Protein is arguably the most important food group. Why? Because your body can burn stored body fat for energy, negating the need for dietary fats or carbohydrates. But, if you don’t eat enough protein, your body will catabolize or break down muscle tissue to keep itself alive. Yes, catabolism does sound a lot like cannibalism, doesn’t it!
Most exercisers know they need to eat more protein than the average person, and that includes runners too (1). But what is the best protein for runners?
Ideally, your diet should provide most of the protein you need. Protein can be found in foods like meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, and nuts, beans, vegetables, and grains contain protein too (2).
But, it’s not always practical to stop and make a substantial high-protein meal. If you are too busy to cook or are at work or school, you may find that your diet quickly becomes low in protein. That can affect your energy levels, interfere with your workout recovery, and lead to the aforementioned muscle catabolism (3).
The good news is that, with protein powder, getting enough of this vital nutrient is a whole lot easier. Just mix up a shake and chug it down. Simple! Portable, quick, and easy to make, protein powder is convenient to use and means you never need to run short of protein.
There are lots of different protein products available, some of which are especially useful for runners. Here are eight of the best, tried and tested by us. Any of the following products are ideal for protein-starved runners.
Top-Rated Protein Powders for Runners
All exercisers need to consume adequate amounts of protein, and supplements like Alpha Lion G.O.A.T.EIN make it easier to do so. In addition, it contains enzymes to increase digestibility, so it’s less likely to cause bloating and stomach upsets.
- Enzymes for increased digestibility
- AstraGin to increase protein absorption
- 25 grams of high-quality protein per serving
- <1 gram of fat per serving
- 112 calories per serving
- 7 grams of carbs per serving
- Available in three great-tasting flavors – banana, chocolate, and vanilla
- 25 servings per tub
This product provides an easy way to increase your daily protein intake without upsetting your stomach. Easy to mix, this product makes a great-tasting shake that’s smooth and filling. The fast-acting formulation makes it ideal for after exercise.
- Easy to use
- Tastes great
- High bioavailability
- Contains all the necessary amino acids in abundance
- Not the cheapest whey protein
- More flavors would be nice!
Alpha Lion G.O.A.T.EIN is a high-quality whey protein isolate supplement that’s ideal for all types of exercisers. Whether you are a bodybuilder who wants to gain mass or a weight loss dieter who wants to burn fat, G.O.A.T.EIN is here to help.
While whey protein is the product to which all other protein powders are compared. It is a by-product of dairy manufacture, which means it’s not suitable for vegans and some vegetarians. Orgain Organic Protein™ Plant-Based Protein Powder contains no animal derivatives so it’s perfect for vegans.
- Made from organic pea, rice, and chia seed protein
- 150 calories per serving
- 21 grams of protein per two scoops
- 15 grams of carbs per serving
- High in fiber
- Available in six flavors: creamy chocolate fudge, chocolate coconut, chocolate peanut butter, peanut butter, vanilla bean, and unsweetened/unflavored.
- No artificial ingredients
- Certified non-GMO, soy, gluten, and lactose-free
This protein powder contains 15 grams of carbs per serving. While this could be off-putting for some users, for runners, it may be beneficial. The extra calories and carbs in this protein powder will work alongside the protein to promote faster recovery.
- Non-gritty texture
- Easy to mix
- High in fiber
- Good source of post-workout energy
- Available in a range of container sizes, including individual serving sachets
- Well-priced product
- Some users report this product is not very sweet
Unlike some protein powders, this product is sweetened with nothing more than a little stevia. Because of this, the flavors are quite subtle. You won’t mistake Orgain Organic Protein™ Plant-Based Protein Powder for Nesquik! If you want a stronger-tasting shake, blend the powder with sugar-free syrup or fruit.
Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate is one of the purest, most concentrated protein powders around. With its 88% protein-by-weight ratio, this product is virtually carb and fat-Free. If all you want is protein, this product is highly recommended.
- Made from all-natural ingredients
- Contains whey protein from grass-fed cows
- 120 calories per serving
- 28 grams of protein per scoop
- Available in six natural flavors: chocolate, French vanilla, cinnamon pastry, mocha, strawberry, and salted caramel
Whey protein isolate is a very fast-acting form of protein. It’s digested quickly and cleanly and is linked to very few unwanted side effects. While not entirely free from lactose, the lactose content is very low. It should only cause problems for people with strong allergies.
- Easy to mix powder
- Great tasting
- Almost pure protein
- Ideal for post-workout recovery
- No artificial additives
- Quite expensive
If this product has a downside, it is that it’s such a rapid source of protein. That’s a good thing immediately after a run, but less so if you want to consume protein before bed to boost nighttime recovery. That said, mixing Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate with a source of healthy fat, such as coconut or avocado oil, will delay gastric emptying and turn this into a slower-acting protein.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard
- Packaging May Vary – New look, with the same trusted quality
- GOLD STANDARD 100% WHEY BLEND – 24g blended protein consisting of whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and whey peptides to support lean muscle mass – they don't call it the GOLD STANDARD of quality for nothing
- OVER 5G OF BCAAS – help build lean and strong muscles with naturally occurring BCAAs
- 3-4G CARBS, 1-3G SUGAR, AND 1-1.5G FAT, GLUTEN FREE, No Sucralose in Double Rich Chocolate Flavor
- INSTANTIZED – improves mixability to prevent lumps and clumps
Optimum Nutrition has been making protein powder for a long time, and their Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder is one of the best-selling around. Popular with a range of different exercisers, this product is especially useful for runners.
- Protein blend consisting of whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and whey protein peptides
- 120 calories per serving
- 24 grams of protein per scoop
- 3 grams of carbs and 1.5 grams of fat per serving
- Very cost-effective
- Available in a range of sizes, from individual sachets to 10-pound bags
- Available in two flavors: French vanilla crème, and double-rich chocolate
Easy to mix, this great-tasting protein powder contains a lot of protein per serving. Made from a blend of whey ingredients, Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder combines fast, medium, and slow-acting proteins to keep your muscles supplied with amino acids for hours at a time.
- Popular, proven formulation
- Good taste
- Smooth, grit-free consistency
- Widely available
- Contains lactose and soy
- Contains some artificial ingredients
ON’s Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder is an excellent product that’s also very affordable. Unfortunately, it does contain potential allergens, so it’s not suitable for anyone with a lactose or soy intolerance, or anyone looking for an all-natural protein powder.
- HIGH-QUALITY PROTEIN – MusclePharm Combat Protein Powder was created for athletes who train hard and demand a more effective protein. This delicious, easy-to-mix shake delivers 25 grams of protein per serving.
- FUELS MUSCLES – To maximize proper protein utilization, MusclePharm scientists fortified Combat with a variety of protein blends that digest at varying rates, which helps fuel your muscles during workouts.
- FIVE PROTEIN SOURCES – Our formula is precision-engineered with protein from five unique protein sources: whey protein concentrates, hydrolysates & isolates, egg albumin, and milk protein concentrate.
- SAFE TO USE – This protein powder is banned-substance tested and certified by Informed-Choice and Informed-Protein, so athletes can take it with confidence.
- THE ATHLETES COMPANY – Since 2006, we’ve been striving to help professional athletes and everyday active individuals reach their maximum potential with the most scientifically advanced, safe, and nutritious sports supplementation products possible.
MusclePharm Combat Protein Powder is made from five different types of whey. Each one digests at a different speed to keep your muscles supplied with amino acids for hours at a time. Easy to mix, this great-tasting product is available in four award-winning flavors.
- Made from whey protein hydrolysate, whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, egg albumin, and micellar casein
- 130 calories per serving
- 4 grams of carbs and 1.5 grams of fat per serving
- 25 grams of protein per 33-gram scoop
- Available in chocolate peanut butter, chocolate milk, vanilla, and cookies ‘n’ cream flavors
- Available in 2, 4, 5, and 10-pound tubs
This product mixes easily and tastes great. Its smooth, non-gritty texture means you can make it quickly with nothing more than a shaker cup and some water. The protein blend makes it ideal for before and after exercise, and any other time you need a protein fix.
- Well-balanced formulation
- Great flavors
- Easy to use
- Suitable for a range of uses
- High protein content per serving
- Low in carbs and fat
- Contains milk, egg, and soy
- Contains artificial flavors
- Not suitable for vegans
This well-priced product has a lot of advantages, but there are a couple of drawbacks too. Containing egg, soy, and artificial ingredients, it’s not the purest protein powder available, and could even cause allergies. If that’s a problem for you, you should avoid this product.
- WHEY PROTEIN POWDER – MuscleTech Phase8 is designed to feed your muscles the highest quality blend of protein available. Each serving delivers 26g blend of proteins taken from multiple sources with variable digestive rates
- CASEIN PROTEIN plus WHEY PROTEIN BLEND – Phase8 is a premium blended protein formula that feeds your muscles for 8 hours, with high biological value and sustained-release protein. This makes Phase8 the perfect protein for any time of the day or night
- PROTEIN POWDER for MUSCLE GAIN – Phase8 supports protein synthesis by delivering incredibly high doses of BCAAs, glutamine and essential amino acids (EAAs)
- MUSCLE RECOVERY – Whey protein promotes rapid recovery from exercise and supports an insulinogenic response for improved nutrient delivery for men and women. Builds lean muscle, increases strength and enhances performance
- DAILY WORKOUT SUPPLEMENTS – Mix 1 scoop with 8 oz of cold water or skim milk in a glass or shaker cup. For best results, mix 2 scoops with 16 oz of cold water or skim milk. Use between major meals and after exercise
A lot of protein powders are designed for rapid digestion. Used straight after exercise, this ensures your body gets the amino acids it needs to kickstart the recovery process. MuscleTech Phase8 Protein Powder takes a different approach. It is designed to digest slowly over eight hours to keep your muscles supplied with aminos all day (and all night) long.
- Protein blend made from whey protein concentrate, milk protein isolate, micellar casein, calcium caseinate, whey protein isolate, and hydrolyzed whey protein isolate
- 150 calories per serving
- 26 grams of protein per 42-gram scoop
- 5 grams of fat and 8 grams of carbs per serving
- Available in chocolate and vanilla flavors
- Available in 2, 4, and 5-pound tubs
While this protein powder is only available in two flavors, those flavors are delicious. MuscleTech Phase8 Protein Powder mixes easily to make a smooth, thick shake that you could easily mistake for a milkshake.
- Cold filtered for less lactose
- High protein content per serving
- Low sugar and carb content
- Easy mixing, non-gritty formulation
- Contains soy and dairy ingredients
- Made in a facility that also processes nut, egg, and wheat products
If you want a protein powder that will keep your muscles supplied with amino acids all day long, this product is for you. Take three shakes per day, eight-hours apart, and your muscles will have a constant stream of what they need to recover and grow.
- WHEY PROTEIN POWDER – MuscleTech Nitro-Tech is the most powerful protein formula ever developed. It is a scientifically engineered whey plus isolate lean muscle builder formula designed for more muscle, more strength and better performance
- MUSCLE BUILDER for MEN & WOMEN – MuscleTech Nitro-Tech has 5g of glutamine & precursor, 6.8g of BCAA and a clinically studied 3g dose of HPLC-tested creatine monohydrate to help build lean muscle, increase strength and enhance performance for men & women
- PROTEIN POWDER for MUSCLE GAIN – In a 6-week, double-blind study involving the core ingredients of Nitro-Tech, subjects gained 70% more lean muscle than those using regular whey (8.8 vs 5.1 lbs) and increased their bench press more (34 vs 14 lbs). Notice: Use this product as a food supplement only. Do not use for weight reduction
- CREATINE MONOHYDRATE – Start re-imagining the limits of size and strength with pure, HPLC-tested creatine. Scientific studies have shown that it helps replenish ATP stores in the body for enhanced performance, more muscle and an increase in strength
- ABSORBS FAST and DIGESTS EASILY – Whey peptides are an ultra-pure, rapidly absorbed and quickly digested whey protein powder that allows you to recover faster, build more lean muscle and get better results from your training sessions
A lot of protein powders are one-trick ponies. They provide your body with extra protein and very little else. MuscleTech NitroTech contains additional ingredients designed to enhance recovery and boost performance.
- Made from a blend of whey peptides, whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and calcium carbonate
- 150 calories per scoop
- 5 grams of fat and 3 grams of carbs per serving
- 30 grams of protein per scoop
- 3 grams of creatine monohydrate per serving
- High in branch chain amino acids (BCAAs)
- Available in 2, 4, and 10-pound tubs
- Available in birthday cake, cookies ‘n’ cream, milk chocolate, mocha cappuccino swirl, snickerdoodle, strawberry, and vanilla flavors
- Cold filtered to reduce lactose content and remove impurities
This product is designed to boost recovery and performance in three ways. The protein blend keeps your muscles supplied with amino acids over several hours, while the BCAAs give your body exactly what it needs for rapid post-exercise recovery. Finally, creatine helps restock your muscles with essential chemical energy.
- Proven ingredients
- Great-tasting flavors
- Ideal for using after a run to speed up recovery
- Easy to make
- Contains artificial sweeteners
- Creatine can lead to water retention
- Made in a facility that also processes wheat, egg, nut, fish and shellfish ingredients
MuscleTech NitroTech is unashamedly designed for bodybuilders and weightlifters but could still be useful for runners too. It will definitely speed up recovery but could also lead to weight gain from water retention. It’s best suited for use after hard, long runs.
Body Fortress Super
- YOU WILL RECEIVE: 5 lb container of Body Fortress Chocolate Super Advanced Whey Protein Powder
- POWER PACKED PROTEIN: 60 grams of protein and 12 grams of BCAA’s every two scoop serving – helping you train harder and rebuild lean muscle faster(1)
- PROTEIN WHEN YOU NEED IT: Great for pre and post workout or as needed throughout the day in order to meet daily protein recommendations
- NUTRIENT RICH: Amino acids & Creatine help improve training recovery (1) with no aspartame and no gluten
- GREAT TASTE: Delicious rich chocolatey flavor
A lot of protein supplements are prohibitively expensive. In many cases, things like eggs, tuna, and chicken provide the same amount of protein for less money. Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein Powder is a very affordable protein powder that’s ideal for runners on a tighter budget.
- 210 calories per serving
- 8 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fat per scoop
- 5 grams of creatine per serving
- 30 grams of protein per scoop
- Made from whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate
- Available in two flavors – vanilla and chocolate
- 45 servings per container
Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein Powder is not the most scientifically engineered protein powder. Still, it is one of the most budget-friendly. With 45 servings per 5-pound tub, this product should keep you in protein for weeks at a time. The creatine content will also help boost recovery, as will the addition of the amino acids glutamine and taurine.
- Very affordable
- Easy to mix and use
- High protein content
- Good for post-run recovery
- Fortified with important minerals
- High in calories, carbs, and fat
- Not the best tasting protein powder available
- Contains soy
While the high-calorie content may be off-putting for some runners, it’s important to remember that you can use just half a serving. That would mean you get a whopping 90 servings per container while still providing your muscles with a decent dose of recovery-enhancing protein. Runners don’t need as much protein as bodybuilders, so this is a handy option.
Muscle Milk Pro Series
- Contains one (1) 2.54 pound cannister (about 14 servings) of Muscle Milk Pro Series Protein Powder Supplement. Packaging may vary. Shaker bottle sold separately.
- Muscle Milk Pro Series supplies your body with high quality protein to support post-workout recovery and maintenance. Try taking it to-go in a shaker bottle for energizing on-the-go nutrition.
- KEY FEATURES – Based on 1 serving, Muscle Milk Pro Series Protein Powder contains 50g high-quality protein, 3g sugar, and an excellent source of 20 vitamins and minerals.
- VERSATILE AND EASY-TO-MIX – Muscle Milk Pro Series dissolves easily in water; just mix 2 scoops into 10-16 fluid ounces of water using a shaker bottle. Shaker bottle sold separately.
- SCIENCE BEHIND PROTEIN – Muscle Milk Pro Series provides a blend of high-quality slow releasing and fast releasing proteins to help increase amino acid levels. These essential amino acids play a role in maintenance of muscle mass.
Most protein supplements provide 20-30 grams of protein per serving. Muscle Milk Pro Series Protein Powder contains a whopping 50 grams! Containing carbs and fat too, this is a real meal in a glass that can help enhance recovery after intense runs and workouts.
- Made from a blend of milk protein isolate, calcium caseinate, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and whey protein hydrolysate
- Contains medium-chain triglycerides for energy
- 310 calories per serving
- 50 grams of carbs per two-scoop serving
- 17 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fat per serving
- Fortified with a range of vitamins and minerals
- Available in vanilla and chocolate flavors
Hard training runners need to consume protein and carbs after training to speed up recovery. Muscle Milk Pro Series Protein Powder contains plenty of both! It’s primarily designed as a muscle-building product, but its nutritionally complete formula means it could be useful for runners too.
- Perfect for after very long or intense training runs
- Mixes easily
- Decent flavors
- Smooth texture
- Powerful formulation
- Maybe too high in calories for some users
- Only available in two varieties and one tub size
- Quite expensive
Used as directed, one tub of Muscle Milk Pro Series Protein Powder only contains 14 servings. That means, per serving, it’s one of the more expensive on review. However, as most runners don’t need 50 grams of protein in one hit, a single scoop should be plenty big enough. This turns what is an expensive product into a much more affordable one.
Key Information about Protein for Runners
Most runners understand that they need to follow a high carb diet. Carbs are a vital source of energy for running. However, some don’t realize that protein is essential too. While runners don’t need to consume as much protein as bodybuilders, they do require more than the average sedentary person. Ready to learn more about the nutritional benefits and effects of protein for runners? Read on!
How can runners benefit from protein?
The recommended daily allowance or RDA for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which works out at 0.36 grams per pound (4). However, most runners will benefit from more – 0.6 to 0.8 grams per pound being a good target. Consuming enough protein can have a significant effect on your running performance.
- Faster recovery between workouts – the harder and the more often you run, the fitter and faster you’ll be. Consuming protein immediately after training will speed up recovery so you can get out and run sooner.
- Muscle preservation – running with insufficient protein in your diet can lead to muscle catabolism, and that can leave you feeling weak. You don’t need to be bodybuilder strong to run, but muscle power is what drives you forward. Consuming enough protein will ensure you have the strength you need to run far and fast.
- Less fatigue – too little dietary protein can affect your energy levels, as well as your endurance. If you want to push your body to its limits, you need to consume adequate amounts of protein.
Side effects from too much protein
It’s quite hard to consume too much protein. When you eat or drink more than your body immediately needs, it increases protein metabolism in an attempt to use whatever amount you have consumed. However, if you continually provide your body with a protein excess, it will eventually stop trying to keep up. When that happens, you can expect the following:
- Fat gain – protein, like carbs, contains four calories per gram. If you eat too much protein, these additional calories can create a surplus. That surplus can lead to weight gain or, more specifically, fat gain. Needless to say, carrying extra weight on your runs will slow you down and make what is already a demanding activity an even harder one.
- Increased urine output – your body breaks excess protein down into uric acid, which is then excreted. Consuming too much protein could increase the number and volume of your urinations. If you don’t drink more water, it could result in dehydration. Dehydration will affect your running performance.
- Wasted money – protein shakes for runners are a cost-effective way to increase your intake of this vital nutrient. But, they still have an inherent cost. Consuming more protein than you need means that, unable to make use of what you have consumed, it will be wasted, as will be the money you spent on that protein.
While you should always make sure you get enough protein, consuming more than you need is not necessary or beneficial. You can have too much of a good thing! Adjust your protein intake so that you get what you need, but also avoiding an excess.
Protein shakes for runners make getting enough of this vital nutrient a whole lot easier. Armed with nothing more than your chosen protein powder and a shaker cup, all you need is 8-12 oz. water, and you can enjoy a performance-boosting protein shake almost anywhere and anytime.
Too little dietary protein can have a significant effect on your performance. It can lead to weakness, low levels of energy, muscle atrophy and wastage, and slow workout recovery. If you are serious about running, you must address your needs for protein.
You could chow down on some tuna, chicken, or eggs, but that’s not always convenient. It’s not like you can fire up the grill and cook a steak on the train to work! But you can chug down a freshly made protein shake.
There are a lot of different protein shakes available, and some are definitely better than others. Use this guide and the reviews to steer you toward the right product for you.
- Phillips SM et al. 2011. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150425
- Kathleen M. Zelman. 2020. Good Protein Sources. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/good-protein-sources
- Adel Pezeshki et al. Low protein diets produce divergent effects on energy balance.
- Daniel Pendick. 2015. How much protein do you need everyday? https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096
An excellent way to ensure you are getting adequate protein - especially for runners! We've rated the best options out there.