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Protein Powders for Runners – Do you really need them?

January 16, 2022

Protein Powders for Runners – Yes or No?

Protein Powders for runners are widely marketed (and also at other athletes). The adverts can be enticing. But do runners really need them? In this article, we’ll cover the benefits and potential drawbacks of protein powders for runners. We’ll delve into how to make the best choices, if indeed your personal circumstances suggest you may benefit from using protein powder. We round up by giving you some protein powder recommendations; ones that have been tried and tested by us and our clients!

Protein Powders for Runners – the current recommended daily intake

The current recommended daily intake of protein for individuals varies –

For sedentary individuals 0.83g/Kg BW/d is recommended

For active individuals, the intake ranges from 1.2g/Kg BW/d to 2.0g/Kg

2g/Kg tends to be reserved for individuals focusing on strength/resistance training,

There are many potential benefits from taking a protein powder

Body composition as protein helps keep you fuller for longer. Also metabolism of protein uses significant energy, thus burning more calories per hour than CHO.

Building muscle because distance running is catabolic ie it leads to muscle breakdown. A protein powder would be an easy way to increase protein intake in order to maintain and build muscle mass.

Glucose/insulin regulation as protein promotes insulin secretion, which can help enhance glucose clearance from the blood, thus promoting Blood Sugar Balance.

Adequate protein intake for individuals who struggle to attain an appropriate protein intake CONSISTENTLY.

High protein content in one serving so great as a recovery strategy to help maintain muscle mass.

Pure protein so there is no Fat or Carbohydrate present to interfere with efficient digestion/absorption

There are also potential drawbacks to taking a protein powder

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) may compete with Tryptophan at the blood brain barrier, which could affect mood and sleep.

Protein powder for runners overuse may lead to an overall excess protein intake. This could lead to the formation of toxic metabolites including ammonia, which is thought to be a risk factor for compromised immunity, dysbiosis and other systemic and metabolic conditions.

Compromised kidney function. An overall high dietary protein intake is thought to cause increased renal pressure, which may result in kidney hyperfiltration, glomerular injury, and proteinuria, proteinuria being a marker of kidney dysfunction and glomerular injury.

Compromised liver function. The liver is the main organ responsible for filtering relatively toxic end products of protein metabolism (e.g. ammonia) via the urea cycle. When ammonia is not successfully removed from the blood due to impaired liver function or an overwhelmed detoxification process (maybe due to excess protein intake) the plasma ammonia concentration increases, which is known to cause negative health effects.

Potentially debilitating side effects. These side effects include

Flatulence and/or bloating Cramps

Protein Powders for Runners – Particular runners who may benefit from a protein powder include

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
Older runners where muscle loss is greater

Here is a short review of 3 different protein powder sources

Whey Protein for Runners

Comes from milk
High in protein
Also contains: lactose
Isolate form contains very little lactose
Rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAA)

Pea Protein for Runners

Especially popular among vegetarians, vegans and people with allergies or sensitivities to dairy or eggs.
Generally made from the yellow split pea, a high-fiber legume that boasts most essential amino acids.
Particularly rich in BCAAs.

Soy Protein for Runners

  • Classed as a high-quality protein
  • Contains all EAA, however in lower quantities than Whey on a per g basis. Contains phytates, which interferes with trypsin, which in turn interferes with peptide (protein) digestion
  • May support hormone balance in femalesBUT soy protein powders in the isolate or concentrate form have shown a higher risk of oestrogen linked cancers,
    Soy foods are recommended, not the PP.

Other considerations to take into account when choosing a protein powder for runners

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.

Quality – consuming a protein with a high biological value to ensure adequate amounts of EAAs – dairy based PPs contain the highest amounts of EAAs compared to plant-based options. They are typically lower in at least one EAA.

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.

Choose ones containing the FULL complement of Essential Amino Acids not just the BCAAs.

Be mindful of allergies/sensitivities – If you have any sensitivity/allergy to dairy proteins omit whey protein.

Side Note: Remember to drink sufficient fluids when taking protein supplements, as the body requires water to break down and metabolise protein.

Some protein powder for runners recommendations

Motion Nutrition – Whey and vegan options Sunwarrior – Raw and vegan
Pulsin – Whey and vegan options
Purple Balance – vegetarian and vegan only Indigo nutrition – vegan only
The Organic Protein Company – Whey only Creative Nature – raw and vegan
Purition – vegan and whey options

Protein powder for runners are really versatile and can be used in so many different ways. Here are some ideas for you to try

Breakfast – Smoothie: mix with 200ml-300ml a milk alternative eg. almond milk (but you could use dairy milk if necessary) and add various fruits and vegetables depending on your preference. Add them to cereals, oats, porridge.

Snack – As a shake pre or post training Consider adding a banana (or other fruit) for some carbohydrate if required especially post training to enhance MPS.

Meals – Add a non flavoured one to a savoury dish eg. soups, stews and casseroles.

Bedtime – As a bedtime snack – maybe mix in some casein (the other form of milk protein) because it is thought to support sleep and improve muscle repair overnight.

Female Factors – protein powders for runners – yes or no?

Soy PP may lead to an increased risk of developing an oestrogen-driven cancer and this is because the soy is in the isolated form rather than food state form. Food state soy has not shown an increased risk of cancers, therefore we would recommend soy foods instead e.g. edamame beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan.

It is thought that a chronic low protein intake could lead to menstrual disorders, especially in female athletes, so some female athletes may require a protein powder for a period of time as a preventative measure.

The mid-life female runner may require additional protein in the form of a protein powder due to increased muscle loss as we age. This would be the same for ageing males too.


Protein Powders for Runners – Yes or No?

It is important to remember that if you are eating a wide and varied diet containing natural and healthy protein sources on a DAILY basis, then supplemental protein is not necessary.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) currently recommends 0.83g/Kg BW/d of protein for sedentary individuals. BUT the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) and other nutrition/sporting bodies recommend an increased intake for active individuals. The intake ranges from 1.2g/Kg BW/d to 2.0g/Kg…depending on what type and how much exercise is being completed.

There are many benefits to consuming protein powder for runners including: supporting body composition, building muscle and increasing insulin sensitivity.

BUT there are also drawbacks to consuming some irritating side effects e.g. wind and bloating but also some more important factors including: potential compromised hormone production and renal/liver dysfunction. When choosing a protein powder there are several things to consider including: quality…which includes what ingredients they contain, also its effectiveness needs to be considered as well as taste…and of course price.

Runners who may benefit from taking a protein powder for a period of time include: vegetarian or vegan runners, Runners recovering from injury or illness, Runners trying to lose weight and possibly older runners where muscle loss is greater.

Protein powders are very versatile and can be introduced at any time of the day and with any meal.

Protein Powders for Runners – Yes or No? Finally, some FOOD FIRST ideas to consider include: fish poultry, eggs, quality red meat, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds.

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