Do you need protein powder as a runner?
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.
Not only is this important for energy, but 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!
Read more about maintaining muscle during marathon training >>
Leading to the obvious question…
What is the best protein powder for runners, for women, for men?
- Whey protein is often the cited best option for it’s muscle building quality
- However, if you have lactose issues like me then plant based or other lactose free options are key
- 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
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.
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.
Things to 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 60grams in one drink then you’re just creating some very expensive urine.
Yup, when you have too much, your kidneys just go to work clearing it out of your system.
This has lead some people to claim it’s bad for the kidneys. However, that seems to be quiet 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.
8 Best Protein Powder for Runners
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 Powder
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:
Meal Replacement Protein Powder for Runners
If the main 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.
✅Nourify 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 sweetners 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
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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.
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
Soy Protein Powder
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.
Pea/Brown Rice Protein Powder
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:
Highest protein content
Great when I’m not having a smoothie
Good for pre-long run with the caffeine
I’ve done a full review of how their products work with superstarch for lasting energy
Hemp Protein Powder
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.
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 reported kidney issue 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!
What about collagen as a protein powder?
I’ve actually written all about the benefits of collagen for runners, so I won’t rehash that. But YUP, I love using Vital Proteins Performance line because it is a great easy source with electrolytes.
How often do you use protein powder?
What do you look for in a powder?
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