You likely think of protein shakes as more essential for weightlifters than for runners, but both types of athletes stand to gain huge benefits from using them. Protein shakes can improve both the performance and recovery of runners and they’re an easy way to supplement their diet with minimal hassle.
Protein shakes can also be more generally helpful for weight loss and muscle growth. It’s essential to know when to drink protein shakes for weight loss to take advantage of these benefits. This article will outline why protein shakes are helpful for runners, what varieties are best, and most importantly, when is the best time to drink them.
What Are Protein Shakes?
Protein shakes are a broad category, but they generally consist of protein powder and a liquid shaken together. The type and amount of protein used and what type of liquid is used will largely determine the nutritional value of the shake.
Popular options are milk or water. It’s also quite common practice to add additional supplement powders and food ingredients to further boost its nutrition. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll just examine the single most essential ingredient for protein shakes: the protein powder.
The Benefits of Protein Shakes For Runners
Protein powder is an incredibly easy way to boost an athlete’s nutrition intake without drastically changing their diet. Protein powders have become increasingly popular since their invention in the 1950s to the point that even non-athletes and casual gym-goers often use them regularly as well.
Building Muscle Mass
Their most famous benefit is the assistance they provide for building muscle mass. It can be difficult to consume enough protein through diet alone, so protein shakes offer a quick and transportable way to sprinkle in additional nutrition.
Protein is what muscle is mostly made of, so getting enough protein through diet is necessary to provide the building materials for creating new tissue. This is what makes protein such a dietary staple for weight-lifters. However, protein powder’s benefits extend well beyond this.
Supporting Muscle Recovery and Reducing Risk of Injury
Protein is also essential for muscle recovery, protecting muscle health, and reducing the risk of fractures. Runners in particular are more prone to injury than most other types of athletes because of their rigorous training and the repetitive stress they put on the body.
The health of their joints and muscles is integral to their performance, as well as being able to maintain their health and athletic ability long-term.
Protein also improves runners’ athletic performance in several ways. It allows them to recover more efficiently from their training which speeds up performance improvements. Though runners are known to be lean without the extreme muscle mass stores of other athletes, they do need to maintain enough lean muscle mass to give them power and endurance.
Consuming protein shakes can help them maintain this appropriate amount of muscle. Despite popular opinion, eating protein alone won’t cause muscle gain. It has to be combined with a significant amount of resistance training and a caloric surplus as well in order for the slow process of muscle growth to occur. This means that runners can safely consume protein shakes to aid in recovery without worrying about adding on muscle mass bulk that could slow them down.
Sprinters on the other hand usually do aim to have a significant amount of lean muscle mass to give them extreme power and speed over short distances. These runners will need to consume a significant amount of protein as well as an overall increased amount of food during their muscle-building training. Protein shakes are an excellent way to add extra calories and protein to help support this goal.
How Much Protein Do Runners Need?
The amount of protein a runner needs will depend somewhat on their athletic goals and their current health status. If a runner is recovering from an injury, trying to build muscle, or trying to lose fat, they will require an increase in their usual maintenance protein consumption. Even during regular times, a runner athlete’s protein consumption should be higher than the average non-athlete.
Runners will need approximately 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day as a baseline level. This translates to 0.55 grams per pound of body weight per day. If an athlete is undergoing any of the previously mentioned conditions that increase their needs, they could benefit from going as high as 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. In pounds, this would be 0.73 grams of protein per pound per day.
Symptoms like poor muscle recovery, general fatigue, and slow injury healing are all indications that current protein consumption could be too low. It’s always best to consult with a health professional well versed in sports nutrition if a runner is unsure of their dietary needs.
What Is The Best Kind Of Protein Powder for Shakes?
Now that you understand why protein shakes are important for runners, it’s helpful to know what kind to select. There’s a huge variety of different protein powders available on the market, but these are the most common kinds.
Common Types of Protein Powders
- Whey Protein
- Casein Protein
- Egg White Protein
- Pea Protein
- Hemp Protein
- Soy Protein
- Brown Rice Protein
All of these protein powders can be supportive of good nutrition, but some are more beneficial than others. Whey protein for example is a complete and balanced protein source with excellent bioavailability and easy digestibility. This is an ideal source of protein for any runners that aren’t vegan or vegetarian and don’t suffer from lactose intolerance.
Casein and egg white protein are also great choices, though, like whey protein, they do contain animal products and aren’t suitable for those with certain restricted diets. Casein protein also takes longer to digest and may therefore be more limited in its applications of supporting athletic performance.
The final four proteins are all plant-based options which means anyone (excluding those with allergies) can consume them. Their main drawback is that they don’t offer a complete or balanced source of protein alone, and are therefore usually best consumed in a blend.
When Should Runners Take Protein Shakes?
Finally, and most importantly, you’ll need to understand how to use protein shakes to reap their benefits. Protein shakes are best consumed immediately after a workout if muscle growth or muscle recovery is your main priority. Having a protein shake within 30 minutes to 2 hours after a workout is ideal timing for this purpose.
Protein shakes are also a wonderful snack to have in the evening before bed. This will help muscles to repair overnight and will satisfy any late-night hunger cravings. If muscle gain is the goal, consuming protein shakes as a snack between meals will also help to boost caloric intake and add lean mass in combination with an appropriate training regime.
Overall, most runners should prioritize a balanced diet and consume protein shakes after training to aid in muscle recovery. The liquid form allows it to be digested quickly to start the process of muscle repair as soon as possible. You’d be hard-pressed to find an easier and more effective alternative for performance recovery for runners.