Abby Housefield

Written by Abby Housefield


4 of the Best Protein Supplements for Runners (& 3 Smoothie Recipes to Use Them in)

Getting enough protein is essential for runners who want to stay healthy and recover quickly. Here are the 4 best protein types you can include in your diet, and 3 delicious smoothies to use them in!When you decide you want to get better at running, do the little things that help you feel better (and of course run faster), it won’t be long before you hear about the importance of protein for recovery. It is hard to know whether it is all just a marketing ploy from the protein brands, or whether you actually need it.

Today we would like to sort through that, to give you real advice from a unbiased source, to help your protein consumption a little less confusing, so you can focus on other ways to stay healthy and feel better on your runs, especially if you are a beginner.

Protein for Recovery

The key to recovering quickly and staying healthy as a runner is matching your protein intake to the mileage you are running. Consuming sufficient protein will help in repairing your muscles after your long, hard runs. This was discussed in greater detail in an entire post devoted to protein for runners.


Because low protein intake is a common issue in beginner runners, you might want to consider making a diet change to ensure you are consuming enough protein. The first option would be changing your diet completely to match the proteins’ consumption; an easier solution is adding a protein bar in-between meals to increase protein intake, such as one of these healthy protein bars for runners; or third, you could opt for a protein shake.

In my experience, supplementing with a protein shake is the healthiest and easiest option. While protein bars are easy, they also contain lots of sugars and artificial ingredients you don’t need as a runner.

Protein shakes are also easy to take, completely customizable with your favorite flavors, and contain less sugar than protein bars.

You might be wondering:

If you do choose to supplement your protein intake with a shake, the question then becomes which protein powder is best for you?

Since there are many protein powder supplements on the market and each type of protein serves a different function in the body (i.e. the speed at which protein is delivered to the muscles), choosing the perfect protein can be difficult and confusing.

I am going to detail the four basic types of protein and when you should use them, to take the guess work out of this, and give you my personal recommendations for which products to use.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is made with the protein isolated from the liquid by-product of cheese.

It is a complete protein and a great source of branch-chain amino acids, which aid in fueling your muscles and stimulating protein synthesis. This increases the speed of your recovery by helping your muscles adapt to stress.


Whey can also help protect against inflammation and cancer.

Listen to this:

The most important feature when buying whey protein is its quality; low quality whey protein will cause you digestive issues if you are sensitive to lactose. Higher quality whey proteins have undergone a thorough and full isolation process to remove lactose completely.

Therefore, whey protein is not recommendable to lactose intolerants, but if you are just lactose sensitive, you can still consider a high quality whey protein. One way to determine the quality of whey protein is to identify the percentage of protein compared to the total product. High quality whey should be at least 80% protein.

Here’s the secret:

To determine the protein ration, simply divide the grams of protein by the grams per serving and if that number is 80% or higher, it’s a very good chance your whey protein is high quality.

Also important to consider is the list of ingredients on your whey protein powder; while many low quality whey proteins contain several artificial products that can cause health issues, high quality products contain ingredients that are short and easy to recognize.

Some of the ingredients found in high quality whey proteins are: Whey Protein Isolate, L-Glutamine, Flavor, and Stevia.

If you don’t want to shop around (the protein supplement market is saturated with products), I recommend Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey protein powder (disclaimer: affiliate link because I use it). They have a variety of flavors that taste good, are very well reviewed, and are a good price.

Best protein choice for:

Runners who are not sensitive to lactose, are not vegans, and who want a protein supplement that is easy to find and tastes good.

Soy Protein

Soy Protein is made out of soybeans that have been de-hulled and defatted. It is a great source of amino acids and one of the best options for vegetarian or vegan athletes.

Unfortunately, many recent reports have showed that almost all the soy products in the United States had been genetically modified. Genetically modified soybeans are made in labs with an herbicide resistant gene.

Although there aren’t specific studies that confirm the side effects of genetically modified foods on humans, an expert from the United Kingdom, Dr. Alpad Pusztai, published an article on the organ damage and immune system damage in animals when they were fed with GMO foods.

Because of these risks, I think it’s prudent to consider other plant-based proteins before using soy protein.

If you do choose soy as your protein supplement of choice, make sure the label specifically states that it is a non-GMO soy protein. This means the soy has not undergone genetic modification. Finding non-GMO soy protein can be difficult and is often expensive.

Best protein choice for:

Not recommended due to the high probability of genetic modifications. However, if you find a non-GMO based soy, it’s a great option for vegan or vegetarian runners.

Choosing a protein supplement can be confusing. @Runners_Connect explains each type based on preferences. Click To Tweet

Rice Protein

Rice protein is basically brown rice that has been treated with enzymes to separate the carbohydrates from the proteins. This is a great option for vegetarian or vegan runners who don’t want to take soy proteins because of their risks.

Rice protein is also very easy to digest and a good solution for runners with sever food allergies or who are lactose intolerant.

The taste of rice protein is similar to cream or rice cereal, and it is very difficult to mask it with flavorings. To avoid artificial flavors, colors and fillers, you might want to consider buying a high quality rice protein.

I can personally recommend Nutribiotic (disclaimer: affiliate link because I use it), which makes a clean, high quality rice protein.

Best protein choice for:

Vegan or vegetarian runners who have sensitive stomachs or significant food allergies.

Plant-Based Proteins

The ingredients in plant-based proteins are brown rice, peas, hemps, and chia seeds.

They are the best choice if you are vegetarian, vegan and you don’t suffer from food allergies. The advantage of mixing three to four of these proteins together is that you get a complete protein that is easy to digest.

Because of the variety of plants used in these plant proteins, you each serving contains a greater amount of total nutrients. LifeTime Life Basic’s Protein contains Omega 3, 6 and 9, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

LifeTime has two other blends, Life Basic’s Protein and Vegan Sport Protein, which are also clean high quality protein products.

Best protein choice for:

Vegetarian or vegan runners who are looking for a complete source of protein to supplement their whole-food protein intake.

Easy-to-use recipes

Now that you have a better idea of which kind of protein powder is best for you, take a look at these easy recipes you can include in your daily diet. Any of the protein powders can be used with these recipes without modifying the other ingredients.

Chocolate Banana Whey Protein Smoothie
1 Scoop of Vanilla Protein
1/2 Frozen Banana
.5-1 c unsweetened coconut milk (SoDelicous or Silk)
1tbs of cocoa powder
Dash of vanilla extract
Dash of cinnamon
Stevia to taste (if necessary)

Berry n’ Green Rice Protein Smoothie
1 Scoop of Vanilla Protein
.5-1 c unsweetened Almond milk
.5 c Frozen Strawberries
.5 c Frozen Blueberries
.5 c Frozen Mango
Dash of vanilla extract
Handful of spinach or Swiss chard
Small piece of ginger
Stevia to taste (if necessary)

Peaches n Cream Plant-Base Protein Smoothie
1 Scoop of Vanilla Protein
1/2 Frozen banana
1-1.5 c Frozen Peaches
Dash of vanilla extract
Stevia to taste (if necessary)

Tips for making great smoothies

  • Starting your smoothie with a vanilla protein powder will give you the freedom of customizing it to match your daily cravings.
  • Adding greens to a smoothie is a great way to boost its’ nutritional value. You don’t have to worry about the flavor because most of the times you can’t even taste it; for example, spinaches and Swiss chards are less bitter than collard greens or kale.
  •  Ginger has a lot of great health benefits, and if you bare the taste you should add it to your smoothie!
  • Stevia is a sweetener that will add a little bit of taste without adding calories.


All opinions are my own and I am not associated with any of the companies mentioned in this article.

Helpful post from @Runners_Connect about how to chose a protein supplement Click To Tweet

Free Strength Training Course

The Right Way to Add Strength Training To Your Running to Avoid Injury and Improve Performance

Here’s what we’ve got for you

How the “core” actually contributes to your running and which muscle groups are most important for staying injury-free

Which type of strength training exercises are most likely to directly improve your running performance (based on scientific research)

The 5 most common mistakes runners make with strength training (and how you can fix them)


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7 Responses on “4 of the Best Protein Supplements for Runners (& 3 Smoothie Recipes to Use Them in)

  1. Hey! I have a question about what you say about soy protein here. I’ve been told soy is better for “long/lean” muscle growth instead of “bulking up” that whey protein causes. Is this true?

    • Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Protein is used to build muscle in the same way. The only difference between the different types of proteins is the way in which they are digested. Whey is digested very quickly and delivered to muscles very quickly, which makes it ideal for post run recovery. Soy takes a little longer to digest, but is a more complete or “natural” protein.

    • You might be able to find some of them in the grocery store, but it’s unlikely they’ll be in “big chain” stores. Your best bet is to find a natural food store or a health store.

  2. Thanks for the info. It’s really helped me. I’m a sophomore in high school and I’ve been running since March of 2015 first for track then for xc practice. I am ambitious to run all my life. Your answers and articles have been very helpful in my research to become a better runner. Thanks Jeff

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