Q. How important are carbohydrates vs. proteins for runners? Today's literature seems to say all sorts of things?
A. Runners (and all athletes) need carbs to fuel the muscles (and the brain) and protein to build and repair muscles. Carbs and protein do different jobs in the body so we need to consume both. All carbs (fruits, veggies, grains and sugars) digest into glucose, the fuel preferred by the brain. If you have low blood glucose, you’ll feel lightheaded and dizzy. No need to get to that point with proper fueling (plus being light-headedis no fun)!
Your body needs more calories from carbs than protein: --about 2 to 5 grams carb per pound of body weight (depending on how active you are) --about 0.5 to 0.9 grams protein per pound (depending if you are a fully-muscled adult or a growing teenager).
Rather than get caught up in numbers, just be sure to have wholesome grains, fruits and veggies as the foundation of each meal (two-thirds of the plate), with some protein as the accompaniment. You’ll end up with the right balance. But if you have just a protein shake, let’s say for a recovery food, you will lack the carbs needed to refuel the muscles. Make that protein shake into a carb-protein fruit smoothie! Or if you have a chicken Caesar salad (protein and fat), be sure to have a whole grain bagel with it, or crackers, or add some rice to the salad.
If you want more help with how to balance carbs, protein, and fat, please refer to my Sports Nutrition Guidebook.
Eat wisely, fuel well, and feel great!