Health Advice



Ready to run: Assessing protein needs for performance

Mayo Clinic Staff, Mayo Clinic News Network on

Published in Health & Fitness

As you train for your upcoming distance race or other athletic event, you may be looking for ways to fine-tune your program and up your performance. Now's the time to take another look at what you're eating since nutrition is a key component of your training plan.

Do you know how much protein you need when exercising? Judging by all the protein bars, shakes and powders out there, you could be led to believe you need a protein supplement.

Contrary to the hype that everyone needs more protein, most people in the U.S. meet or exceed their needs. This is especially true for males ages 19-59. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 indicate that men in that age range exceed their protein recommendations, especially from meat, poultry and eggs. Even athletes often get more protein than they need without supplements because their calorie requirements are higher. With more food comes more protein.

Where does protein come from?

The healthiest protein options are plant sources, such as soy, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. But lean meats, such as skinless, white-meat chicken or turkey; a variety of fish or seafood; egg whites; and low-fat dairy are also excellent protein sources.

Meet your dietary protein needs with whole foods like these rather than supplements. Manufactured supplements are no more effective in building lean muscle mass than whole foods, as long as you're eating enough whole foods each day. Supplements also don't contain the additional nutrients you get from whole foods.


This quick quiz can help you assess just how much protein you need:

True or false: Bigger steaks equal bigger muscles.

False. Although adequate daily protein is necessary, extra strength training leads to muscle growth — not additional protein intake. You can't build muscle without the exercise to go with it.

The body can't store protein, so once your needs are met, any extra is used for energy or stored as fat. Excess calories from any source will be stored as fat in the body.


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