Angela MacRitchie is a nutritionist for Battle Ready Fuel, the sports performance nutrition range from Ollie Ollerton, who’s worked in the Special Forces and on SAS Who Dares Wins. Here, she reveals how and when to use the best protein powders for runners to maximise your fitness levels.
Does protein powder help runners?
Of course, is the reply, so what’s all the hype with protein powders? When you run, your muscles will inflame and break down. It’s therefore important to rebuild those muscles proficiently, which is why protein is needed: to prevent muscle catabolism.
If the muscles are constantly breaking down with every run and not being refuelled with protein, there’ll be muscle wastage and a risk of poorer performance.
But there are many more reasons why we need protein – here are a few:
- It supports immune function by helping to make antibodies, so the body can fight off infections. This means more time training to reach your goals.
- It aids the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen in haemoglobin. The more oxygen that reaches your muscles, the more glucose will be converted into ATP (the energy currency).
- A small study showed that runners improved their time by 16 seconds by taking high protein of 1.83g/kg of body weight.
How much protein do runners need?
There’s no straight answer here as the recommended dietary allowance for protein is 0.8g per kg of body weight. But this will vary depending on the length and intensity of your training. The more energy you burn off, the more protein you will need for fuel.
Here are a few guidelines on taking protein for runners:
- If you’re a runner and want to maintain your current weight – aim for 1.4-2.0 g per kg. Go for the higher end of the range if you want to maintain weight and improve body composition: More muscle, less fat.
- If you’re a runner with a healthy weight and want to build more muscle – aim for 1.6-2.4 g/kg. This may minimise fat gain while you try to develop stronger legs for hill runs.
- If you are a healthy weight and want to lose fat – aim for 1.6-2.4 g/kg, skewing toward the higher end of this range and increase your calorie deficit, (exercise more or eat less) so you can become leaner.
- Studies vary from stating that 1.8g per kg has no benefit to showing that 2.2g per kg is the best. However, it’s hard to give a fixed recommendation as it depends on the length and frequency of your runs.
- My advice is to aim for amounts between 1.4 – 2.2g per kg. This would cover you for whatever your training regime is.
Should a runner’s chosen protein powder include carbs?
A 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrate has been shown in studies to enhance recovery but will load up on the calories. So if you don’t want to do this, add carbohydrates separately and keep the calories down by using oats, berries or a banana in your protein shake.
As a general rule:
- For runs under an hour: add 5-7g/kg of carbohydrates
- For heavy training: add 7-10g/kg
- For long 4-5 hour runs: add 10-12g/kg
When should runners take protein?
The saying used to go that you should take the protein in the 30-minute window straight after exercise, as the muscles are like a sponge for protein. But now they’ve found that this optimum window may be longer than 30 minutes and not only straight after exercise.
So, it may not matter whether you have protein before or after your workout for optimising repair or growth.
The main point is: if you’ve trained on an empty stomach or after a meal. If you prefer to train on an empty stomach, I’d recommend you have the protein soon after exercising as the body will be in deficit. But if you have a meal before your running session, take protein when it feels comfortable – even a few hours after the run.
You can find more information on protein for runners and carbohydrate intake at www.battlereadyfuel.com
Best protein powder for runners
These protein powders for runners have been selected by 220 Triathlon based on in-depth research and user reviews.
Myprotein Impact Whey Protein
Best for flavour choice | 21g of protein per serving
Myprotein is a brand well worth considering when it comes to workout supplies; its Impact Whey Protein alone has over 16,000 five-star reviews. Its popularity could be down to the low fat and carb content (1.9g and 1g respectively per serving), and its impressive calorie count, which sits at just 103.
The huge number of flavour choices is also a big plus point. There are over 40 to try, ranging from familiar favourites like banana and chocolate to more unusual options including cereal milk, tiramisu and Jasmine green tea latte.
Battle Ready Fuel Vegan Warrior Lemon and Lime Protein Powder
A low-calorie, plant-based protein | 10.08g of protein per serving
- Buy now from Battle Ready Fuel
Made from hydrolysed pea protein, this pack contains plant-based ingredients supercharged with B vitamins, biotin and folic acid to improve metabolism and support psychological function. It’s vegan-friendly and includes 10.08g of protein and just 51.2kcal per serving.
The Battle Ready Fuel range comes from Ollie Ollerton, who’s spent time in the Special Forces and appeared on SAS Who Dares Wins.
Form Vegan Protein Powder
Best for protein content | 30g of protein per serving
Impressively, Form has packed 30g of protein per serving into this powder while keeping it free from meat, dairy, gluten, soy and GMO. Plus, you’ll get 5g of essential branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in each drink and there are no artificial flavours or sweeteners.
The powder includes Form’s unique blend of proteins from organic peas, brown rice and hemp.
And as an added bonus, the pack is completely compostable and arrives without a disposable plastic scoop – just use your own trusty tablespoon!
Bulk Pure Whey Protein Powder Shake
Best for sustainability | 22g of protein per serving
Eco-friendly packaging, a non-lumpy formula and a great selection of flavours make this powder a good all-rounder. You’ll get 22g of protein per serving, along with 5g of BCAAs and sunflower lecithin for smooth texture.
Choose from more than 20 different flavours, including tempting options like birthday cake, pistachio and peaches and cream.
Bulk is also working towards creating a totally recyclable packaging line; at the moment, 87% of its pouches are home-compostable, made from natural cellulose, biodegradable film and FSC-certified paper.
Elite All Blacks Plant Protein Vegan Blend
3 plant proteins and kiwi digestive enzymes | 24g of protein per serving
Choose this powder and you’ll get a mix of pea, rice and pumpkin seed protein, as well as 4.1g of BCAAs in each portion. Thanks to the added Actazin enzymes, which Healthspan Elite takes from New Zealand kiwi fruit, it should be easy for your body to digest and absorb.
This variety is also vegan-friendly and comes in a fully recyclable pouch, so it’s kind to the environment too.
Battle Ready Fuel Vegan Military Clear Whey
Plant-based and easy to digest | 20g of protein per serving
- Buy now from Battle Ready Fuel
Hydrated runners are happy runners! This tub is another option from Battle Ready Fuel, and helps you build muscle, recover fast and make sure you’re hydrated. It provides 20g of protein and just 87kcal per serving.
Built with whey protein hydrolysate, this powder is easily digestible and absorbed for maximum gains.
Whey Protein 360 Extreme
Added vitamins, minerals and enzymes | 27g of protein per serving
Providing a rich blend of vitamins, minerals and digestive enzymes, this supplement includes added extras to help you get the most from your runs. It contains glutamine, riboflavin and calcium, and boosts your vitamin B12 and D3 levels.
The Whey 360 Extreme also includes a significant amount of protein, at 27g per portion, to help you maximise muscle development and recovery.
Science In Sport REGO Rapid Recovery Powder
High 23g carb content | 20g of protein per serving
This option from Science In Sport is one of the best protein powders for runners who want to add carbs into their recovery drink. Each portion includes 23g of carbohydrates and 20g of protein, as well as electrolytes with vitamins and minerals to replenish your glycogen stores and support healthy muscle growth.
This powder arrives in a large tub, so it’ll keep you going for a long time.
It’s worth noting, with 184kcals per serving, this protein for runners does have a slightly higher calorie content than low-carb options on the market.
Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein Gold Standard
5.5g of natural BCAAs per serving | 24g of protein per serving
Another option is this ‘gold standard’ whey protein from Optimum Nutrition. It contains a good amount of protein, at 24g per serving, and 5.5g of naturally-occurring BCAAs – slightly more than the average powder.
This is the brand’s tasty chocolate powder, but you can find several different options on the Optimum Nutrition website. Choose between flavours including French vanilla, cereal milk and cookies and cream.
PhD Diet Whey Protein
Contains fat burning ingredients | 17g of protein per serving
For a nutritious combination of supplements, try this pack which contains 17g of protein from multiple sources. There are also added ingredients to aid weight loss, like l-carnitine, CLA and green tea extract.
In each portion, you’ll get just 1.3g of sugar and under 3g of carbs. Plus, everything is vegetarian, halal and free from palm oil and GMO. The packs are completely recyclable, too.
Nature’s Best Pea Protein
A savoury option derived from pea protein | 16g of protein per serving
- Buy now from Nature’s Best (£14.95)
While many packs of protein for runners are designed to be drunk as a milkshake and have a sweet flavour, this one is savoury. Blend it into soups and curries for extra nutrients. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans, it’s free from milk, soya and egg.
This pack contains 37 servings, each with 16g of pea protein, plus amino acids, BCAAs and arginine for regulating blood flow.