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Protein intake is key for masters and youth athletes

Protein is a key macronutrient for older and younger runners

All runners need to keep a close eye on what they’re eating, but masters and youth athletes especially. A recent study from the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism addresses the nutritional needs of youth and masters athletes. When you think of high protein needs, an adult man trying to put on muscle at the gym might come to mind, but it turns out that 20-40 year old men are the population that has to worry the least of their protein consumption. The study shows that protein consumption is critical for the youth and masters runner due to the physiological changes they’re undergoing.

For adolescent athletes

Adolescent nutrition is extremely important on a physiological and psychological level. The body is undergoing a lot of changes, and this is also the time when a young athlete’s relationship with food is forming. This is a relationship that will last a lifetime. The authors state, “During adolescence, adequate energy is required to meet both the growth and development needs of the individual, as well as the substrate demands associated with general physical activity, training and competition.”

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Low energy availability in young athletes is reportedly increasingly common. Young runners, along with coaches and parents should monitor the nutritional intake of their athlete to do their best to ensure they’re consuming adequate calories. Allowing a young runner’s weight to fall too much can place them at risk for RED-S

Adolescent populations have an increased need for protein intake to support growth and adapt to training. Provided that an athlete is getting enough of everything else, consuming 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight at five different sittings should have them covered. For a 45-kg female that’s about 68 grams of protein throughout the day, or roughly two chicken breasts. 

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For masters athletes

Muscles mass generally peaks around 20-30 years of age, and begins to decline between 40 and 50 years. This process accelerates as runners reach their seventies and over. However, running and proper nutrition can help to counteract these effects. 

Karla Del Grande setting a new 100m record. Photo: ontariomasters.ca

The masters runner should pay particular attention to their protein intake to ensure their muscles can adapt to the training they’re completing. The masters athlete should look to consume roughly 0.25-0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight five times throughout the day, or 1.2 grams per kilogram over the entire day. A runner should lean towards 0.4 grams if they’re doing a lot of resistance training. Authors recommend including whole foods and protein sources from food over supplements when possible. 

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