Running is one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise out there and a great hobby. But, in order to be successful at it, you need to provide your body with the fuel necessary to go that extra mile.
One of the hardest things about running is making sure to properly plan your food intake to promote optimum performance. You don’t want to eat too much heavy food too close to a run or skip a meal and run out of fuel halfway through your run. And let’s face it, almost every runner has experienced that horrible feeling when you know you aren’t going to be able to hit the distance you originally intended.
But while it’s important to provide your body with the proper nutrients beforehand, it’s equally important to refuel your body when you’ve completed your run so that your muscles can begin to recover. So, you may ask yourself, is it best to take in protein before or after a workout?
The ideal pre-workout nutrition plan should give you energy before a workout and also nutrients to repair muscle after. Before running you need fast-acting carbohydrates to give your body energy to burn. But after your workout, you likely need a whey protein shake after running for an ideal post-workout snack. Here’s what you need to know about protein shakes for runners.
Why Whey After Cardio?
A super food in its own right, whey is a type of protein that comes from cow’s milk. It has a high biological value (actually the highest of any protein), which means it is well absorbed and used easily by the body. It is rich in all nine essential amino acids that are required from muscle repair and preservation.
A protein shake after running is also simple to use for quick energy after a tough workout. This easy to digest form of protein can be blended into shakes and smoothies, added to oatmeal or baked into protein bars. It is fast acting, so it will immediately begin to aid your body on its road to muscle repair.
Is it Best to Take a Whey Protein Shake Before or After a Workout?
Protein can be difficult to digest pre-run/workout, so it may feel like a ton of lead in your stomach during your run. Because of this, it is best to take your whey after cardio.
If you consume protein when you return from a good long run, it will immediately get to work reviving and rebuilding your fatigued muscles. It should come as no surprise that running takes hard work and dedication, but since whey protein is fast absorbing and promotes swift muscle repair, it can be great asset for every runner’s training and recovery regime.
Ingesting protein post run will also help the body to maintain a stable nitrogen base, which is another requirement for healthy muscle growth. And you will feel the effects. In most cases, people who consume whey protein after running won’t be as sore the next day and will experienced increased energy levels with continued use.
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Low-calorie but High Protein
Although it’s important to up your protein intake when you are running to promote muscle recovery and repair, that doesn’t mean you want to consume a lot of calories doing so. Most runners want to stay lean to help with running speed. Therefore, it is important to find that right balance between supporting your muscles with enough calories and maintaining a lean physique.
Increasing your protein intake may be the best way to also help you manage your weight. Protein can help you stay satisfied, feed your hungry muscles, and help you maintain your weight. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient. The body uses protein for muscle repair and cell growth before using it for calories or storing it as fat.
You may have already experienced this in your own life. For example, when you start your day with a high protein breakfast as opposed to a high carbohydrate breakfast, you are likely less hungry later in the day. This means you will tend to eat less overall.
A whey protein shake after running can help stave off some of that post-workout crazy hunger. Yes, you burned a ton of calories during your running workout, but it’s very easy to eat them all back and then some. The appetite suppression effect of protein may help you control those post-run munchies so you can reach your weight goals.
Pro Tip: Introducing whey protein shake after running will provide your body with the necessary protein needed for proper muscle repair, but it will allow you to keep your overall caloric intake low in the process.
Why is muscle repair so important?
Running, like many forms of exercise, can take a toll on your muscles, especially as you start to tack on the miles. Providing your muscles with the time they need to recover will help to repair tissue and build strength, so you can keep logging those miles week after week.
Typically you should allow your muscles 24 to 48 hours to rest and repair after a workout. However, many people don’t always heed this rule. Whey protein after running can help speed the process along by giving your body the raw materials it needs to repair any damaged tissue and aid in the growth of new tissue. This can help prevent injury and maintain the strength you need to keep running.
Running and any intense form of exercise can suppress the immune system. After a heavy training session, the immune system of the athlete can decrease by 15-70%, leaving them open to illness. Adding whey protein after a workout can help athletes maintain healthy immune function by providing the raw materials the body needs to make immune cells to fight infection.
Best Protein Powder for Runners
If you are looking for an ideal protein powder for runners, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, consider your individual nutrient needs. Do you need a shake that is higher in calories and protein to support an intense training schedule? Or are you on your off season and can have something that is a bit lighter?
Second, how will you take your protein shake after running? Are you going to mix it with just water? If so the taste might matter a bit more, so you might want to consider a flavored option, like chocolate or vanilla. If you plan on just using it in a shake with other ingredients, an unflavored option might be perfect.
Finally, getting your protein after a run doesn’t have to be in the form of a shake (although liquids do get absorbed and into your muscles a bit faster). Consider creating a portable protein bar option that can help refuel your muscles without a blender. We have lots of ideas for protein powder recipes here.
Keep protein filled snacks on hand
Although training is important, good nutrition is also a vital part of being a successful runner. If you are a runner or desire to be one, keeping the correct foods on hand to fuel your run will be a key part of your training regimen.
Before your run, focus on getting enough carbohydrates (and a little fat) for energy. Great pre-run foods include: whole grain bagels, peanut butter, bananas and yogurt. These give you the fast-acting carbohydrates you need to fuel an incredible workout.
After running, although you still do need to consume some carbs, the focus of your meal or post-run snack should be protein. A whey protein shake or snack is a great way to recharge, build new muscle, and support your immune system.
As we mentioned above, if you prefer not to drink your whey, consider baking whey protein powder into muffins or homemade energy bars so that you can have them handy whenever you need a quick and easy protein rich snack to soothe your tired muscles. These can be a great on-the-go post-workout snack for when you are pressed for time or don’t have access to a blender.
An important asset to any runner’s artillery belt, whey protein can help you along as you progress from 3 miles to perhaps one day tackling a marathon. So, listen to your body, provide it with the necessary fuel, lace up your trainers and head out on the open road. But don’t forget, only take protein after running or working out!