Protein is an essential part of any diet, not just for runners. It helps us build muscle, maintains the muscle we already have, and improves recovery by helping muscle fibers heal faster after exercise.
It can be easy to let our protein intake drop, especially if we focus more on carbs to fuel us through training runs and races.
One way to ensure we get enough protein in our diet and get an extra running boost is through a protein powder supplement. They are an easy way to mix protein into a recovery drink or shake, and some of them can make a handy meal-on-the-go.
Our first choice is GU Roctane Protein Recovery Drink Mix. It contains a premium mix of healthy protein, quick-absorbing carbs, and electrolytes to replenish you in all ways after a hard run.
But we’ve found many other great protein powders that also work. Read on to see them all…
Top 3 Best and Favorites
GU Roctane Protein Recovery Drink Mix
Vega Nutrition Sport Protein
Hammer Nutrition Whey Protein
Best for Recovery
1. GU Roctane Protein Recovery Drink Mix
GU Roctane Protein Recovery Drink Mix is our top choice, and it does much more than just give you a dose of extra protein in your day.
Proper recovery involves replacing carbs as well as protein, and this is the perfect post-workout recovery drink. One serving will replace 230 calories expended during your workout.
Those 230 calories will give you 20 grams of easily digestible whey isolate protein, 30 grams of carbs to refuel, and a good injection of electrolytes that you probably lost during your run (230mg of sodium, 200mg potassium, 40mg magnesium, and 100mg calcium).
There are only two flavors available, chocolate and vanilla bean. You can mix both with either water or milk, or even add a scoop of powder to a smoothie mix for something different.
It’s best taken shortly after a workout or run. You could take it other times during the day, but you’ll definitely get the best results from it by taking it at the suggested time.
Some people found that mixing it with 8 ounces of fluid made a drink that was too thick. 16 ounces, on the other hand, was too dilute and didn’t taste great. You will have to experiment to find the best mix for you.
- 20g of whey protein isolate
- Natural flavor
- Contains L-glutamine and L-arginine
- Helps your body hydrate
- Some may find the protein to be a bit thick when mixed with 8oz of water, but mixing it with 16 oz may leave a bitter aftertaste
Top Plant-Based Protein Powder
2. Vega Nutrition Sport Protein
Many protein powders are derived from whey, a component of milk that is not compatible with vegan diets. But plant-based protein powders are available, and Vega’s offering may be the one for you. It uses pea protein and peanut flour to provide the protein content. If you have a peanut allergy, then you should stay well away from this one, unfortunately.
It has been USDA certified organic and includes probiotics and antioxidants to improve your immune system as well. There are 170 calories per serving, and you’ll get 30 grams of high-quality protein. The carbohydrate content is lower, at six grams.
It also contains electrolytes to fill up what you lose during a run. The sodium is a high 270 mg, with 250 mg potassium, 180 mg calcium, and 5.5 mg iron. There’s also almost a full spectrum of amino acids, which help reduce inflammation and repair muscle.
This powder is free from sugar, gluten, and animal products. It is not, however, vegan in the strictest sense, because it’s made in a factory that processes non-vegan products.
Vega suggests drinking it 45 to 90 minutes after your workout for the best effect and optimal muscle recovery. Some people may find the protein powder to be thicker than they like and have a bit of a chalky taste.
- Plant-based protein
- Low in carbohydrates
- Includes probiotics and antioxidants
- USDA Organic
- Some people may find that this protein powder is thick and has a chalky taste
Best Low Carb Whey Protein Powder
3. Hammer Nutrition Whey Protein
A basic, if simplistic, fitness adage is that you consume carbs to fuel a workout, and protein to recover from it. If you take this seriously, then minimizing carbs in your post-workout shake is a priority. If that describes you, then consider Hammer’s whey protein isolate.
The protein amount of protein is a little bit lower than most others, with 17 grams in a serving. There’s only 1 gram of carbs, plus 30mg of sodium and 10mg of calcium for a small electrolyte boost.
This protein drink is great for recovery thanks to the addition of L-glutamine, an amino acid found in muscle tissue. In fact, of the 21 amino acids, it is the most abundant one in muscles. It is depleted quickly when you exercise, which is one of the reasons you get sore muscles after a workout.
Low levels of L-glutamine in the body can lead to some nasty side effects, what runners call “over-training syndrome”. To avoid this, and to help speed up recovery and muscle repair after exercise, this protein powder contains six grams of L-glutamine.
- 70 calories per serving
- Gluten-free and contains no MSG
- Has six grams of L-glutamine
- Hormone and antibiotic-free
- Some people may find the aftertaste off-putting.
Top Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder
4. Garden of Life Sport Certified Grass Fed Whey
This protein powder is as all-natural as a powder can be. Added health benefits come from its lack of added hormones and antibiotics. It’s gluten-free, soy-free, and has no added sugars.
A popular excuse busted dopers often give is that they took a tainted supplement. Garden of Life has taken pains to ensure they don’t take the fall for a cheater’s indiscretions. The powder is NSF® – Certified for Sport, Truly Grass-Fed™Non-GMO Project Verified, and Informed Choice for Sport Certified. It contains no banned substances, and you could use this protein powder for casual running or for competitive racing.
For 120 calories, you will get 24 grams of healthy protein, six grams of carbs, electrolytes, and more than six grams of branched-chain amino acids, which contribute greatly to quicker muscle recovery.
The only thing some individuals may not like is that it’s sweetened with Stevia, which may cause digestive upset in some. Take it within an hour of your workout to benefit fully from its ingredients.
- NSF Certified for Sport
- Contains essential amino acids
- Non-GMO Project verified
- 24 grams of protein per serving
- Uses Stevia to sweeten the protein powder, which some people may react badly to
Best Zero-Carb Whey Powder
5. Isopure Zero Carb Protein
Why bother with low-carb when you can just as easily go no-carb? If you don’t want to add any extra carbs to your daily intake, this protein powder contains zero. It’s also fat-free (mixing it with milk will of course negate this) All of its benefits are directed toward protein, and you will get 25 grams of protein per scoop of 100 calories.
It’s unflavored, so you get the taste of the original whey isolate. This also makes it good for adding to food if you don’t like just mixing your protein powder with water or milk. Add it to coffee, soup, or yogurt for a protein-rich meal or drink.
If you mix it with hot liquid like soup or coffee, it may not mix well if you put the whole scoop in at once. Rather sprinkle it and stir it in bit by bit for the best result.
This protein powder also contains almost six grams of BCAAs, so as well as not adding carbs, it will also help you recover faster.
- 25 grams of protein per scoop
- Zero carbs
- Zero fat
- Added vitamins and minerals
- It doesn’t seem to mix as easily as other protein powders
- Because it’s unflavored, the aftertaste may be a bit strange
Top Dairy-Free Protein Powder
6. MRM Egg White Protein
Whey protein isolate is not, in the strictest sense, “dairy,” but if you are sensitive to dairy you might want to avoid it just in case. And if you do that but still want a protein powder that won’t aggravate your stomach, this egg-based powder could be the right one for you. It is free from lactose and gluten, so there should be a reduced chance of digestive issues. (Just to be clear: whey protein isolate also does not contain lactose, but some whey powders are sweetened with lactose, the sugar found in milk)
Every scoop will give you 120 calories of refueling and 23 grams of fat-free protein derived from egg whites. There are also 4 grams of carbohydrates, electrolytes, vitamin D, and 18 amino acids.
This protein blend also contains MRM Digest-ALL, a dietary supplement consisting of 100% plant-based enzymes that help improve digestion.
If you have egg sensitivity, this will not be the protein powder for you. Some people might also find it too sweet, as it’s sweetened with Stevia and monk fruit.
- 120 calories per serving
- 23 grams of fat-free protein per serving
- Lactose and gluten-free
- Contains essential amino acids
- This protein powder is sweetened with Stevia and monk fruit and some people may find it to be too sweet
- People who are sensitive to eggs could experience digestive upset
Best Pea-Based Protein Powder
7. NOW Sports Pea Protein Powder
This is a non-GMO protein isolate suitable for strict vegans and vegetarians. The protein isolate is derived from yellow peas, and it contains no animal ingredients at all.
It also features the Informed Sports seal of approval and has an NPA A-rated GMP certification, which means that not only has the product been tested for quality, but so has every step of the manufacturing and packaging process.
This protein powder is unflavored, which means it might be quite bland to drink by itself. You can get creative and use it in cooking and baking if you prefer.
For 120 calories you get 24 grams of protein and just 1 gram of carbohydrate. Some electrolytes are present to help you recover after a workout, as well as a full amino acid profile to speed up muscle recovery and get you back on the road sooner.
- 120 calories per serving
- Contains essential amino acids
- 24 grams of protein per serving
- No artificial colors or flavors
- Some have found inconsistencies with the quality of the protein powder
- Not organic
Top Brown Rice Protein Powder
8. Nutricost Organic Rice Protein
If you want a plant-based protein powder but you don’t like pea protein or hemp, a brown rice-based powder could be the best choice for you. This protein powder is organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, and vegan-friendly.
It is also unflavored and offers 20 grams of protein per scoop, which contains 100 calories. There are 99 servings in the largest container and 39 in the smaller one, so it’s quite affordable in the long run.
If you feel that one scoop doesn’t provide enough protein, you can take up to two scoops at a time.
- 100 Calories per serving
- 20 grams of protein per scoop
- 99 servings per container
- USDA Certified Organic
- Some people may find that it has a bitter taste even after it’s mixed into a smoothie
Best Casein Protein Powder
9. Nutricost Casein Protein
If whey isn’t for you, casein might be. This is a good choice if you plan on adding your protein powder to food, especially baked goods, as it blends much better than whey. This powder is gluten-free, non-GMO, and naturally flavored, but it does contain milk, which could be a problem for some people with sensitive stomachs.
There are 110 calories in a serving, with 24 grams of protein. It’s quite similar to many others, containing 3 grams of carbs and some electrolytes. You can choose from two sizes (2 pounds or 5), depending on your needs.
Unlike most of the others, there are no amino acids in this protein powder, which means it will give you a good amount of protein but it won’t have much effect on your recovery.
- 110 Calories per serving
- 24 grams of protein per scoop
- 100% micellar casein
- Naturally flavored
- Contains milk
- No amino acids
Top Soy Protein Powder
10. Bob’s Red Mill Soy Protein
This soy-based protein powder is suitable for vegans and vegetarians. You’ll find that there are no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, or sweeteners. It’s also zero-carb.
It is lower in calories, at 80 per serving but also slightly lower in protein at 17 grams per scoop. There’s 190mg of sodium, but no other electrolytes are added.
It’s also unflavored and would work well when added to smoothies, yogurt, or even pancake mix for a protein-loaded treat. Some people have mentioned that it doesn’t dissolve very well in water and can leave a chalky residue.
- 80 calories per serving
- No added flavors, colors or sweeteners
- 17g complete protein per serving
- Suitable for vegetarians and vegans
- Some may find that this protein powder doesn’t dissolve or blend very well
Why do runners need protein?
The recommended amount of protein that one needs on a daily basis is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. In general, if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, you’re getting plenty of protein. But being athletic can put extra demands on the body that might make a supplement worth thinking about.
When you’re exercising, you need to increase the amount of protein to speed up muscle growth and recovery. Consuming the right amount of protein can prevent injuries and aid in the recovery, as it helps rebuild the muscle fibers.
As you get in better shape, your body builds more lean muscle mass, and that requires protein. And exercise builds strength by subtly tearing muscle tissue, which then must rebuild itself into stronger fibers. This, too, take protein. You want to build lean muscle, and to do that it’s recommended that you consume between 1.2 grams and 1.7 grams of protein per kg of body weight.
The amount of protein you’d require would be based on the type of running you’re doing. For example, if you’re running a 10k or a half marathon, then you’d start with 1.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight. To work out your weight in kgs, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. As an example:
- 180 pounds / 2.2 = 81.8 kgs
Now to find out how much protein you need, you’d work it out as follows:
- 81.8 kg’s x 1.2 (grams of protein) = 98.16 grams of protein per day
Depending on the type of training you’re doing on a daily basis and the type of running you’re doing, you can increase this to 1.5 grams, but it’s advisable not to go over 1.7 grams of protein per kilo.
Why is protein powder beneficial?
Protein powders are an extra portion of protein you wouldn’t get in your standard diet. You’re able to have it in one go without feeling as though you’ve eaten too much. You don’t have to plan meals in advance or spend hours preparing high-protein meals to eat throughout the day.
You can make your protein smoothie in the morning and take it with you to have as a snack between your meals. If you don’t make a smoothie, all you need to do is add a scoop to some milk or water, shake and drink. It’s quick, convenient and you’ll find that most protein powders will keep you fuller for longer, preventing unwanted trips to the vending machine.
When should runners drink a protein shake?
While there’s no real hard and fast answer to this question, most fitness enthusiasts will tell you to have the protein shake 15 to 60 minutes after exercise. Most will also refer to this time as the “anabolic window”.
Recent research has shown that the time when you consume protein does have an impact on muscle repair and growth. For the best results, you should have high-quality protein within two hours after you’ve exercised.
What is important to know before you buy?
Before buying your protein powder, do your research on the brand and the ingredients. Compare the protein powders to others and look at how many grams of protein they offer per scoop. You also want to see how many essential amino acids they contain (BCAA’s), as these will support and boost your immune system as well as aid in your recovery.
Look for a protein powder that has one of the following:
- Informed Sports Seal of Approval
- NPA A-rated GMP
This confirms that the products are free from banned substances and can be used in any sporting event, where you might be subjected to doping controls.
Protein powder will become a part of your everyday life, and once you’ve found a brand that you like, you may want to see if it has any bulk options. The price will be important, especially long term, as buying in bulk can significantly decrease the price.
Can protein have side effects?
Using protein powder is safe and can help maintain and build muscle. However, there can be side effects as well, some of which may be embarrassing, such as:
- Gas that has a sulfur-like odor
- Stomach cramps
Some of these can be avoided by checking the ingredients before you buy it, as some are lactose and gluten-free, but they may also contain traces of peanuts. There are whey protein powders that do still contain milk sugar (lactose), so you’d need to look at the fine print and check for allergens on the label.
Monitor your water consumption, as you could dehydrate when using a protein powder if you’re not drinking enough.