Protein For Runners, Explained (+ 5 Protein Powder Recommendations)

Let’s look at the role of protein for runners, in terms of performance, nutrition, and recovery.

Runners, like the rest of society, should aim for a balanced diet.

There is the obvious source of protein which would be meat, yet there are other ways in which you can get it in your diet.

Protein can come from meat, plant, and dairy sources.

Protein for runners is important for the body as a recovery source, along with many other functions.

When you consume protein, it gets broken down into amino acids, which are then used to recover any damage that has been done to your muscles.

As we work out, whether it’s running or using weights, we are causing many micro-tears in our muscles. We need protein to help recover from this damage. Luckily for us, when we recover from the damage, we actually get stronger. In a sense we take a slight step back to take two steps forward.

Ready to learn more about protein for runners?

Let’s jump in!

The Importance of Protein for Runners

Protein is important for runners.

Runners are causing damage to the muscles whenever in training.

The muscles are being used in a way that produces pretty strong forces, therefore causing those tiny micro-tears across the muscle tissue – especially in the legs.

Now, protein is NOT as important to a runner as it would be to a bodybuilder. A bodybuilder is working to put on as much muscle as possible and is directly hitting his muscles in a way to do this.

Runners, more often than not, are not going to be trying for more muscle mass. They actually want to be a little lighter for the run.

The main priority for a runner to have protein is basic function, and recovery.

It can be easy to cause what is called “overtraining” with really intense running.

So, it is important that you are getting in adequate protein so that you can fully recover from your runs.

This is especially true when you’re following an intense training plan, such as a marathon training plan.

When you’re running several times per week, you’ve got to prioritize your recovery so your legs are ready to go on each run!

How Much Protein do Runners Need?

Protein needs vary depending on the person.

It comes down to two things:

  • How intense your training is
  • Your body type and size (we’ll use bodyweight for simplicity)

These are two ways in which we can measure the amount of protein needed.

A general rule of thumb is that it should never be lower than .8g of protein per pound of body weight. For example, if you weigh 100lbs then you would consume 80g of protein each day.

Now, let’s start on the lower end of the spectrum. We can take someone who is just casually running for recreation and they weight 150lbs. That person isn’t going to have insanely high recovery needs, meaning that they don’t need as much protein. We can use .8g of protein per pound of body weight as a start. It’s appropriate for their intensity level, and also matches their size.

If we take it up a notch to someone who trains for a couple of competitions a year, they are going to be doing a lot more damage. Their protein intake can be increased to 1g of protein per pound of body weight. This would account for the increase in activity and the higher need of recovery.

Now, the more intense athlete. Someone who is following an intense training plan, or training year-round to be very competitive. This person can even consume upwards of 1.2g protein per pound of body weight. This would be in the most elite categories. The damage done is going to require a ton of protein to keep up with the needs of the body.

So, you have 3 levels of consumption for protein for runners.

  • Low activity, off-season -> .8g of protein per pound of BW each day
  • Regular runner -> 1g of protein per pound of BW each day
  • Intense training -> 1.2 g of protein per pound of BW each day

Using that as a reference you can ensure that you are getting enough protein as a runner.

protein for runners 2

How Should I Plan My Protein Intake?

When you take your protein is as important as how much you take.

If you have a lot of protein to eat during the day, it’s beneficial to just plan it out ahead of time.

Let’s say that you are to consume 100g of protein for runners, each day.

Well, you can say that you are going to break that up into 5 eating times.

Breakfast will have 20g, snack will have 20g, lunch will have 20g, snack will have 20g, and dinner will have 20g. That will equate to you have 100g of protein a day, and you’ve made it very manageable.

One issue that people run into when needing more protein is that it’s hard to eat a ton in one sitting.

Protein can be very satiating, thus making it hard to eat a lot of it at one time. So, breaking it into small portions can help!

Now, planning around time is really up to your training or running times.

One rule you are going to want to follow is the pre- and post-workout protein consumption times.

As you are running, you don’t want a ton of protein sitting on your stomach. So, it’s advised that you keep pre-run protein consumption to about 1-2 hours away from run time. This will ensure that everything has been broken down. It also helps to aid in you having protein ready for the run.

The most important time to consume protein is after you finish your workout.

The 45-60 minutes after your run are the ‘gold hour’ for feeding your muscles.

This is a crucial time in which the body is ready to take some nutrients in and start the recovery process. So, we want to make sure that we have it on deck and ready to go. You have time to get it done, so don’t think you need to do it immediately.

These are really the only times you NEED to plan for, if you are looking to optimize performance and recovery.

Is Protein Powder Necessary for Runners?

You do NOT have to use protein shakes.

Protein shakes are a supplement that helps you to meet your protein requirements.

They are easy and convenient in comparison to having to sit and have a meal.

Many people, especially athletes, use them to hit those higher protein numbers without having to spend much time on a meal.

They are not a magical muscle builder, and they will not make you bulky. They are essentially just a form of food with relatively high protein content.

Now, they are not necessary if you can get enough protein in with just your food.

In a perfect world, all of your protein would come from whole food sources, however, that’s just not realistic for some people. This is where a protein shake can help to supplement what you are missing.

If you find it hard to hit the number you need to recover, then try adding in a protein shake or two to your day!

They’re convenient and easy to consume.

Just watch out for hidden sweeteners and low quality ingredients.

Best Protein Shakes for Runners

There are a million different protein shakes on the market now. However, which one is going to be best for protein for runners?

A shake that contains both protein and carbs will be perfect for a runner. There are plenty of shakes that contain both a protein source, as well as a carb source. This helps for two reasons.

For one, it boosts the absorption of the protein.

The carbs will signal a small insulin response, which then leads the body to uptake nutrients in the blood, protein being one of them.

This can help to increase recovery rates in the muscles and is favorable for a runner trying to get the right amount of protein.

Secondly, the carbs are important for runners due to the need for this type of fuel.

Runners use a lot of carbs when they are running. You may see runners using energy gels or other supplements. This is an attempt at getting more into the blood stream to use for energy while running.

Using a protein shake that also contains carbs can help to boost the total intake of carbs as well. Thus, leading to more energy along with your boosted level of recovery.

Here are my recommendations of protein for runners!

Bestseller No. 1
Optimum Nutrition ON Gold Standard Whey Protein, Muscle Building Powder With Naturally Occurring Glutamine and Amino Acids, Double Rich Chocolate, 29 Servings, 899 g, Packaging May Vary
  • PACKAGING MAY VARY: New look, with the same trusted Quality
  • Optimum Nutrition is the world’s #1 selling sports protein powder brand for over 20 years, catering to those looking for support before, during and/or after their workout
  • FAST-ABSORBING whey protein with whey protein isolate as the main ingredient helps build muscle, and helps support recovery
  • Contains naturally-occurring BCAAs and GLUTAMINE
  • LOW IN SUGAR and fat
SaleBestseller No. 2
Grenade Carb Killa High Protein Shake Fudge Brownie, 8 x 330 ml
  • High protein shake, featuring over 25 g of protein
  • Less than 200 calories per 330 ml bottle
  • Informed sport approved and accredited
  • Lactose free
  • Approved by the Vegetarian Society
Bestseller No. 3
USN Muscle Fuel Anabolic Strawberry Protein Shake 2KG: Workout Boosting All in One Muscle Gain Protein Powder
  • All in one muscle-building shake: USN Muscle Fuel Anabolic protein shake is an all-in-one mass gainer protein powder, with 55g of pure protein per serving. Try our range of delicious flavours, including Strawberry,Vanilla and Chocolate protein powder
  • A High protein shake designed to increase physical performance: Our USN Muscle Fuel Anabolic whey protein powder and creatine mix increases physical performance in successive short bursts of high intensity exercise
  • Fuel your workout recovery: USN Muscle Fuel Anabolic is specially formulated to reduce recovery time, all thanks to the 77g of carbohydrate found in our muscle gain protein powder
  • 5 different sources of protein: All USN protein powders contain protein from five different sources, ensuring optimal protein absorption and aiding muscle growth
  • Industry-leading nutrition: Muscle Fuel Anabolic is created by USN, a leading Sports Nutrition brand. We’ve been providing outstanding protein powders and supplements for over 20 years
SaleBestseller No. 4
USN Diet Fuel Strawberry UltraLean 1 kg, Diet Protein Powders, Weight Control & Meal Replacement Shake Powder
  • High protein meal replacement: Diet Fuel UltraLean is a high lean protein, high fibre weight loss meal replacement that will support weight management
  • Great tasting range: USN's delicious diet protein powders come in an amazing range, including chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and banana flavours
  • Contains chromium that helps Maintain normal blood sugar levels: Diet Fuel UltraLean is a diet whey protein powder weight loss shake, formulated with sugar replacing sweeteners.
  • Maintains normal blood sugar levels: Diet Fuel UltraLean is a diet whey protein powder weight loss shake, formulated with sugar replacing sweeteners to help prevent unwanted spikes in glucose levels
  • Great on the go: USN's perfectly balanced, great tasting diet shakes are ideal as a meal replacement, or before and after your workout; It's the ideal way to fill you up and keep you going throughout the day
Bestseller No. 5
Bulk Pure Whey Protein Powder Shake, Vanilla, 1 kg
  • Premium, high quality whey protein powder from a leading sports nutrition brand
  • Provides 23 g of protein per serving and is low in sugar. Instantised for lump-free mixing
  • 5 g of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) in every serving
  • Perfect for anyone looking to increase their protein intake alongside a healthy, balanced diet
  • Available in a wide range of flavours and sizes

You can see that protein can be super beneficial for a runner. Whether it’s hitting a certain number of grams within your diet or adding in a few protein shakes; the benefits can be great.

Not only can you increase recovery, but you can improve your performance this way as well.

Use the above suggestions for your total protein and find a way to schedule the intake within your day.

If you find some gaps that you are having a hard time hitting, throw in some protein shakes here and there!

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

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