Every endurance athlete is fully aware of how necessary proteins are to ensure good performance. It’s the main element needed for your training, regardless of what sports you’re into. Protein, by its nature, is a macronutrient.
In other words, it’s one of the major three foods you need on a daily basis. It’s also crucial to repairing and building muscle. Many people wrongly think that the best moment to take their protein intake is after a workout and not before.
You’ve probably seen people in your gym constantly chugging on protein drinks. Well, what works for others won’t necessarily work for you. Protein powders can help improve your performance, but it’s essential to know which powders are the best for runners.
If you’re a runner or endurance athlete, protein powders can be very beneficial to getting the maximum out of your training. With that in mind, let’s see why they matter, how they help improve performance, and other important facts you should know about the best protein powders for runners.
Protein is Important for Athletes
The average athlete needs about 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram daily. You can find excellent tools on the internet that can help determine how many grams of protein powder you need per day. According to some research, endurance athletes have elevated protein needs.
They need almost as much protein as bodybuilders. For them, the perfect measure would be 1.65-2.6 grams daily, almost the same amount as for a typical bodybuilder. Protein is important for your muscles’ normal growth and profoundly affects the breakdown and synthesis of protein in the muscles.
Each time you workout, your muscle fibers get damaged. The role of protein is to help remodel and repair those damages in order to allow you to workout even harder.
If you don’t take enough protein, it will be harder to work out as your muscles take more time to repair post-workout. In other words, all your efforts will be for nothing as you won’t see any real improvement in your performance.
Runners Need Protein as Well
To properly address this, we first need to take a look at what protein powder is in its essence. Protein powders are concentrated proteins that are either taken from plant foods or animals. Essentially, protein powders exist in three different forms:
- Protein concentrate – 60-80% of protein, the rest consists of carbs and fat.
- Protein isolate – 90-95% protein.
- Protein hydrolysate – the fastest absorbed protein form by our body and muscles that breaks down the bonds between amino acids.
The majority of protein powders are additionally fortified with minerals and vitamins, like probiotics and calcium. When it comes to the reason why runners need protein too, it’s safe to say that protein is the key element runners need to repair damages to their muscles.
By including enough in your diet, you give your muscles vital nutrients and elements they need to build and repair muscles and improve your running performance.
Protein Helps Muscles Function
Proteins are the building components of your muscles. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to move your body. Eating adequate amounts of protein helps your body maintain its muscle mass. More importantly, protein promotes muscle growth, especially when you expose your muscles to constant stress through training.
Protein is in charge of muscle functions, and it helps your muscles grow and stay healthy. If you want to increase your strength and muscle mass, you’ll need to increase your protein intake. Since runners mostly rely on their muscles to run, they need increased amounts of protein to support their daily workouts.
Even with you being cautious with your exercises, your muscles still undergo some form of injury. The muscle damage needs protein to initiate a repair process. Put simply, your muscles need protein to help repair damages to the tissue that is a direct result of your frequent exercise.
It Helps Your Muscles Recover
When you perform any type of exercise or resistance training, your muscles endure micro-tears and other small tissue damage. This is a natural process, and after healing those micro-tears, your muscles become stronger and bigger. Proteins help your muscle tissue heal and repair itself by reducing the damage to microfibers in the muscle.
They also help build new lean tissue, which is also a part of adaptation’s natural process. In other words, there is no muscle without protein. If you’re a frequent runner and you want to increase the intensity of your training, you need to increase the intake of protein on a daily basis.
Not All Protein Supplements are Made Equal
If you don’t know where to start with your supplementation, you should know that there are many different protein supplements out there, and each of these products provides different benefits. The trick is to find the one that suits your athletic needs. The best bet is to go with whole food sources. They are an excellent source of protein and can easily provide everything a runner needs to improve performance. In addition, it’s easy to include whole food protein in your snacks and meals. Many foods are packed with protein, so there is no shortage of choices. Soy products, nut butter and nuts, quinoa, lentils, beans, fish, meat, eggs, and poultry are just some of the examples of protein-rich food.
You should also know that your body has certain limitations when it comes to processing and utilizing protein. You can only utilize about 30-40 g of protein at once. That’s why we recommend that you always stick to the serving size on the label and try not to take more than 30 g of protein at once. Whey protein supplements are the most popular type of supplements at the moment.
This protein type comes from milk and is a complete protein, rich in essential amino acids, particularly leucine, which is crucial for runners. Leucine promotes muscle recovery and growth. It’s perfect for runners and athletes.
Whey protein is also absorbed by the body faster than any other type of protein powder. If you’re lactose intolerant, you can go with whey protein isolate. These protein supplements have very low levels of lactose. Whey provides for about 80% protein; the rest is fats and carbohydrates.
Here are the best whey protein brands for runners:
- Garden of Life Grass Fed Whey Protein
- Klean Athlete Isolate
- Now Sports Whey Protein Isolate
- Momentous Essential Grass-Fed Whey Protein
If you’re more into plant-based protein powders, we have the best protein powders for runners that want a fully plant-based diet. Pea protein has a similar effect on strength, performance, muscle thickness, and body composition as whey protein, and only it has one advantage – it’s extremely rich in iron, which is paramount for runners. Here is the list of the best pea protein brands for runners:
- Garden of Life Sport Plant-Based Protein
- Tone it Up Organic Protein Powder
- Orgain Plant-Based Protein Powder
How Much Protein You need
We already mentioned that your body couldn’t flavor more than 30-40 g at once. Therefore, follow the instructions on the label and don’t exceed the serving size. Going above 30 g at once won’t give any results. Runners need about 0.5-1 g of protein per pound of bodyweight daily. If you weigh about 150 pounds, the ideal protein intake would be 75-150 g of protein daily.
Low Carb or High-Carb Protein?
When you’re looking for the perfect protein powder for your running needs, we recommend you avoid artificial sweeteners like MSG, saccharin, and aspartame, carrageenan, corn syrup, and artificial flavors.
Also, keep an eye on cheaper brands as their products are usually packed with chemicals. It’s always better to invest in top-quality powders. Runners should go with low carb protein, although the best way to get what your body needs to recover quickly is to try carb-cycling, including alternating between high and low carb protein products.
Protein Can’t Replace Your Meals
While protein shakes are very useful for weight loss, they can’t replace your real meals. They are intended to supplement your diet plans and make for an ideal addition to your daily meals, but they can never replace a whole meal.
If you still decide to use protein powders as meal replacements, keep in mind that you should have at least one healthy meal a day. We recommend that you introduce protein powders to your daily diet regimen, as that’s the best way to get the best results.
Protein Smoothie Ideas
Whether you’re looking for post-long run recovery drinks or nutritious breakfast options to start your day energized, protein smoothies are always a good idea, even if you’re not working out. Here are some ideas to sweeten up your workouts.
For a pre-workout smoothie, we recommend you stick with simple carbs to give you protein and energy and make you feel full. Low-fat dairy smoothies like milk or yogurt are just perfect for such purposes. They also provide an excellent source of natural sugar and protein, as well as simple fruit carbs.
For post-run recovery, stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids. Remember to replenish your energy reserves with protein and complex carbs like veggies, seeds, nuts, beans, and whole grains. Natural fat is also a great idea. Chia seeds and peanut butter are excellent support for your muscle recovery and repair.
Protein powders offer many benefits for muscle repair and growth and are necessary to stimulate recovery and promote growth. They can greatly help your running exercises and are essential to improving your performance.
Keep in mind that protein powders can’t replace your meals. They are just dietary supplements meant to give your body more protein to promote muscle growth, strength, and recovery after a long workout.