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The 3 Best Types of Protein for the Endurance Athlete

BY Dr. Rick Kattouf

Protein plays an important part in the nutrition intake of an endurance athlete. Dr. Rick Kattouf details three different proteins, their benefits and guidelines for how much protein endurance athletes really need.

For decades, the protein drink has been one of the most commonly used buzzword phrases in the world of health, fitness, and athletics. Whether it is an article on workout/post race drink or a snack/meal replacement during the day, the go-to statement is, “I’m going to have a protein drink.” Let’s take a look at three sources of protein and the benefits that they can provide.

1. Whey Protein

Whey protein has become one of the most well known sources of protein. Whey is a by-product of the cheese making process. Whey protein is easily digestible and absorbed quickly1. There are three types of whey protein: whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and whey protein hydrolysate.

Whey protein contains a high amount of the branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) Leucine. Of the three BCAAs (Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine), Leucine has been shown to be the primary BCAA responsible for the stimulation of protein synthesis2. Protein synthesis is critical for muscle repair and growth in order to enhance an athlete’s recovery and performance. Protein synthesis must exceed the muscle breakdown that occurs during exercise3.

2. Milk Protein

Milk protein has been shown to decrease the prevalence of metabolic risk factors such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, and mild hyperglycemia. Milk protein can also help assist in body composition change by increasing lean muscle and decreasing body fat4. The BCAAs in milk protein can help assist in enhancing muscle protein synthesis. Milk protein is found in many protein powders.

3. Calcium Caseinate

IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor) is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that supports muscle growth and IGF-1 begins its production at birth. Calcium Caseinate can help assist in increasing IGF-1, which can help support lean muscle5. Calcium Caseinate can be found in protein powders.

More Than Just Protein

Now, you may be saying, ‘Wow, I just need a ton of protein and this will help assist recovery, leading to greater performance.’ In reality, that’s not quite how it works. One of the main keys to recovery is to reload and restore muscle glycogen. Glycogen is the reservoir of carbohydrate in the body and glycogen is stored in the muscles and liver. As a result, the main macronutrient we need to help assist in recovery is carbohydrate6. Sure, some protein is essential as well, but more importantly, it is the building blocks of protein, amino acids, that are key for recovery. Therefore, the thought that we just need to feed the body a bunch of protein for recovery is a long-standing misconception.

For each meal or snack, the goal is to ingest 15 to 30 percent of the calories from protein. This way, whether you are making a smoothie or any other meal/snack, your body will be properly fueled with the right macronutrient percentages. Simply choose a protein powder and use it as part of a post workout recovery fuel source that is properly balanced with carbohydrate-protein-fat.

Here is a power packed, high-octane smoothie that makes an ideal fuel source for the body. Blend the following together with water and ice:

  • Half a scoop your choice of protein powder (approximately 12g protein)
  • 1 banana
  • 1tsp honey
  • 1c blueberries
  • 1tbsp peanut butter

This smoothie will provide the body with 333 calories, 55 percent carbohydrate, 21 percent protein, 24 percent fat as well as BCAAs to help assist with protein synthesis.

Lastly, it can be very common to hear some individuals say, “I heard or read that a certain protein source is bad for you.” This is a fair question, but let’s simplify things here. I would be much more concerned about the high amounts of beer, wine, pizza, wings, cheese fries, burgers, coffee, etc., that individuals are consuming as compared to a small amount protein powder. Most individuals asking such questions have a lot bigger fish to fry when it comes to their nutrition and body composition than the small amount of protein powder used to help enhance protein synthesis.

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About Dr. Rick Kattouf

Rick Kattouf II, O.D. is a 2x Best-Selling, Doctor of Optometry, Personal Trainer, Triathlon Coach, Sports Nutrition Specialist and Heart Rate Performance Specialist. Rick has been seen on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates around the country. And Rick has been seen in the USA Today, Chicago Tribune, National Examiner,,, Runner’s World, Bicycling Magazine, Men’s Health UK, FIGHT Magazine, Florida Cycling Magazine, Pace Running Magazine,, Chicago Athlete and The Independent in the UK. Dr. Rick has personally coached individuals in 30+ states and 10+ countries. Rick can be reached at 866-966-1422

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