Do Runners Need Protein Powders?

December 19, 2019

A common question we get asked as Nutritionists by runners is “Do Runners Need Protein Powders”?

This article reviews the reasons why some people may benefit from using a protein powder strategically in their nutrition and training plan.
 Do runners really need protein powders?

As Nutritionists we always advocate that food come first, however sometimes for some people a good quality natural protein powder may be necessary.
Proteins are essential in the body for so many processes including:

  • Muscle growth, repair and recovery.
  • Collagen, hormone and enzyme synthesis
  • Antibody production

As a result an optimal daily intake is crucial.

Which runners need protein powders?
  • Runners who are vegetarian or vegan
  • Runners recovering from injury
  • Runners recovering from illness
  • Runners wanting to lose weight
  • Runners looking for a quick and easy pre or post-exercise snack
Why would some runners benefit from protein powders?
  • Quick to prepare
  • Portable
  • Easy to digest and absorb
  • High protein content in one serving
  • Pure protein – no fat or CHO to interfere with digestion/absorption
  • Contain the Branched Chain Amino Acids (generally) – very effective for stimulating muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein repair
  • Complete Essential Amino Acid profile (generally)
Choosing a Protein Powder
What are the key considerations when making your choices?

Effectiveness – Think about your reasons for taking one. What results are you looking for? Eg. Optimal protein intake, efficient recovery from training, enhanced performance
Taste – It is always good to trial different brands until you find your preferred one. Remember they come in many different flavours but you could choose a natural one and flavour it yourself.

TIP: Trial individual sample sachets before purchasing large packs.

Ingredients –Always read the label before purchasing to ensure the ingredients are natural. Look out for bulking agents, chalks and sweeteners including artificial sweeteners – AVOID THEM.

What are the down sides of Protein Powders?

Side effects from taking protein powders are rare and tend to be more irritating than a health risk.
These symptoms include:

  • Flatulence and/or bloating
  • Cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
TIP: have a maximum of one protein shake a day or you could be missing out on key nutrients contained within real food.
However, it is important to consider the following:
  • Do you have any sensitivity/allergy to dairy proteins? if so, omit whey protein
  • Do not use whey protein if you have any abnormal kidney function, kidney disease, diabetes or concerns about bone health
  • Drink sufficient fluids when taking protein supplements, as the body requires water to break down and metabolise protein
  • Eat a balanced diet including carbohydrate and fat so as not to consume excess protein at the expense of other food groups
  • Build up slowly to a full serving to help avoid digestive symptoms
Recommended Brands
  • Sunwarrior – Raw and vegan
  • Pulsin – Whey and vegan options
  • Creative Nature – Raw and vegan
  • Purition – Whey and vegan options
  • Purple Balance – vegetarian and vegan only
  • Indigo nutrition – vegan only
  • The Organic Protein Company – Whey only
  • Motion Nutrition – Whey and vegan options
How to Introduce Protein Powders into your diet

 Protein powders are versatile and useful when you need protein quickly.
Breakfast – you can add them to cereals, or use in a smoothie or shake, with 200ml-300ml of milk or milk alternatives eg. almond milk
Snack – as a shake pre or post training to provide immediate, quality protein for muscle growth and repair. Consider adding a banana (or other fruit) for some carbohydrate.
Meals – add a non flavoured one to a savoury meal eg. soups, stews, casseroles
Bedtime – could be mixed with casein – the other form of milk protein. This may support sleep and is known to improve muscle repair overnight. Casein is absorbed more slowly than whey, making it ideal for the end of the day.

In Summary…..

Protein powders have a place on the diet for some people for some of the time BUT always remember that FOOD COMES FIRST. If you are eating a healthy balanced diet, which includes an array of quality protein sources, protein powders may not be necessary for you!


Being a healthy runner leads to enhanced endurance, increased energy, and efficient recovery.
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