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Advice For Runners: Are Protein Shakes Good Enough?

Jason Hughes
Published by Jason Hughes
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 24, 2022

Nothing replaces a balanced diet. But, sometimes you need to shake it up. Literally.

Protein is vital for the body's recovery after long runs. However, between workouts, work, and the next item on the "to-do list," it's often a struggle to replenish these nutrients quickly. For vegans, this can be especially difficult.

Enter protein powders and shakes.

These supplements are easy, convenient options for the time-strapped athlete. When you don't have time to fill up your plate, downing one glass can fuel your next endeavor while on the go.

In bodybuilding communities, protein supplementation has become a post-exercise staple. But the question remains: are protein shakes good for runners too?

In short, yes. Protein powders and shakes benefit endurance athletes. When used correctly, these jumpstart muscle repair and reduce soreness after long runs.

With this in mind, we explore protein powders and their effect on runners below.

Identify the Need

Protein is a universal building block for better health. And this goes beyond bulking up or adding muscle. Protein helps the body produce hair follicles, connective tissue, blood, antibodies, enzymes, and much more. This nutrient definitely makes the "A-List" when it comes to dietary priorities.

Yet each individual is unique. Use the following guidelines when deciding whether protein powder and other supplements are right for you.

Protein requirements vary

The amount of protein needed comes down to two principles: intensity of training and body mass. As a general rule, the more bodyweight you have, the more protein you'll need. Higher exertion is also another reason to up your protein intake.

Calculate what's best for you

The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) is a meager 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This is the baseline to meet basic nutrition needs. However, the minimum is rarely enough for athletes, runners, and anyone else who maintains an active lifestyle. In fact, some recent research suggests that athletes should consume double or even triple these amounts each day just to maintain body weight. To determine your personal daily intake benchmarks, use an online calculator.

More isn't always better

The average American already eats more protein than the daily requirements, according to these RDI thresholds. This is derived from both plant and animal sources. Understanding this is imperative for determining if protein supplements are right for you. Some protein powders have more grams per serving than the body can effectively absorb at one time.

Shift in philosophy

While this can help focus and draw awareness to your eating habits, these RDI numbers should not be taken as gospel. According to the Harvard Medical School, public health messaging has transitioned away from specific, daily requirements. Instead, many organizations are advocating healthier, protein-rich foods. The idea is to prioritize quality over quantity.

Importance of Timing

So, are protein shakes good for runners? The answer isn't usually about "how much" but mostly a matter of "when."

Enjoy protein all-day

Don't load up during meals. The benefits of higher protein intake are amplified when spaced out over the course of the entire day. This method is advantageous to endurance athletes. Multiple studies have correlated improved running performance with elevated protein that's ingested throughout the day.

Effectiveness may vary also

Protein powders and shakes aren't essential after every run. Protein supplements should only be used when there will be a substantial gap between the end of a workout and the eating of your next meal. Prepping for another workout soon is another opportune time. If you do reach for a shake, drink it within 30 minutes of completing a run. This will speed up your body's uptake of these nutrients.

Impact on Recovery

Protein keeps you fresh. The biggest reason to supplement is to expedite recovery. Research has concluded that marathon runners experience reduced fatigue and muscle soreness after 72 hours when compared to participants who didn't use post-race supplements. The International Journal of Medical Sciences also found that whey protein minimized inflammation. Yet it's not only during the recovery stage. This same study found that protein supplementation had a direct impact on performance.

For runners, this has tremendous application. Protein shakes after a long run can get you back out logging miles again in no time.


Should I add protein shakes to my diet?

Rather than asking, "are protein shakes good for runners," you should be thinking about whether they are even necessary. Protein shakes are not a requirement. These are easy, convenient supplements. Yet it should never replace a balanced meal. There are plenty of vegan foods that are packed with protein. However, if you feel like your plate is lacking, a protein shake might make the difference.

What are the best protein powders for runners?

Runners benefit most from a combination of protein and carbohydrates. While these both optimize recovery, they also add calories. Sugar intake can be reduced by mixing straight protein-based shakes with high-carb foods, like bananas, berries, and oats.

Vegan runners may find this especially challenging. Most protein powders contain derivatives of milk, like casein and whey. But Vegan Protein Extreme by Protein Works packs a punch, offering 29 grams of soy, pea, and brown rice-based proteins. Bulk's Vegan Protein Powder is another solid choice, especially for runners with soy allergies. In addition to these two products, VeganLitz has also reviewed many of the other industry-leading choices.

Additionally, vegan protein powders typically lack artificial sweeteners, making these products less flavorful when compared to milk-based products. Fortunately, there are recipes and other ways to enhance the taste

Can I ingest too much protein?

Knowing how and when to supplement is important. In extreme cases, overloading on protein can trigger minor health issues like dehydration and constipation. But, on a more basic level, extra protein is stored as fat. Therefore, excessive protein can lead to weight gain. Make sure your protein supplementation and intake are offset by routine exercise.

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