Protein for triathletes

Apr 16, 2019 6:05:00 PM
4 min read

Why do triathletes need protein?

Protein is often associated with building big, bulging muscles and therefore overlooked by endurance athletes. However, protein holds the key to success for training, racing and recovery for triathletes. And it does not involve building big muscles!

So let's have a closer look at the role of protein in the triathlete's body. 

Interested in basic principles of nutritition? Don't forget to check out our blog on how to improve triathlon performance by nutrition.

Protein basics

Protein is one of the three so called 'macronutrients', next to carbohydrates and fats. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Consider them like Lego blocks, making up a protein molecule.

Out of the 20 amino acids in your body's protein, 9 are called essential: this means your body needs to get these 9 amino acids from your diet. These amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.


These amino acids promote the growth, repair, and maintenance of muscles as well as the development of bone, tendons and other tissues.

Each amino acid has its own role in the human body. That is why it is important to eat high quality protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids. Good sources are:

  • Meat: chicken, beef, pork, ...
  • Fish
  • Eggs and dairy products such as milk, greek yoghurt, ...
  • Nuts, beans, legumes

Animal protein is generally of higher quality than plant protein which often lacks 1 or more essential amino acids. Plant protein is also lower on leucine, an amino acid that triggers muscle synthesis. That is why we have added leucine to our Vegan High Protein, to make sure it is as effective as animal sourced protein.

Like carbohydrates, protein contains 4 calories per gram.

What does protein do for the triathlete?


Triathlon training is very intense and consists of long bouts of endurance work, often with added resistance training (such as core training, weight lifting,...).

This training volume depletes glycogen stores in the muscles, but also damages protein structures in the muscle. These will need repairing or replacing and that is where nutrition comes in. 


A combination of carbohydrates and protein is often recommended after training to improve recovery, as found in our Recovery shakes.

But will that protein not build huge muscles and add extra weight to your body? It won't! Proteins are used in a different way after endurance training than after a muscle-building workout. After a weightlifting session, the amino acids will be mostly used to build muscle fibers. After an endurance exercise however, they will predominantly be used to build "mitochondrial proteins". These proteins build up cells called mitochondria, the "power plants" of your muscles. This is where the final stage of carbohydrate and fat breakdown takes place to provide energy for muscle contraction. These "power plants" are of course extremely important to triathletes.

Yes, you will also repair and rebuild damaged muscle fibers, but the myth that protein builds huge muscles is just that: a myth. Proteins are simply essential for proper adaptation to training.

Try adding some protein before bed too: research has indicated that this helps the body to recover even better. 


Protein is essential for recovery, but do you know that up to 15% of energy during long endurance sessions is provided by amino acids? Your body will extract amino acids from your muscles as fuel, so you need to make sure you have plenty of amino acids available in your body to prevent excessive muscle breakdown.

Many pro triathletes take a 15-20 gram serving of easily digestible protein (such as our High Protein Whey) about an hour before long sessions (2 hours or more) to provide the body with sufficient amino acids.

high protein vanilla


How much protein does the triathlete need?

A lot of research has been done on protein needs. These studies suggest that the protein requirement for a triathlete is between 1,2 and 2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight.

That means a 70 kilo athlete should consume between 84 and 140 grams of protein per day.

Ideally, this is spread out over the day, over 4-6 meals and snacks, aiming at 20 - 30 grams of protein per meal.

protein rich meal

Special attention needs to be given to the protein intake in the hours after training: here research suggests that uptakes up to 40 grams can improve the efficiency of protein in repairing muscle tissue.

Does this mean you need the same amount of protein every day? No, as you also adapt your carb intake to your activity level, a good protocol could be the following:

  • If you train <1 hour, target 1.2 grams/kg/day
  • If you train 1-2 hours, target 1.2-1.4 grams/kg/day
  • If you train 2-4 hours, target 1.4-1.7 grams/kg/day
  • If you train 4+ hours, target 1.7-2.0 grams/kg/day

Practical tips

  • Try to eat +/- 20 grams of protein every 2-3 hours 
  • Eat high quality protein sources
  • Eat 15 grams of protein 1 hour before long training sessions
  • Eat 20-40 grams of protein after your training
  • Take protein before bedtime to recover even better

Looking for easy ways to add more protein and amino acids to your diet? Check out the Hiddit range now!

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