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Protein for Cyclists: How Much, Why, and What Sources

Protein for cyclists and other endurance athletes, it is particularly crucial. Understanding how much protein to consume, why it’s essential, and what the best sources are can help optimize your performance and recovery.

Do endurance athletes have an increased protein need? [1]

Yes, endurance athletes like cyclists typically need more protein than sedentary individuals or those participating in less demanding physical activities. This is due to the increased muscle damage and the need for more significant muscle repair and growth that accompanies endurance training.

How much protein do you need as a cyclist?

The recommended dietary intake of protein for the general population is around 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight. However, for cyclists and endurance athletes, the protein requirement is a bit higher due to the increased demands put on the body. Most sports nutritionists suggest a range of 1.2g to 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight. This means, for a 70 kg cyclist, the protein requirement would be between 84g to 112g per day.

Do you need to have a protein powder after every training session?

While protein supplementation can be convenient, it’s not necessary to consume protein powder after every training session. It’s more important to focus on consuming adequate protein throughout the day. However, consuming a source of protein soon after a cycling session can help jump-start the recovery process.

How does protein help your recovery after cycling?

During recovery, the body goes to work repairing the micro-tears in the muscle fibers that occur during intense cycling. Protein provides the essential amino acids needed for this repair process. Protein also initiates the process of muscle protein synthesis, where the body produces new muscle fibers to replace the damaged ones, ultimately making the muscles stronger. Consuming adequate protein after cycling not only speeds up this repair and regeneration process but also minimizes muscle soreness, helping you get back on the saddle faster.

Are all proteins equal?

No, not all proteins are equal. Proteins are made up of amino acids, and there are 20 different types. Nine of these are essential, meaning they must be obtained from food as our bodies can’t produce them. A protein source is considered “complete” if it contains all of these nine essential amino acids in roughly equal proportions. Most animal-based proteins, such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, are complete. Plant-based proteins, on the other hand, often lack one or more essential amino acids. However, you can combine different plant-based proteins, like rice and beans, to get all the essential amino acids. Protein quality also depends on digestibility, with animal proteins generally being more easily digestible than plant proteins. 

What options do vegetarians and vegans have to get enough high-quality protein?

Vegetarians and vegans have a myriad of options to consume enough high-quality protein. Legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas, are rich in protein and can be included in various dishes. Quinoa is a complete protein and a great addition to salads and main meals. Tofu and tempeh are soy-based proteins that are versatile and easily incorporated into a variety of dishes. Nutritional yeast is a favorite among vegans for its cheesy flavor and is also an excellent source of protein. Seitan, made from gluten, is a high-protein substitute for meat. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, almonds, and peas are other great options. Remember, a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can meet protein requirements fully and contribute to a healthy and balanced diet.

Top 12 protein resources for cyclists

There are many foods that provide high-quality protein for cyclists, but some are better than others in terms of their amino acid profile, digestibility, nutrient density, and availability.Here are 12 examples of excellent protein resources for cyclists, along with their approximate protein content per 100 grams:

1. Chicken breast

  • Protein: 31 grams
  • Benefits: Lean meat with low fat and high biological value; rich in B vitamins and minerals; versatile and easy to prepare

2. Eggs

  • Protein: 13 grams
  • Benefits: Complete protein with all the essential amino acids; high in choline, selenium, and vitamin D; inexpensive and widely available; can be cooked in various ways

3. Greek yogurt

  • Protein: 10 grams
  • Benefits: High in protein and calcium; low in lactose and fat; contains probiotics that support gut health; creamy and delicious; can be used as a snack or a base for smoothies, dips, or sauces

4. Cottage cheese

  • Protein: 11 grams
  • Benefits: High in protein and calcium; low in fat and calories; contains casein, which is a slow-digesting protein that provides sustained amino acid release; mild and neutral flavor; can be eaten plain or mixed with fruits, nuts, or honey

5. Whey protein

  • Protein: 80 grams (per 100 grams of powder)
  • Benefits: High-quality protein with all the essential amino acids and high bioavailability; fast-digesting and absorbed quickly by the muscles; high in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which stimulate muscle protein synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown; easy to mix with water or other liquids and consume after exercise

6. Quinoa

  • Protein: 14 grams
  • Benefits: Complete plant-based protein with all the essential amino acids; high in fiber, iron, magnesium, and antioxidants; gluten-free and suitable for vegans and vegetarians; nutty and fluffy texture; can be used as a substitute for rice or pasta

7. Tofu

  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Benefits: Plant-based protein made from soybeans; high in calcium, iron, and phytoestrogens, which may have beneficial effects on hormone balance and bone health; low in fat and calories; versatile and can be cooked in various ways

8. Lentils

  • Protein: 9 grams
  • Benefits: Plant-based protein that is high in fiber, iron, folate, and antioxidants; low in fat and calories; cheap and widely available; easy to cook and can be used in soups, salads, curries, or burgers

9. Salmon

  • Protein: 20 grams
  • Benefits: High-quality protein with low mercury levels; rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects and support cardiovascular health; high in vitamin B12, selenium, and iodine; moist and flavorful; easy to bake, grill, or pan-fry

10. Nuts

  • Protein: Varies depending on the type of nut, but generally around 15 to 25 grams per 100 grams
  • Benefits: Plant-based protein that is high in healthy fats, fiber, minerals, and antioxidants; provide a satisfying crunch and a variety of flavors; portable and convenient as a snack or a topping for salads, oatmeal, or yogurt

11. Edamame

  • Protein: 11 grams
  • Benefits: Plant-based protein made from immature soybeans; high in fiber

12. Chia Seeds

  • Protein: 17 grams
  • Benefits: Plant-based protein that is rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants; high in calcium, magnesium, and iron; gelatinous texture when soaked in liquid, making them great for puddings, smoothies, or as a thickener; versatile and can be used as a topping for salads, yogurt, or oatmeal.

What to do next?

Understanding the role of protein in your diet as a cyclist can greatly enhance your performance and recovery. It’s important to incorporate a variety of protein sources into your diet to ensure you’re getting all the essential amino acids your body needs to repair and build muscle. Remember, protein isn’t just for meat-eaters; vegetarians and vegans have plenty of high-quality, plant-based proteins to choose from. By pairing this knowledge with consistent training, you’ll be well on your way to cycling success. For further reading, check out The Top 13 Benefits of Biking.

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Mate is a passionate bikepacking enthusiast and the founder of this website. He loves exploring new destinations, admiring nature, and engaging in outdoor activities. He strongly believes that healthy living should be environmentally friendly too, which is why he prefers to use bicycles for his transport needs.