Do you need protein powder as a runner? Do you need protein powder specifically for women?
Using protein powder to enhance distance training is entirely a personal choice! It’s not a must or a requirement, no matter what anyone tells you.
For me and many of my athletes it’s the most effective way to ensure we eat enough protein during high-volume training months. That piece is important.
Especially for female and masters runners to prevent muscle loss which results in gaining fat and less powerful running. I also found that once I got my protein up, my hormones were in better shape and my energy levels were better! Not to mention my sugar cravings were reduced.
Read more about maintaining muscle during marathon training >>
In this article, you’ll learn not only what the best protein powder is for runners (including women), but also why you should use it, how often to use it, and how to pick the best one for you.
to pick the best one for you.
Why Should Runners Use Protein Powder?
Protein powders are frequently used to improve muscle mass and promoted for weight loss. They’re especially helpful for women who want a quick and handy way to boost their protein intake, but are struggling with eating enough during the day or low hunger levels during training.
Protein, as a nutrient, helps reduce appetite and hunger levels, provides the amino acids to help increase muscle mass and bone strength, and also boosts metabolism and fat burning.
For runners it’s often about ease of use. Or finding a plant based option, instead of relying on eating meat at every meal.
However, it might be difficult for runners to choose a powder because there are so many brands, varieties, and flavors available. As with any running supplement, QUALITY is crucial.
What to Look for When Picking a Protein Powder
Choosing a protein powder that is high in protein, contains leucine, doesn’t have a lot of added sugars or chemical ingredients is a good place to start. These protein powders can help you avoid sugar highs and crashes throughout the day and help you stay fuller for longer.
Leucine is the key ingredient to help with muscle building!
Depending upon your goals for the protein powder, you may also look for ones that are high in fiber (at least 3 grams per scoop) and lower in carbohydrates. These are generally going to be more of a meal replacement option, than the post run fuel that tides you over until you can eat a full meal.
Unsweetened varieties don’t have sneaky sugars that can end up increasing the number of calories in your diet. But they may also just taste awful unless you’re putting it in to an awesome green smoothie. So remember some sweetness is fine and post workout your body is able to utilize that sugar and carbohydrates to refill your glycogen stores.
Check the Label
A quick review of what you do and don’t want to see on the label:
- At least 20 grams of protein per serving
- Less than 10 grams of carbohydrates if you’ll be mixing it in to a high carb smoothie or overnight oats
- Ingredients like monk fruit extract, stevia, and natural flavors that make them naturally sweet.
- Avoid protein powders that have artificial sweeteners like sucralose, sugar alcohols, aspartame, Splenda, and others, which could lead to stomach issues and bloating. Again know your body, if they don’t both you then no worries.
It’s also generally recommended to stay away from milk powders, milk solids, and gluten because they are fillers that aren’t needed and can cause gas and other GI problems. When possible, opt for gluten-free varieties just to truly be on the safe side.
Plant-based Protein Tips
If you’re going vegan or plant-based, pick a protein blend.
Complete proteins, such as those derived from whey, casein, or egg whites, help your body absorb and utilize your protein source more effectively since they contain all nine essential amino acids.
Look for a blend (like pea and brown rice) if you want a plant-based protein, as these protein powders for runners are more likely to have a complete amino acid profile.
If you’re new to protein powder, stick to basic, well-loved flavors like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Many times the more exotic birthday cake type flavors have a lot of additives to get them to that result and you may find the taste is not exactly what you hoped.
Another trick is to buy single serve packets, test out a few varieties and see what hits the spot.
And if you don’t like them, you can add them to protein pancakes, waffles, protein donuts, and smoothies to use them up.
Calories Per Serving
Try to choose something that has between 100 and 150 calories per serving. For a protein powder, this range is normally considered average.
Anything less and you might not feel full enough. Any higher when it’s not a meal replacement means that it contains more fats and carbohydrates than is necessary.
Other Things to Consider
- Whey protein is often the cited best option for its muscle-building quality
- However, if you have lactose issues like me then plant-based or other lactose-free options are key (see ideas below)
- Leucine is the primary thing women need to look for in a post-workout protein powder
- Women in peri and post menopause need to pay even more attention to that 30-minute window after workouts for refueling with protein and carbs
- BCAA’s for runners is another option for those wanting not to add calories
How to Judge Protein Powder Quality?
Above and beyond the form of protein, the first focus has to be the quality of the supplement. A good protein for runners can come in plant-based or not, start by looking at these things first.
Cheaper brands are filled with chemicals that will only slow your body down as it attempts to process these foreign substances. Leading to stomach pains, bloating while running, and digestive issues.
What Should Runners Avoid in Protein Powder?
- Artificial Sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, maltodextrin
- Toxic heavy metals are found in many of those cheap store brands
- NSF certified which means athletes can happily use it in competition
The best protein powder for women is one that doesn’t contain things that are going to make you bloated, feel bad and actually contains enough protein to be of benefit.
**Important to note: your body can only absorb about 30 grams at a time, so if you’re sucking down 60 grams in one drink then you’re just creating some very expensive urine.
Is Protein Powder Bad for Your Kidneys?
When you have too much, as in more than your body needs at that time, your kidneys just go to work clearing it out of your system.
This has led some people to claim it’s bad for the kidneys. However, that seems to be quite rare or in people who already have other kidney issues. The overall benefit of getting enough protein generally outweighs this for athletes.
Don’t want to slug down just the powder, then make your protein shake after running a green smoothie! Now you’ve taken your recovery to the next level by getting in great easy to absorb nutrients alongside the protein.
How Often Should You Use Protein Powder in a Day?
To maximize the benefits of protein powder, it is recommended to consume one serving each day.
The rest of your protein should come from your diet, which can supply nutrients that you won’t find anywhere else, even in the greatest powder.
Additionally, consuming a protein shake after working out can help in the repair of connective tissue and the regrowth of muscle and bone.
Is it Good to Drink a Protein Shake Before Running?
This is something I’ve been doing for ages and it’s felt like a great way for me to get in some hydration immediately in the morning and some nutrients that are going to fuel my run. (Alongside my oatmeal and nut butter!!)
Again, I’m using 1/2 a scoop prior to the run because I’m focused on total fueling.
We know that some protein in the system can improve the speed of recovery after a workout and obviously it’s excellent for a strength workout as well.
Women have a harder time building and maintaining muscle as we age, so this little bump can help with that.
Don’t want to slug down just the powder, then make your protein shake after running a green smoothie! Now you’ve taken your recovery to the next level by getting in great easy to absorb nutrients alongside the protein.
8 Best Protein Powder for Runners (by Type)
This is going to be broken down by the different TYPES of protein powder. As always there are pro’s and con’s to the different formulations, but the focus is on the quality and what you’ll get from adding it.
Because I’m dairy free, I tend to use only plant based protein powders which include things like pea and brown rice protein.
However, many who are dairy-free have no problem with whey protein isolates as the lactose is usually removed.
This is one to test for yourself and find out how you feel because studies are showing some added benefits when using whey.
Over the years I have tested out a whole slew of flavors and brands, much of that is going to come down to preference once you’ve found a quality powder.
Protein powder for women is no different than for men, we need generally the same vitamins and minerals, what we might need less of are calories per pound of weight. That you can easily control with serving size.
A quick break down of the most popular protein powder types and benefits:
Whey Protein Powders For Runners
Unlike the other powders, whey protein contains components which are found to have additional benefits to performance and healthy. CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) helps prevent cancer and improve cardiovascular health.
It contains leucine which is critical for muscle building. It’s digested faster which allows for quicker muscle growth stimulation.
It has also been shown in studies to enhance recovery due to the complete amino acid profile. It boosts glutathione which helps the body to remove free radicals that cause cell damage.
Whey hdryolysate, which means it’s a predigested form of whey that has dairy allergens removed and is more easily digested (huge for endurance athletes whose digestive systems are often working over time or shut down to blood being diverted to our limbs!).
There are two lactose free protein options that I have really enjoyed:
#1 Core Power
Core Power offers full proteins and a rich supply of electrolytes, which aids in maximizing your recovery. This ready-to-drink vanilla protein shake has 26 grams of high-quality protein derived from ultra-filtered milk.
My go to for travel and trail days because it doesn’t need to be refrigerated and is already mixed. No chalky taste, it’s really like the chocolate milk so many love for recovery.
#2 Iconic Protein
Vanilla protein powder from ICONIC is a healthy blend of whey protein and casein protein. It digests more slowly and makes you feel fuller than regular whey protein powder blends, so you eat less, stay full longer, and gain muscle instead of fat.
It tastes identical to our well-known low carb protein beverages, but contains only four natural ingredients and nothing artificial, namely grass-fed milk protein isolate (whey protein powder and casein protein powder), natural vanilla bean flavor, monk fruit extract, and sea salt.
#3 UCAN Energy + Protein Powder Whey
I’ve done a full review of how their products work with super starch for lasting energy. In the case of their protein powder, they focus on their LIVSTEADY ingredients that prevent energy crashes by being low glycemic.
UCAN is designed to be easy on the stomach for those who have any trouble with digestion. In fact, the company really started to help with health issues and has kept that as a core value.
Meal Replacement Protein Powder for Women
If the 4main reason, you’re using it is because you know you need protein after a workout and you simply WILL NOT have time to eat or won’t feel like eating, then I really recommend you look at a meal replacement option.
✅#4 Previnex Nourify
This is the option that I recommend to our runners.
- Plant-based and well tested to be CLEAN
- Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes for gut health
- No dairy, gluten or soy which often bother our guts
- No artificial sweeteners or preservatives
- Has the Leucine I mentioned as a MUST
- Contains all your vitamins and minerals as well because it’s a meal replacement
- 2 scoops is 220 calories and 20 grams of protein, to help you feel FULL until you can get a meal
- Truly it’s designed to help your body function optimally, even when you don’t have time for a meal
Previnex Discount Code: RTTF15 – 15% off a first order!
I found this to blend really well in the shaker bottle, so it’s great on the go. If you haven’t had a meal replacement with all the goodies in it before you may notice a little bit of a “greens” flavor at first.
This is something most people get used to pretty quick and/or mix with unsweetened vanilla almond milk and everything just got creamier! Personally, I use a scoop in my Daily Harvest smoothie after long runs to get in ALL the things for recovery.
Pea Protein or Brown Rice Protein Powders for Runners
For those with food sensitives this is the best option and of course completely Vegan as well. It could be part of a protein rotation to get the benefits of whey and the switch up to prevent creating food sensitives.
It contains nearly as many BCAA’s as whey protein.It’s easy to digest, putting the protein to work right away and preventing bloating.It’s high in protein, low in carbohydrates and gluten free.It can help to regulate your blood sugar levels.
90% of the time this is what you’ll see me using and often popping up in my Instagram Stories. I am a big fan of Vega and use all their options depending on the day:
#5 Vega Sport Protein
This protein powder contains 30 grams of plant-based protein, 5 grams of BCAAs, 2 billion CFUs of probiotics (bacillus coagulans), and tart cherry to aid in post-workout recovery. For me it has the best taste of all the plant based options, as this one is really sport focused you don’t have all the greens.
It’s a multi-source vegan protein powder made from pea protein, pumpkin seed, organic sunflower seed, and alfalfa that contains all 9 essential amino acids.
Because it’s a plant protein powder, it’s vegetarian, dairy-free, lactose-free, gluten-free, and soy-free.
It has the highest protein content of the lot here.
#6 Vega One Complete
Similar to the previous Vega product, this plant-based protein powder is a multi-source blend of organic North American pea, sunflower, and pumpkin seed protein with 9 essential amino acids.
Each scoop of Vega All-in-One Organic Vegan protein powder has 20g of organic plant protein, antioxidant vitamins A and C to help boost the immune system, minerals, probiotics, fiber, and, omega-3s.
It’s great when I’m not having a smoothie. But absolutely know that this is going to have a more greens flavor to it!
#7 Fem Power Protein Powder
I tested this out a few years ago, then a friend tried it, then another friend tried it and I think everyone is addicted to it now.
I’m always a fan of supporting smaller female owned businesses when they make a great product. So code Amanda15 will get you 15% off at Fem Protein!
Their goal was to create something that was simple, clean, easy to digest and a truly great protein powder for women. This plant based blend uses pea protein, chia seeds, and hemp to deliver 18 grams of protein per serving.
Additionally, they’ve included adaptogens that help with recovery like acai, lucama and wheat grass. But don’t worry there’s no greens taste here.
#8 Orgain Sport Protein Powder
Higher in protein than their regular powder at 30 grams, the sport version also includes a few other goodies focused on amping up your recovery.
The protein blend of pea, chia and brown rice help to create that complete protein we mentioned for recovery. Additionally, though you won’t taste it, the power contains beets which help boost blood oxygen flow, tumeric for inflammation and tart cherry for recovery.
I’ve used the chocolate version of this and could easily mix with water to drink while traveling.
Collagen Protein Powder for Runners
In general, collagen is often not listed withe protein powders because it is lacking the very essential leucine!
However, I have been using Vital Proteins new blend for a few years now as my pre-run drink because it has both all the electrolytes I need and contains leucine!
Read all about the additional benefits of collagen for runners >>
#9 Vital Performance Recover
If you wish that your protein could taste more like an electrolyte then is this is the winning option! Instead of vanilla and chocolate, this is blueberry, watermelon, lemon and lime.
I’m not going to promise the 100% same benefits as a whey protein powder based on studies. But I have absolutely LOVED the speed my hair is growing, while also ensuring that I start my workouts hydrated and well fueled.
18 grams in a serving, so as noted I use 1/2 serving before workouts and then 1/2 of another protein after the workout. Voila, all kinds of different needs met at once.
Soy Protein Powder for Athletes
As always there are some amazing products out there, but I’m cautious about using a concentrated form of soy on a regular basis due to all the conflicting science.
For Vegans, soy contains all amino acids, as well as the full B-vitamin complex, which are both things that many non-meat eaters find lacking in the diet. Meaning this is the best plant based protein powder for women looking to get all the muscle building benefits of a powder.
#10 Now Sports Soy Isolate Protein Powder
Now is a high quality brand that does a great job at testing, so you should feel confident in the quality of the product. I have not taste tested this one, so I can’t give you any feedback there.
1 serving contains 20 grams of protein and in the unflavored version you can easily mix it with any smoothie. The unflavored is the cheapest option, but I’m lazy and would recommend the chocolate so you know it’s easier to drink.
Hemp Protein Powder for Endurance
Did you know that pro-athletes can’t use hemp seeds or powder?! It’s not a drug, but apparently it’s too closely related for those regulators.
Another Vegan option, hemp provides omega-3 and omega-6 in the perfect ratio, which has a slew of benefits from reducing PMS issues to assisting with high blood pressure.
However, hemp is higher in calories and slightly lower in total protein when compared to other sources and that could be a concern if the focus is weight loss.
#11 Manitoba Hemp Protein Powder
Manitoba is well known for their hemp seeds, which are amazing sprinkled on your oats or in a smoothie. But if you want to get enough protein in one go a powder is likely what you need.
They offer this straight hemp powder which is going to be unsweetened and has 20 grams of protein. It’s also going to be one of the very few protein powders to contain fiber!
There is a secondary option which is a plant blend that contains hemp, pea and brown rice. Both options will help meet the leucine requirements.
Egg Protein Powder
Made from egg whites, it’s low in calories and carbohydrates, dairy free and can be a great source of vitamins depending upon the quality of the eggs. It has a slow release which can be beneficial to muscle growth.
If the powder is low quality, you could be exposed to antibiotics and salmonella among other things. A great option for making things like pancakes!Decoding the benefits and drawbacks of different types of protein powder from whey to pea #sportsnutrition Click To Tweet
Dr. Axe has created a great little graphic which breaks down the benefits. It goes without saying that our goal should always be to focus on whole healthy foods as much as possible. But for athletes it’s often difficult to get in enough nutrients without the help of a quality supplement.
I simply can’t process larges amounts of protein either animal or plant based, so a powder has been hugely beneficial to my routine as I was often hitting less than 40 grams a day…a great way to be skinny fat.
That being said, you’ll notice I usually only go for a 1/2 scoop at a time because I wanted to force myself to work on those protein whole food sources!
Are There Any Issues with Too Much Protein Powder?
Beyond the kidney issue myth noted above the biggest things that I’ve noticed are the potential for skin breakouts.
I’ve seen this is a lot of women who start using more than 1 scoop per day, which could be due to the ingredients or simply the overkill on protein, hard to say.
But if you’re doing a protein shake followed immediately by a steak and potato, it’s overkill!
So back to our original question, what is the best protein powder for runners? Science would say if you don’t have any dairy allergies, whey is the top choice for men and women. After that it comes down to your body, your goals and taste buds!
I hope this helped answer some questions!
If you’re still looking for more:
- Protein Timing for Body Fat Loss
- High Protein Power Bowl Meals
- High Protein Dessert Ideas
- 97 High Protein Breakfast Ideas
Other ways to connect with Amanda
Instagram Daily Fun: RunToTheFinish
Facebook Community Chatter: RunToTheFinish
Get more running tips: Pinterest
I have been on the lookout for a great protein powder that is plant-based. Only thing is I need one that I can take if I was pregnant as I don’t want to risk anything (I’m a planner and worrier;). So far the only one my doc agreed I could use when I was pregnant with my son was disgusting. haha I’ll ask my doc about the one you and your husband use!! Thank you!
This powder is not plant based as it uses Whey, which is why David can use it, but I can’t. Just to be clear!
Julie @ Running in a Skirt
Great tips! I knew about the different kinds but not all the differences. I feel even more educated looking for my next bottle.
This is super helpful! I started adding protein powder to my smoothies after I had my 3rd baby! I never get enough protein and I was feeling so tired. I found a delicious dairy-free, soy-free plant-based powder that I’m in love with! YAY!
Great post and great info.! I’ve always done whey but I’ll have to give the others a shot.
I use protein powder in smoothies and often for recovery. I always try to go for the most pure. And of course organic if I can find it. I hadn’t heard of this brand before so will have to check it out!
Alisa @ Go Dairy Free
I had no idea pro-athletes couldn’t use hemp protein – that’s insane! When I do use protein powder, I’m all about pea protein.
So much great information and tips! Really a helpful post to wade through all the choices on the market so that the right protein powder can be found!
Great article on proteins. I’ve found that within the whey family there are timing advantages to the different types. Casein is slow digesting and good before bed, isolate is fast digesting and great for post workout. At times I like to mix casein pudding right before bed as it helps with sleep and I’ve read that it helps to release GH.
Heather @ FITaspire
What a great article – there are so many options available and everyone has a different opinion, so I love this guide to help choose the right oen for you. :) I use protein powder before or after my workouts and sometimes for a quick snack smoothie. Honestly, taste is SUPER important to me, although of course it has to be a high quality protein that won’t make my stomach upset (lactose-intolerant). :)
Have you found a lactose-free whey shake?
Well a lot of them claim that, but I’ve found for myself and others that the whey often still bothers the stomach. I prefer to stick to pea, and brown rice protein, but egg white is a great option too.
Sonali- The Foodie Physician
I missed the days of sticking to my morning routine- now with a 3 year old in the mix, every morning is an adventure! Thanks for sharing your expertise and all of this top quality info. I thought it was really interesting to learn that pro-athletes can’t use hemp products!
Sarah- A Whisk and Two Wands
I got in spurts of using it daily and using it about every other day post strength training. I use Vega and have only tried a couple others in recent years. I recently found another I like that I’m rotating in but strictly for protein and nutrition not for post workout and to mix things up (no BCAA’s and other things I look for). I haven’t tried whey proteins in years… not being vegan anymore maybe I should try it again and see how my body does. I do also use more protein milks now since the girls are loving it and it’s there and try to rotate things more.
Chrissa - Physical Kitchness
Ok love this post! So many protein powders are full of JUNK! This is really helpful. I just tried Kashi’s plant based powder and it was really good!
This is such a great resource! I am admittedly not up to date with protein powders, so this is a great article to keep on hand!
Such a great post! Lots of helpful information!
This is such great information! I’ve only found one vegan protein powder that I really liked and probably just need to try more variety. I’m pretty sure I’ve never tried pea protein.
Awesome information! I often just go with whey protein, but I’ll have to try out more pea and rice protein. Thanks for sharing!
Nice sharing with many helpful tips. I’m often confused with all these things, so this article is really a life-saver for me.
This article is so informative. I have never known those different protein powder. Thanks for sharing this blog post with us. I’m not familiar with hemp protein. and thanks to your article, now I know what type of protein powder I should be using. Which is your favorite protein powder from your list?
In the past few months I switched over to Generation UCan’s Performance Energy + Protein for post-run recovery and I love it! It’s made a world of difference in helping my muscles recover quickly, especially after long or hard runs. This is a more in-depth look at what I’m doing for protein, hydration, and recovery: https://runningmybestlife.com/half-marathon-recovery/.
Great article! Thanks for sharing that information! I’m a runner and a kiteboarder. I need a good energy source to do my sports, but I also need something that helps with recovery post session. I’m going to share with this with my kiter friends!
Thanks for this! I’ve been looking for this exact resource!