Do You Actually Need More Protein When Active?

YES! If you were looking for confirmation to keep chugging that oh so tasty protein drink (sick) you got it. But also keep in mind that timing and forms of protein matter as much, if not more, for adequate recovery, muscle growth and energy.   Here are some tips on protein needs for endurance and outdoor activities.

First, protein intake needs go up the more we break down muscle because we need protein to re-build muscles and make them stronger. Endurance activities have some of the highest protein needs, partially because people are moving and using muscle for so much longer (think 1 hour versus 9 hour workouts)

Now, add a heavy backpack and you have endurance and weight lifting activities lasting all day, making an amazing workout, and also a very high protein need!

Of course people who weight train alone need protein. But runners, hikers, climbers and other people who are active all day long need far more protein. So save these tips for workouts of at least 1.5 hours or longer.

Timing of Protein: We can only digest so much protein at once[i]

  • Have protein with every meal, especially breakfast
  • Before activities, eat 20-25grams of easy to digest protein
  • Workouts longer than 2 hours, add easy to digest protein snacks-I love liquid amino acids for this!
  • After, eat easy to absorb proteins with in 20-60min
  • For extra strenuous days, eat a little extra protein in the evening to support metabolic activities (our body does a lot of its repairing and rebuilding while we sleep).[ii]

Being diligent about having protein can help provide energy (up to 15% comes from protein during prolonged activity[iii]), keep you feeling full longer, aid in building muscle and ensure better recovery. [iv]

Protein Sources: During activity or right after our body isn’t prioritizing digestion, so adjust accordingly

  • For the most usable proteins, during activity, add liquid amino acid to your drink or nutrient dense water
  • Before, after or on breaks consider lighter proteins of nut butters, eggs, poultry etc.
  • If that sounds too heavy then try a protein powders sourced from egg whites, whey (if not dairy intolerant), hemp or spirulina.   While not my favorite, I recognize that protein powders can be easier on digestion and convenient. (word of caution: isolated protein powders have been far more processed, reduce the diversity of nutrients and potentially adding unwanted lab based compounds so shop carefully).
  • Eat whole food proteins with meals, consider, eggs, fish, poultry and red meats, dairy and combination of legumes and grains (for vegetarians).

Our own bio individuality and perhaps affect our protein needs.   So play around with amounts, and types of protein. Listen to your body. If you feel sluggish, cut back or try an easier to digest protein source.

Also consider that protein digestion requires a healthy digestive tract and enough stomach acid.   As my digestion has improved so has my trail snacks….

My favorite trail snack


[i] A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects.

[ii] International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise

[iii] The Body’s Fuel Sources

[iv] Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to metabolic advantage.


Natalie Brechtel loves food, mountains, rock climbing, and the Lord of the Rings. She owns her own Nutritional Therapy practice where she helps other outdoor lovers prepare for the trail or recover from digestive challenges. She teaches around the country as a lead instructor for Wilderness Medical Associates. She also works as a professional Mountain Guide in California’s Sierra Nevada, Washington Cascades and abroad. She’s spent over a year in Antarctica, climbed big walls in Chile and carried many heavy backpacks for long distances. At only 5 feet tall she knows what it takes to push your physical limits. Natalie likes to share her passions and knowledge for wild places, empowering others to get outside with all the skills and fuel to have an amazing time, safely. Learn more at

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