Every single person that I coach who gets into running quickly tends to become hooked on the drive to improve performance. But so many runners completely ignore sports supplements like protein powders.
When I recommend them to my clients, I often get push-back because they believe post-workout recovery drinks are only needed for endurance athletes and bodybuilders.
In reality, every runner can gain a lot of benefits from protein powders to improve their training performance and recovery times.
So I put together a guide on the best protein powders that I currently recommend to my clients, along with some important information on how they can help you achieve your goals.
Top Protein Powders for Runners (2021)
1 - Transparent Labs Whey Protein (Editor's Choice)
Transparent Labs Whey Protein has fast become a favorite for all types of athletes because it uses top-quality protein from grass-fed cows.
With 28 grams of whey protein isolate, you can also ensure that your protein intake is absorbed as fast as possible.
One of the main things that the company highlights on all their products is that they are gluten-free, non-GMO, and artificial additive-free. You only get ingredients that provide health and fitness benefits.
- 28 grams of whey protein from grass-fed cows
- Contains no gluten and GMO products
- Free from any artificial flavors and additives
- With no carbs or fat, it won't mess with your diet
- We'd love to see it with an unflavored option to use in snacks
The only minor thing I would highlight is that Whey Protein is not available as an unflavored option, which can be helpful when mixing with smoothies or snacks.
2 - Whey Protein by Ladder
Another protein powder on our list is Whey Protein by Ladder.
This protein powder contains the complete range of essential amino acids and branched-chain amino acids your body needs to fully repair after your run.
It also helps in gaining muscles, fat loss, and improvement of sports performance.
I love how the product provides a minimum of 90% pure absorbable and digestible proteins so your body is able to enjoy and feel the results faster than other protein powders.
Check out our full Ladder protein powder review.
- CFS Certified
- Tastes good even without artificial sweeteners
- Contains Probiotics
- Contains 14g of essential amino acids
- Has a high amount of sugar - may not be good if you’d like to cut down on carbs
3 - Orgain Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder
A lot of my clients have become increasingly conscious of nutrition supplements that may contain some of the commonly used chemicals to protect crops.
From my own experience and the results I've seen with clients, I have to say that Orgain is one of the best organic protein powders for runners.
This protein powder is blended from chia seed, brown rice, and pea protein to provide the full profile of essential amino acids to support recovery from running and strength training .
- Combination of chia seed, brown rice, and pea protein that provides the essential amino acids
- USDA certified organic as well as GMO, gluten,and soy-free
- 7 grams of dietary fiber can help with digestion
- Contains no sugar to help with diet efforts
- Needs to be blended for the smooth texture
4 - MusclePharm Combat Protein Powder
One of the reasons MusclePharm Combat Protein Powder is so popular for running is that it combines a few different sources of protein. The protein powder is a blend of whey, casein, and egg protein, and the company claims to have created a supplement that provides fast and slow-acting protein .
This benefits runners with immediate recovery after training with a consistent and healthy supply of vital nutrition.
I personally find the vanilla flavor quite pleasant and not too overpowering, and it mixes easily in a shaker without being clumpy or chalky.
- 25 grams of protein per serving
- The protein powder is sourced from whey, egg, and casein
- Many positive reviews about flavor and texture
- Certified by Informed-Choice for not containing any banned substances
- Contains a little bit of sugar
Just keep in mind that there is a little bit of sugar, which is a significant consideration for low-carb dieters.
5 - Optimum Nutrition Gold Whey Protein Powder
This is one brand name that you've probably noticed a lot in gyms and sports nutrition stores. A lot of runners prefer this brand, particularly for higher intensity phases with longer distances because of the mix of whey protein isolate and concentrate.
This whey protein powder provides a fast boost after your run to help with muscle growth and recovery, and several hours later, you'll still get the benefit from the slower absorbed concentrate.
Of all the whey protein powders I know, this has, by far, the largest selection of flavors.
- Blend of 24 g of whey protein isolate and concentrate
- Provides complete amino acid profile for better muscle growth and repair
- Also suitable for weight management
- Good choice of flavors and different size options
- Whey protein concentrate is absorbed a lot slower
It also provides the essential amino acids needed for faster muscle recovery and repair.
The only downside with the whey protein concentrate is that if you need a maximum boost immediately after running, this might not be the best option.
6 - Vega Sport Protein Powder
One of the leading brands for quality vegan protein powders is Vega Sport, and this particular option has a good blend of pumpkin, sunflower, alfalfa, and pea protein.
I don't just recommend this to my vegan clients, but also for anyone with lactose intolerance.
Vega Sport also makes a big point in their advertising that it only contains nutritionally valuable ingredients and amino acids. That means no fillers, sugar, or artificial crap thrown in, resulting in low calories from carbs that could otherwise cause blood glucose spikes.
It's a solid plant-based protein powder for vegans and lactose-intolerant people.
- Suitable for vegan athletes
- Lists a broad blend of different plant proteins
- Contains no artificial flavors, additives, or fillers
- GMO and gluten-free for healthy energy with less risk of side effects
- It's not the cheapest option, but you get what you pay for
Now, I should say that because of the specific blend of protein, it is going to cost you a bit more than most plant-based protein powders available.
7 - Amazon Elements Whey Protein Isolate Powder
The final protein powder for runners that I want to highlight is this Amazon-branded one. Based on whey protein isolate, this isn't suitable for lactose-intolerant athletes. But if dairy is not an issue for you, then this is one of the fastest ways to get a protein boost .
Unlike many of the other budget-friendly options, you don't get something that is packed with fillers and artificial crap to make it taste nice.
I also like that you can get this protein powder as an unflavored option, which is ideal for adding it to a meal or snack.
- 25 grams of whey protein isolate allows it to be absorbed fast
- Uses only natural ingredients with no fillers or additives
- Low energy from fat and carbs to avoid blood glucose spikes
- Available as an unflavored option to mix into other foods
- Slight stevia aftertaste
The one thing I would agree with on many reviews is that it does have a slight stevia aftertaste.
8 - Battle Ready Fuel Whey Protein
With a name like that and some fancy marketing, I was a bit suspicious at first. However, it didn’t take long to realize why this protein powder is a favorite.
I've seen it recommended in quite a few forums and Facebook groups as a good protein shake after running, as well as for strength training and weight loss phases.
With the bonus of being low in carbs and fat, you won't have to worry about this protein powder negatively affecting your diet efforts.
- Based on whey protein isolate for easier absorption
- Many reviews highlight that it's easy to mix without blending
- Very low in carbs and fat
- Comes with a risk-free money-back guarantee
- Only available in one flavor option
The only reason I don't use this more often is that I sometimes get bored with flavors, and it's currently only available in chocolate.
Do Runners Need Protein Supplements?
Yes, runners absolutely need protein supplements as it is vital from a nutrition point of view to help build the right type of muscle condition.
However, dependent on the kind of running you do, you'll need to know what type of protein powder is best for you.
1. Short Distance Runners
If you ever look at Olympic sprinters, you'll notice that they have large leg muscles. A sprinter's predominant muscle fiber type is considered to be fast-twitch, which is what gives them their explosive speed .
The strength training required for this type of running also demands a lot of fast digestible protein with whey protein isolate from milk being one of the best options.
2. Long-Distance Runners
On the complete opposite end, long-distance and marathon runners have a very different physical build and muscle composition.
I would generally recommend casein if you don't have any lactose intolerance, and for vegans, a blend of rice and pea protein is a good option.
The training that is involved requires a lot of focus on muscle repair rather than bulking, so a slower releasing protein powder is best.
Benefits Of Protein Powders For Runners
Beyond being a vital macronutrient that your body cannot do without, there are 3 main health benefits that runners get from taking protein powder as part of their diet and training plan.
1. Assists in Muscle Recovery
Even after some lighter exercise, your muscles will have come under enough strain to need some repairing. But when your training is more intense, especially in preparation for longer distances and competitive events, then you can quickly feel stiff and sore (1).
That pain comes from micro-tears in muscle fibers, and the more protein you can get to your muscles, the faster they will repair and recover for the next session.
2. Supports Weight Management
Countless studies have been conducted on the health effects of protein and weight loss . Whether you're running as part of your weight management, or you need to cut some fat in preparation for a race, protein shakes can make a huge difference.
3. Helps Maintain Ideal Muscle Composition
Muscle building for runners is all down to either bulking for sprinters or endurance for long distances. While your exercise routine will define your physical build, your body will always need amino acids to build muscles.
You can also step your game up by using a pre-workouts specifically for running.
Side Effects Of Protein Powder
Because protein is an essential nutrient, protein powder is generally safe as long as you buy it from a reputable brand that uses high-quality sources. Most side effects are encountered with very high doses or underlying health issues.
Here are some symptoms to be aware of.
1. Bloating And Nausea
When you suddenly increase your protein intake through a protein powder, then your stomach can take a while to get used to it. Drinking a regular protein shake containing 20 to 30 grams of protein in one go, that can lead to nausea and bloating.
2. Allergies And Intolerances
Especially when it comes to milk-based options like whey and casein, lactose intolerances can cause problems. Even if you usually don't suffer too much, a sudden large concentration of these types of milk protein in protein powders can leave you feeling quite sick.
Several research studies have measured the effect of high-protein diets on hydration levels . What I generally suggest is that in the hour after taking a protein drink, you try to drink an extra pint of water to avoid dehydration.
As little as a two to three percent decrease in body water has been found to negatively affect performance and cardiovascular function. Whether you are exercising or not, it is important to make sure you are drinking enough to prevent dehydration.
- Elizabeth QuinnFitness Consultant
Which Type of Protein Powder Is Best For Running?
Generally speaking, for running the best protein powder is whey protein isolate or a combination of rice and pea protein for vegans.
However, it is important to factor in your goals and the distances you run.
Let me explain.
Whey is one of the best protein sources if you need to build up muscle mass for fast runs over shorter distances.
The product I would recommend for this is Transparent Labs because it really only delivers the nutrition you need with no added fillers or artificial stuff.
When it comes to long-distance training, one of the protein powders I recommend to my clients is the MusclePharm Combat Protein.
The combination of whey, casein, and egg sources provides a right blend that can help with the sustained delivery of essential amino acids for better muscle healing.
How much protein do runners need?
Runners need about 20 grams of extra protein, especially after higher intensity training and longer distances. This would be on top of the standard recommended protein intake of 0.5 grams per pound of body weight from your meals.
When should runners drink a protein shake?
Runners should drink a protein shake immediately after exercising or a run. You can also add some to your meals to allow for a long and sustained delivery of essential amino acids.
Should runners take BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids)?
Yes, runners should take BCAAs (branched-chained amino acids), particularly if they need to build up some muscle mass. This is most commonly required for sprinters who require maximum fast-twitch muscles.
Is it good to drink protein shakes after running?
Yes, it is good to drink protein shakes after running because your leg muscles will come under significant strain. This strain will cause damage and require repair of the fibers.
Which Protein Powder Should You Buy?
I have tested dozens of protein powders myself and with my clients, and of all of the available products, the best protein powder for runners has to be Transparent Labs.
Especially when you consider the price, you simply won't find a better quality product.
There is nothing artificial added, and with basically no carbs or fat, it won't mess with your diet either.
Try it out for yourself and make sure you report back to us on one of our social media pages.