We know that there is a limit to the amount of protein your body can use at one time (one meal). There is no reason to consume 100 g of protein at one time when your body can’t use all of it.
So 25 g one hour before exercise and within 30 minutes after your training. You can do a one-to-one ratio of carbohydrates: protein or 2 to 1 ratio carbohydrate:protein during these low intensity or shorter workouts. A 3:1 or 4:1 ratio is used for longer sessions and higher intensity sessions to help replenish and restore glycogen levels.

Contamination: Say What?

You knew his has to come up, so let’s talk about contamination. This does happen with dietary supplements especially if you’re not purchasing from a reputable company. Just to show you this information was from conference I attended last year. The president of consumer labs (consumer does independent testing on different supplements. Consumer Labs tested 16 protein powders and 5 of them failed testing.
Probably shocking to some you guys but they fail for a variety of different reasons. One only contained 32% of the listed protein so instead of 23 g of protein like the label read there were only 7.3 g of protein. Remember, in the last blog post, we talked about potency. Because it says on the labeled 23 g doesn’t mean that there’s necessity 23 g in there. You’ll love this…one was contaminated with lead (12.7 µg), Others had more cholesterol than labeled, one contained more sugar. Realize you must purchase your protein powders come from a reputable source.
Based on the consumer labs report I will give you a couple the protein powders that passed testing. One is the EAS brand that I showed you previously. Another one is the Walmart brand Body Fortress. Again, to prevent contamination purchase your protein supplements from reputable companies. Buying online is okay but you just have to be careful.


In summary, (1) you’ve got to have a reason for supplement use; (2) research supports the protein supplement use for athletes before and after exercise (follow the guidelines presented) and (3) use when your protein needs are high (increased training volume).
This is JJ Mayo for, I look forward to seeing you over the Facebook page ( and on the website. Please be sure to share this with those that might find this valuable. Have a good day and see you next week!

About the Author:
JJ Mayo is an endurance athlete, a registered dietitian, and a sports science professor at the University of Central Arkansas. His blog, Fuel For Endurance, helps endurance athletes achieve better race results through optimal nutrition. He also just released a sports nutrition CEU course at