Are Protein Shakes Good for You After Running?

Your bodybuilder friends faithfully consume a protein shake following a heavy lift at the gym, but should you do the same after a long run?

Are Protein Shakes Good for You After Running? (Image: Artem Varnitsin / EyeEm/EyeEm Premium/GettyImages)

Runners, as endurance athletes, benefit from eating more protein than their less active friends. A protein shake plus a few extra carbohydrates after a run helps activate muscle repair and improves fatigue and soreness following a long, intense run.

Tip

A protein shake after running improves recovery and markers of soreness.

Running and Recovery

A 30-minute light jog on the treadmill isn't the type of workout that warrants post-exercise recovery fuel. But if you embark on a hard training run for longer than an hour, or run a race such as a marathon, you should have a protein shake after running.

A study in Nutrients, published in 2018, found that protein supplementation provided to runners immediately after a marathon did not alter recovery in the first 24 hours post-race, but did change the runners' perception of fatigue and muscle soreness over the next 72 hours. And they recovered faster than their counterparts who had only carbohydrates after the run.

This is especially valuable in training. If you're piling on the miles, you want to be as fresh as possible for each session. Drink protein after your weekly long run, and you'll recover faster so you can get back out on the track or trail in the next couple of days and put in another solid run.

Running and Physiological Adaptations

Consuming a protein shake, particularly one containing whey, can help improve your running performance too. A study published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences in 2017 showed that when whey protein was consumed following a marathon, elite athletes had reduced inflammation following the run and improved endurance performance as a result, compared to their running peers who consumed only maltodextrin, a type of carbohydrate. The researchers recommend whey protein for runners following a tough run.

Include Carbohydrates

When you consume your protein shake, choose one with carbohydrates. Some protein shakes advertise themselves as being very low in carbs, but you need this nutrient — along with protein — for optimal running recovery.

Choose a shake that has a 1:3 or 1:4 protein-to-carb ratio post-workout, explains Runners World. So if your shake has 20 grams of protein, aim to consume 60 to 80 grams of carbs too. You may not find just the right ratio in your drink, so have a banana, handful of pretzels or half a bagel on the side. Aim to consume this protein-to-carb ratio post-workout within the first 20 to 30 minutes after you're done.

Greater Protein Intake All Day

As an endurance athlete, a runner benefits from an increased intake of protein — especially on hard training days — compared to the average person. Protein shakes are an easy way to increase your daily protein intake. You can fit your intake in as a protein shake after running, or any other time during the day.

Research published in PLoS One in 2016 asserts that endurance athletes benefit from a protein intake that's greater than the recommended daily allowance. The researchers suggest endurance athletes consume between 0.55 and 0.64 grams of protein per pound of body weight on most days. For a 150-pound athlete, this comes out to 82 to 96 grams daily.

Types of Protein Shakes

Protein shakes may be prepackaged or made by mixing protein powder with water, milk or juice. They usually contain added protein from whey or soy, but may contain pea protein, casein or hemp protein as well.

A protein shake generally contains between 15 and 25 grams of protein, though some do contain more reports Consumer Reports. Be sure to do research on your protein supplement. This same issue of Consumer Reports points out that some supplements have high levels of heavy metals.

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