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 shakes.
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 these supplements to improve their training performance and recovery times.
So I put together a guide on the products that I currently recommend to my clients, along with some important information on how they can help you achieve your goals.
Our Top Protein Powders for Runners (2019 Updated)
#1 Transparent Labs
#3 Optimum Nutrition
#4 Vega Sport Protein Powder
#5 Orgain Organic
1. Editor's Choice: Transparent Labs Whey Protein
Performance Labs has fast become a favorite for all types of athletes because it uses top-quality protein from grass-fed cows.
With 24 grams of whey 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, GMO, and artificial additive-free. You only get ingredients that provide health and fitness benefits.
The only minor thing I would highlight is that ProteinSeries is not available as an unflavored option, which can be helpful when mixing with smoothies or snacks.
2. MusclePharm Combat Protein Powder
One of the reasons MusclePharm is so popular for running is that it combines a few different sources of protein. By blending whey, casein, and egg protein, 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.
Just keep in mind that there is a little bit of sugar, which is a significant consideration for low-carb dieters.
3. 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 isolate and concentrate.
It provides a fast boost after your run to help with muscle recovery, and several hours later, you'll still get the benefit from the slower absorbed concentrate.
Of all the protein supplements I know, this has, by far, the largest selection of flavors.
The only downside with the whey concentrate is that if you need a maximum boost immediately after running, this might not be the best option.
4. Vega Sport Protein Powder
One of the leading brands for quality vegan protein powder 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. That means no fillers, sugar, or artificial crap thrown in, resulting in low calories from carbs that could otherwise cause blood glucose spikes.
Now, I should say that because of the specific blend of protein, it is going to cost you a bit more than most other options available.
5. 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 shakes for runners.
The protein powder is blended from pea, chia seed, and brown rice to provide the full profile of amino acids to support recovery from running and strength training .
Some users report that you need to blend it in really well to get a smooth, creamy texture.
6. Amazon Elements Whey Protein Isolate Powder
The final protein for runners that I want to highlight is this Amazon-branded one. Based on whey 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 it as an unflavored option, which is ideal for adding it to a meal or snack.
The one thing I would agree with on many reviews is that it does have a slight stevia aftertaste.
7. 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 supplement negatively affecting your diet efforts.
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 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 pea and rice protein is a good option.
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, high-protein diets 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.
Side Effects Of Protein Powder
Because protein is an essential nutrient, it 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 supplement powder, then your stomach can take a while to get used to it. With a regular 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 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.
Which Protein Powder Is Best For Running?
Generally speaking, the best protein for running is whey isolate or a combination of pea and rice for vegans. However, it is important to factor in your goals and the distances you run.
Let me explain.
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 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 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 amino acids.
Should runners take BCAA?
Yes, runners should take BCAAs, 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 supplements 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.
Our #1 Protein Powder For Runners