Protein For Runners, Explained (+ 4 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.

Related: How to Make Homemade Protein Bars: 7 DIY Recipes for Runners and The 7 Best Tasting Protein Bars For Runners in 2022

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 for protein for runners!

#1: Gnarly Whey

Great for: Clean Eating, No Artificial Additives

2021 WHEY VAN 6

Gnarly’s Whey protein concentrate comes from antibiotic-free, non-rBGH grass-fed cow’s milk.

They’ve taken a clear stance on committing to high-quality ingredients and keeping the product natural – and it doesn’t compromise on taste.

Gnarly Whey comes in Chocolate and Vanilla flavors and is available in 2lb cans and single-serving travel sachets.

#2: The Protein Works – Vegan Protein Extreme

Great for: plant-based diets, high protein content

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Some plant-based protein powders struggle to pack the punch provided by Whey-based solutions, but Vegan Protein Extreme by The Protein Works provides a whopping 29g of protein per serving by combining Soy Protein Isolate, Pea Protein, Hemp Protein, Brown Rice Protein and Sunflower Protein.

Available in a variety of sizes and a huge range of flavors!

#3: MyProtein Total Protein

Great for: comprehensive protein blast, low in additives

my protein total protein

This serving from MyProtein is a complete blend, with 25g of protein per serving, which includes whey protein concentrate, whey isolate, hydrolysed whey, milk protein, micellar casein, calcium caseinate, and free-range egg white powder.

#4: Bulk Vegan Protein Powder

Great for: Vegan, Clean (no soy), Sustainable packaging

vser vppo vegan protein powder main

Bulk’s Vegan Protein Powder is the most ethical we could find – it contains no soy (just pea protein, brown rice protein, pumpkin protein, flaxseed powder and quinoa flour) to deliver 23g of protein per serving. The packaging is completely compostable, too!

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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