Protein — The Advertised Macronutrient

The title of this blog post is due to the fact that this was my relationship with protein when I first started training.  I was hit in the face repeatedly with ads that I needed to have protein, protein, protein.  It was to the point that a 30 minute run or a 2 hour run was followed by the same protein intake.  If I did strength training then it was followed with a protein bar.  A brick workout was all always followed with a protein bar and my favorite protein drink (HoneyMilk.)  I was always scratching my head as to why I was not losing weight even though I was working hard at my craft.

Well the bottom line is that the protein came with calories.  The protein bar I was consuming was 260 calories and HoneyMilk comes with the same amount.  I was consuming 520 calories just about every time I worked out.  Let’s put this in perspective for a moment.  If I ran 3 miles I would burn approximately 300 calories.  I would then consume 520 calories and so I had a net gain of 220 calories plus whatever else I was eating at the time.  For arguments sake let’s assume that I ate a 2,000 calorie diet that day then my net calories was +220.  I was never going to drop weight that way and I needed to.  See I weighed 175 pounds at one time and needed to get rid of it.

Since my training has taken on the passion that it is today I have been dialing in my focus on what goes into my system to allow me to perform at my best.  I have learned that the carbohydrates I consume are just as important as the protein and just as important as the fat.  I guess those nutritionists were right when they said a balanced diet was necessary.  Only difference is that as endurance athletes we need a different type of balanced diet and that is what I hope this series on macro-nutrients provides you.

Please note that this is based on my research and that I am not a registered dietician or doctor.  Please visit your Doctor for what you should be taking in based on your daily activity and body composition.

I have read that protein is like the Swiss Army knife for our bodies because it serves a lot purposes and does a lot of things well.  I typically think of protein in terms of recovery and as a way to help build muscle.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and there are two kinds.  One is the essential amino acid, which you get from food because our body doesn’t produce it.  You want to focus on lean proteins in your food.  The second is the nonessential amino acid which are present in our food but our bodies can also make them.

As a vegetarian I do not get complete proteins, because those are found in all animal sources of protein, but instead have to have two sources mixed to complete the profile of essential and non-essential proteins.

Proteins primary role is to maintain muscle integrity but also has another role involving food intake.  On an ounce for ounce basis protein makes you feel fuller than an equivalent amount of carbohydrates.

How much Protein? In my previous post I discussed that the amount of calories from protein for endurance athletes should be approximately 15%-20%.  I still believe this to be the right amount.  As I have tracked my caloric intake a number of times I am getting approximately 15% to 20% and I never feel tired and am recovering very well.  A good rule of thumb for a person who partakes in moderate excercise is to be at 1g of protein per kilogram of weight.  (The conversion for pounds to kilograms is 1 pound = 0.45359237 kilograms or use this calculator.)  For me this amounts to approximatly 65g of protein.

What are some good sources of protein?  Take a look at these and notice that the majority of them are animal based, but don’t fret my vegetarian friends there is a list just below these.

Very Lean (approx. 35 calories per serving): chicken or turkey breast (1 oz)white meat skinless, fish fillet (all whitefish – 1 oz), canned water-packed tuna (1 0z), shellfish (1 oz), egg whites (2 large), egg substitute (1/4 cup)

Lean Protein (approx. 55 calories per serving): Salmon, Swordfish, Herring, Trout, Bluefish, Lean Beef (flank steak, top round, ground sirloin)

Dairy Products (approx. 90 calories per serving): Fat free or 1% fat free cottage cheese (1 cup), low fat, sugar-free yogurt (3/4 cup), fat-free, sugar free yogurt (1 cup)

These are just a small sample of where to find proteins but don’t forget about greek yogurt, soy, nuts, beans, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, lentils, quinoa, amaranth, tempeh, seitan.

There are plenty of ways to get your proteins in but always be mindful of calories.  Calories in minus calories out is always going to determine weight gain or loss.  1 pound is equivalent to 3,500 calories so keep that in mind.  I will be doing a post on what is a calorie at a future date and this will put it all in perspective for you.  Next week we will discuss fats in our diet.

How were you introduced to protein?  If you are a vegetarian do you feel that your protein intake is overly restricted?

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  1. Emz says:


    Hi my name is Emz and I am addicted to protein shakes.

    • Jason says:

      LOL….you may love those protein shakes but they have not hurt you. You are rocking marathons left and right, have a great belt buckle and just posted 3:18 in the rain….you are awesome my friend.

    • Jason says:

      The protein shakes have not hurt you as you are kicking marathon tail out there. Posting a 3:18 in the rain and feeling really strong about it is flat out awesome just like you my friend.

    • adena says:

      have you seen your abs? whatever you are doing is working just fine..
      adena recently posted..breakfast bangMy Profile

  2. Marlene says:

    There was a time that I was overdoing it on the protein bars and shakes. Now I try to avoid them and stick with “real” food – my body seems to do better and I have more control over the calories. Of course, I do believe the shakes and bars have a place – sometimes (i.e. after a very long/hard workout) you need to get that protein and calories into you QUICKLY – just not after every half hour workout.

    Great post!
    Marlene recently posted..Week 7My Profile

    • Jason says:

      I have eliminated the protein bars because I found that along with the protein the sugar alcohol was quite high in them and that did not help me. I am now recovering immediately afterwards with something small and also making the conscious decision to fight the urge to consume a lot after each workout. After my small snack I will go home and eat something more substantial and this has been working for me so far.

      • Carlee says:

        So curious what your snacks are. I run after work and then have an 1.5 hour commute home. These runs range from 5-13 miles and sometimes I know I need protein before I get home. What are some suggestions for this. Last week I tried a pure protein can of some drink for 100 calories and 20 grams protein. I also tried the new Gatorade recovery drink 160 calories and 16 grams protein. Any suggestions, what’s your take on these?

        • Jason says:

          I will snack on a variety of things but with your commute I would make a nut butter and jelly sandwich to eat on the way home. I stuff my sandwich with sliced banana and strawberry along with sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. I may also throw in chia seed and flax seed.

          My true snacks will be fruit dipped in nut butter or carrots and celery dipped in nut butter.

          I will also make homemade black bean hummus and then dip wheat thins or some sort of wheat cracker into it.

          When doing any type of snacking be sure to excercise portion control.

          I also make homemade granola/energy bars. If you sign up for our newsletter you will get a recipe this weekend (Sunday) for one granola bar I have made. The newsletter comes out once a week on Sunday mornings and no spam.

  3. Nora says:

    I am sort of trying to be paleo. BUT I love cheese and my husband bought me a bread maker, this makes it hard LOL. I never really count calories or measure how much protein I need. I just eat. Maybe that’s why I can’t lose my 10 pounds..I’ve always found it hard because of the need to replace what we’ve lost during our training. If I don’t eat enough I don’t feel well at all. Hard to balance.
    Nora recently posted..Letting It GoMy Profile

    • Jason says:

      I love cheese and bread as well. I don’t think a day goes by without bread but I just figured out how to incorporate it into my diet and it has worked for me.

      It is never easy to balance and the issue I find with myself is to not feel guilty about falling off the wagon as long as it does not become habit. I will snack at the end of the day so long as I know I am going to bed 2 hours later and don’t feel guilty about it.

      I weigh myself twice a day. Once in the morning and then again before I go to bed. This way I know that what I have eaten has been good for me. The one thing I have adopted is to drink water first thing in the morning after waking up. 8-16oz of water before I eat anything and then drink more water during my breakfast pre-workout. That seems to have helped me considerably fight off urges to eat a ton pre and post workout.

      Keep up the great work Nora. I love reading your blog and love you visiting my site and leaving comments. I truly appreciate it.

  4. Bob says:

    On short workouts, try using nothing before and minimal fuel during. It forces your body to conserve glycogen and burn fat.
    Bob recently posted..WHO IS THE BEST OF ALL TIMEMy Profile

    • Jason says:

      Bob –

      I have been tweaking that quite a bit lately. I am eating before my workouts because they don’t seem to be short anymore but I am drinking just water and then instead of consuming everything in sight I am eating more sensibly afterwards. It has been working so far.

      I can say I have lost another 3 lbs and I am looking at a weight of ~ 140lbs which is a drastic change from 175 lbs just about 1 to 1.5 years ago.

      I appreciate you stopping by and leaving these comments because I love to learn especially from an Ironman.

  5. adena says:

    After years of all this what feels like excess I’m still 50lbs overweight but likely one of the most fit overweight people in the city. I’m adjusting my diet, 3 squares and 2 snacks per day. I’m not going crazy on the protein, nor am I going crazy on the carbs either. My goals nutritionally are: 1200 calories a day.. before you tell me that’s not enough note that vegetables and my daily fish oils are not included in this count. If I have a heavy workout day I may eat a little more, pre or post workout, I’ll let my body tell me what I need. oh and coffee, I’m not giving up coffee but limiting to 2 per day. I will also re-evaluate often, if I start losing too much weight (is that even possible, haha) I’ll increase my intake. It’s a starting point.

    • Jason says:

      My friend— you know I would never tell you anything about your diet since I don’t know it at all. If 1,200 calories works for you that is great. I am reading a book called the Runner’s Diet and will be doing a review of it soon, but have been using it as a source for these macro-nutrient posts. It is very interesting about how to work your calorie burn into you calorie intake.

      In the end I think you are correct that your body will tell you what you need. I am a true believer in the fact that your body has all the answers regardless of the question. I just always listen to my body and have zoned in on deciphering quite a few things. Hunger from hunger or boredom or emotion. Injury pain versus soreness pain. Tired versus don’t want to.

      Keep doing what you do as I consider you a friend and i love your escapades through life. Keep it fun and keep smiling!

      • adena says:

        ahhhh Jason you know I totally heart you and the misses.. I love all the information you provide, it’s super helpful! You are smart! I will see how I do on this, I think moderation is key. I’m not looking to be 120 lbs and 10% body fat, I want to be lean(er) and strong(er) and be able to race respectibly (for me).. that is all.

        Have I mentioned you rock?!!!
        adena recently posted..breakfast bangMy Profile

  6. Doesn’t it just kill you when people stress over your protein intake as a vegetarian!?! Haha, it never fails to amaze me how strangers will question it when they find out that I don’t eat meat.

    I must confess, a juice class of chocolate milk waiting for me is what gets me through long runs!
    Diana at Diana tries a tri recently posted..A DTAT First!My Profile

    • Jason says:

      It used to upset me (and I have been a vegetarian for about 2 months) but I now view it as a way to educate. When people don’t need to find other sources they don’t know about how to get it. For example I was talking yesterday about tempeh and seitan and the person I was speaking with had no clue about those two products so I use it as a way to educate now.

      Chocolate milk is great and I may try to make some with my homemade almond milk that I learned from Aimee. I originally made it more for the almond meal because that is so expensive but it came out great and now will probably never buy another carton of almond milk from the grocery store b/c it is so much cheaper to make your own.

  7. Jeff Irvin says:

    Ha … I hit 2000 calories by 11am usually!!!

    My protein comes mostly from chicken, turkey, salmon, and egg whites. Oh and bacon, cannot forget bacon (-:

    I don’t drink many whey protein shakes anymore as I now use Ultragen for recovery. It is fantastic and about 300 calories – which I need!
    Jeff Irvin recently posted..My Bike Crash and Road Rash PicsMy Profile

    • Jason says:

      300 calories is glorious for a refuel so long as that is where I stop and that is usually my problem so I try to figure out how to not consume too much.

  8. Jill says:

    Thanks for your intake on the protein; as you know from my last comment I love to hear what others who are in the field a little more than others, how they feel about it. I know for me, I feel a lot better, and recover quicker, with protein after a tough workout. Having felt like total crap the past couple months, I need to revamp my diet back to what it is when I train hard, even though I’m not, and see if it helps my mental state. Thanks, Jason!

    btw, how is the job situation going?
    Jill recently posted..The Crazy Floridains 100-My Heel imagine!-Go Andrew!My Profile

    • Jason says:

      I have really been focusing in on my consumption lately and it is paying off.

      The job hunt is still ongoing and some days are tougher than others in terms of my mental state but you just fight through it like you fight through a race or training.

  9. Morgan says:

    Great post Jason! I try to stay away from the protein bars as well but after workouts I do refuel with a protein drink that a dietitian recommended for me. I find it really helps and is fairly low in calories. (Although it tastes like crap!) Great pointers here and it made me feel better about how I’ve been monitoring my own protein/calorie intake… Tracking is a pain in the ass but so informative and worth it in the end to make sure you’re getting enough, and not too much, of everything.
    Morgan recently posted..Necessary EvilsMy Profile

  10. Adam O. says:

    Nice blog. I have to admit, I have never once stressed about getting enough protein.. even back when I lifted a lot of weights and was more focused on muscle gain. I had great gains as well. Since switching to Vegetarian, I get asked the “protein question” a lot and people are baffled that you can get plenty of protein from kale, broccoli, quinoa, sprouts, spinach, and about a gaziillon other veggies and nuts. Protein is certainly important, but at the same time it’s not something to stress out about and most of us get plenty of it in our daily diets. It is heavily marketed and pushed down our throats and that is why we think we need more.

  11. Michael says:

    I have to say I love reading your blog everyday! You give me so many ideas and things to think about. I tend to over eat when I’m training hard because I just always feel hungry. I don’t eat alot of protein bars or shakes, but sometimes just alot of quick crap to be honest. I’m getting ready to kick off a 30 day vegetarian diet and see what that does for me. I need to focus in general just more about what fuels my body and not necessarily what tastes great. Thanks again! You have truly been an inspiration to me.
    Michael recently posted..4 day “Weak-End” RecapMy Profile

  12. Jen B. says:

    As I just went vegetarian at the beginning of the year, I have been mindful in making sure I get a good amount of protein each day. I try to concentrate on getting them from a variety of sources…be it beans, nuts, or grains. Sometimes I enjoy bars…my favorite being Larabars, and they do the trick to keep me satisfied and come wrapped in a single serving portion. My biggest problem comes when I stick my hand in a bag of trail mix or nuts. The extra calories that come from an extra handful of nuts is detrimental to my weight loss. I have found that if I can avoid this after a workout I’m ok….so it’s really about learning limits and portion control for me.

  13. Chuck says:

    Love HoneyMilk too man!

  14. Chris K says:

    I really go for balance. I rarely eat a meal or snack that doesn’t have all three. I also find that just a little protein and fat before a workout can really stave off the hunger. My favorite breakfast before a long run is oatmeal with some crunchy peanut butter.
    Chris K recently posted..My First Interview – Oh What An InterviewMy Profile

  15. Johann says:

    I’m not a vegetarian and eat almost all kinds of meat. I don’t eat too much meat but definitely find I crave more red meat after long runs or races. I never follow a specific diet, I just eat enough of everything. I don’t drink any shakes or use any supplements. During peak training I just eat more and also more often.
    Johann recently posted..International Running Flag of FriendshipMy Profile

  16. lindsay says:

    back when i was successfully dropping a few pounds, i think (if i remember correctly) i was having protein powder in milk or water after longer runs (1hr +). so i guess a “good balance” is right for me. would help if i could remember what i ate so i could perhaps drop those pounds again…
    lindsay recently posted..dancing for the presidentsMy Profile

    • Jason says:

      LOL….it would help if you could remember those meals. I had a not so good relationship with protein but I also think I didn’t have a great relationship with food and thus that prompted me to stay at that weight until I dialed it in.

  17. Jen says:

    Thanks, Jason – another interesting read – you are slowly making me think I want to become a vegetarian one of these days! ;)
    Jen recently posted..The agony of defeat and da-ankleMy Profile

  18. This in another great post, and I loved reading all of the comments too! I don’t track what I eat so I don’t know what percentage of carbs, fats, and protein I eat daily, but I think what I’m doing is working. However, when I start my Ironman training, I would really like to track what I’m eating and try to nail down my nutrition…especially as a vegetarian!
    Aimee (I Tri To Be Me) recently posted..Humpastry Day – ChocoMint Cookies!My Profile

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