Protein for Runners (A Runner’s Guide)

How well are you incorporating protein in your meals and how much of it do you need? This article about protein for runners will provide all the necessary information about protein. We will focus on importance of it to a runner.

Overall Benefits of Protein for Runners

There is a research paper in the field of protein and exercise released in September by the International Society of Sports Nutrition. It states that, while it is possible for physically active individuals to obtain their daily protein requirements through various diets, avid runners should consider an increased protein intake. Also along with supplements such as Branched-Chained Amino Acids (BCAA). This will improve the runner's adaptations to exercise, speed up recovery and strengthen immune function. It also supports the growth and maintenance of lean body mass.

How much Protein is enough?

The recommended dietary allowance estimates the amount of protein intake for a healthy adult to be about 0.8 g/kg body weight per day. However, there are important factors to consider when determining the recommended daily protein intake. Especially for individuals who engage in regular exercises, like runners:

  • Individual differences in protein metabolism
  • Mode and intensity of exercise
  • The Protein quality and the intake timing
  • The energy and carbohydrate intake

*Endurance athletes require a higher level of protein intake. The recommended intake being 1.0 g/kg to 1.6 g/kg per day because protein helps muscles heal faster. Runners who consume the right amount are less likely to get injured and have a particularly strong immune system.

Some sources of high-quality protein can be obtained from
  • Animal products such as lean cuts of meats from chicken breasts, prime ribs, ribeye, turkey, pork, salmon as well as eggs and milk
  • Vegetable based sources ( for lactose intolerants) such as black beans. These have eight out nine essential amino acids, protein-rich vegetables, and grains, such as soybeans, oats, nuts, lentils, and quinoa
  • Protein powders
Benefits of pre-workout protein for runners

Protein is very important for runners for fast muscle recovery and adaptability to exercise. It goes with saying that, for a quick energy boost before a workout your muscles rely on foods rich in carbohydrates. Foods like bread, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables. And of course protein to bring essential nutrients and oxygen to your muscles and blood cells.

So what is the best thing for a runner to eat before you go on a run for both energy and endurance? We recommend a good balance of quality carbs, lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and 2 glasses of water about 2 hours before a run.

It is always ideal to eat before a run, depending on the intensity. However, if pre-loading up isn’t your cup of tea, eat something easy to digest such as banana. Other good options are a chocolate milkshake or 10 – 20 grams of whey protein shake. This will provide you with enough fuel.

Benefits of post-workout Protein for Runners

Studies on the first nutritional window for optimal recovery after a run is 30 minutes. Muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores during this window. Which is why it is important to consume a nutritious meal that is adequately high in essential proteins and carbohydrates immediately after a run. This is in order to replenish the body’s glycogen supplies and facilitate effective muscle repair and recovery.

A post-workout ratio of 1 gram of protein and 3 grams of carbohydrate is adequate enough. In this case, high-glycemic index foods such as rice, pasta, sweet potatoes, and bread are great for refueling the muscles. We also recommend a protein accompaniment of either lean chicken, salmon or a large egg works as a solid post-run recovery meal.

There are cases where you are not as hungry after a run or haven’t got the time to prepare a nutritious meal. In these instances, nutrition power bars, again, with a ratio of 3:1 of carbs to protein come in handy.

Chocolate milk is also a great post-workout drink as it has the right amount of protein, carbohydrates, and B vitamins. Pair all your meals with a fruit of choice, preferably a banana for its potassium. You can blend it with a ½ cup of Greek yogurt and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for a nutritious smoothie.

Protein Powder Shakes

The chances are that you have seen a few people during your run or at the gym who are either chowing down on power bars or constantly sipping some concoction from their water bottle, right? Well, that concoction is a usually a protein shake. Another important source of protein for runners and high-intensity resistance trainers.

A post-workout supplementation with a protein shake is known to:

  • Boost muscle protein synthesis
  • Reduce protein breakdown
  • Promote muscle and tissue repair and recovery
  • Stimulate insulin release pre-workout and provide greater gain in lean muscle mass and strength

You'll find an overwhelmingly large variety of protein powders in health food stores. These come in different flavors, prices, and confusing names. That can make it especially difficult for a newbie to figure out the best one for them. Two things to keep in mind when buying protein powder is how your personal goals and dietary needs factor in.

Here are a few selected protein powder types and also supplements for runners and active people.

Branched Chain Amino Acids – BCAA

One of the most recommended supplement for athletes and bodybuilders. It tastes really good plus consuming at least 100mg per kg of body weight significantly alleviates muscle soreness and damage. It also helps speed up the recovery and repair processes after a strenuous training session.

Creatine Monohydrate

Research indicates that this muscle-building, power-enhancing supplement has an extremely high safety profile. It works by increasing the availability of creatine within the muscles, which enhances the quality of training. Long-term supplementation of creatine has been associated with helping to maintain energy during high-intensity exercises as well as speed up recovery, good news for runners and HIIT trainers.

Whey Protein Power

The most common and the cheapest dairy-based product that is a popular post-workout powder in the diets of pro runners and recreational gym-goers. It has the ability to deliver great results in terms of enhancing exercise recovery, increasing muscle protein synthesis, increasing strength and mass when consumed within 2 hours of your workout.


This is a nonessential amino acid that plays an important role in removing excess ammonia. The ammonia can accumulate during exercise so as to regulate the body's acidity levels, a process vital for muscle repair and recovery.

Fish Oils

It is great for strength athletes and bodybuilders because of its omega-3 fatty acids that provide the body with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. This is aiding sports related injuries such as microscopic muscle fiber tears, muscle damage, and inflammation that are known to delay the post-exercise recovery process.

When fish oil is combined with carbohydrates and branched chain amino acids, it has an added benefit in increasing the rate of protein synthesis that leads to greater gains in muscle mass.

Casein Protein Powder

It is the most preferred dairy protein supplement in cases where a slow release of nutrients is beneficial like prior going to bed. This is due to the fact that it digests slower because of its complex interaction with stomach acids, which in turn leads to a slow release of essential proteins and amino acids.

Additional Supplements You Should Consider
  • Soy Protein powder
  • NO Boosters and nitrate-rich foods like pomegranates, radishes, and beets
  • Pea Protein Powder
  • Hemp Protein Powder (superfood)
  • Vegan Protein Powder blend of Hemp seed, Peas, Rice, Quinoa, and Chia seeds. Great for vegetarians and vegans because it is gluten, dairy, and soy-free supplement. It boldly stands up against animal-based products and suits most dietary restrictions.
Protein for Runners Do’s and Don’ts
  • Consult with a doctor or dietitian to ensure protein supplements are right for you
  • Change your protein intake based on the intensity of your training or until you notice a positive difference in your recovery rate
  • Take protein powder supplements only if you’re a healthy, physically active adult looking to improve your overall body composition
  • Hydrate and maintain the carbs-to-protein ratio of 3:1. Remember that excess protein, can be converted into fat
  • Eat within 30 minutes of finishing a run as it is when your muscles are the most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores in the muscles and also to aid quick recovery
  • Don’t take too much protein as it is linked to kidney problems, calcium loss, increased cholesterol and unwanted weight gain
Protein for Runners - Conclusion

Protein and protein supplements are a necessity for runners and active people alike. While a protein shake will still deliver and is convenient, food sources are still your best source of protein for runners.

If you decide to utilize protein powders, take your time and investigate its nutritional facts and don’t let the numbers and words on the label intimidate you. Try to find one that is relatively low in fat and carbs/sugar. And ideally from a reputable company and always incorporate your diet of solid foods with your protein powder.

Leave a Comment