Best Protein Powder for Runners


These are my four go-to protein powders that don’t contain whey. I included pros and cons of each along with a nutrition and price comparison to help you choose the best protein powder for you.

I get asked a lot what my favorite protein powder is, and to be honest, it depends on the day you ask me. There are four brands that I rotate among, and I’ll go into the pros and cons of each. I can’t have  whey or casein so all of these are plant-based, with the exception of collagen which is a cow product. I included collagen in the list since it’s a popular protein supplement these days and I get asked about it quite often, but I don’t take it every day like many people do.

Best Protein Powder for Runners

A few things to note before we dive into the list:

Each brand has a few other options so the nutrition specifics may vary slightly, but it should be pretty similar across the brand.

I like having protein powder as a supplement, but I don’t let it replace getting protein from whole food sources. I also get lots of protein from veggies (yes, they have protein and it adds up if you have veggies at every meal!), whole grains, meat, fish and legumes. If you have specific dietary needs or goals, work with a registered dietitian who can guide you.

If you’re going to make a lot of smoothies — which is how I incorporate powder powder into my diet most often — do yourself a favor and invest in a Vitamix. I bought a refurbished one (which is about $200 cheaper), have used it multiple times a week for 6+ years, and have had no issues.

I used protein powder during my pregnancy, especially when I had a lot of issues with nausea and food aversions. Be sure to check with your doctor before you do so!

Generation UCan Chocolate Plant Based Protein

Generation Ucan is the protein powder I’ve used most often in the last year. I love that it contains carbs since I struggle to get enough carbs as a runner, especially when I’m in marathon training mode. They do have whey protein but I’ve only had the plant-based one.

Stats:

  • 2 full scoop = 20 grams protein = 160 calories
  • Cost: $49.95
  • Ounces per container: 21
  • Servings per container: 12
  • Cost per serving:$4.16
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Carbs: 22g
  • Sugar: 0g, however there are 6g of sugar alcohol. Erythritol is used as the sweetener.

Pros:

  • This has the best taste of all of the protein powders listed in this post!
  • It blends easily with water or milk in a shaker bottle.
  • It contains carbs so you could take it right after a workout without needing to supplement it with another carb source.
  • Uses a “superstarch” blend of carbs that is very gentle on even finicky stomachs.

Cons:

  • Can only buy online here: Generation UCan – use promo code AFOODIESTAYSFIT for 15% off
  • It only comes in a chocolate flavor.
  • It contains erythritol as a sweetener, which is a sugar alcohol and can cause gut upset for some people.
  • The carb source is corn based, which may be an allergen for some. The story behind their superstarch corn ingredient is explained here – pretty interesting background that it was developed for an infant!

Garden of Life Raw Vegan Protein

One of my good friends who is a vegan and a sport dietitian recommended this option, which is why I purchased it. I always buy the vanilla flavor and it works well into all of my smoothie recipes. Chocolate flavored protein powder doesn’t always work well in smoothie recipes. They also have an unflavored option, but I haven’t tried it.

Stats:

  • 1 full scoop = 22 grams protein = 130 calories
  • Cost: $38.39
  • Ounces per container: 23
  • Servings per container: 20
  • Cost per serving: $1.91
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Carbs: 2g
  • Sugar: 0g. Erythritol and stevia are the sweeteners used in Garden of Life.

Pros:

  • Contains probiotics and digestive enzymes
  • Contains a wide variety of plant-based protein sources for well-rounded nutrition, including pea, sprouted brown rice, amaranth sprout, buckwheat sprout, millet sprout, chia seed and more.
  • Easy to find on Amazon, Whole Foods, Thrive Market or Perfect Supplements
    • Use promo code TERI to get 10% off if you shop at Perfect Supplements or save 25% on your first Thrive Market order with this link
  • Garden of Life is listed as brand trusted by Perfect Supplements and I do feel like that company does solid research so I trust their recommendations.

Cons:

  • The chocolate flavor was ranked poorly by the Clean Label Project.
  • It has a somewhat strong flavor that can overpower other flavors in a smoothie.
  • Contains both stevia and erythritol.
  • It’s very low in carbs (2 grams) which isn’t ideal for post-run recovery. But that’s easy to remedy by putting a banana or other carb source (like sweet potatoes even!) in your smoothie.

Vega Sport 

Vega Sport is the protein powder I’ve used the longest, for over five years.

Stats:

  • 1 full scoop = 30 grams protein = 160 calories
  • Cost: $39.48
  • Ounces per container: 29 oz
  • Servings per container: 19
  • Cost per serving:  $2.08
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Carbs: 6g
  • Sugar: 2g Total, no added sugar. (Stevia is the sweetener)

Pros:

  • Tastes great. Not chalky and blends well without chunks, whether mixed into something or just with water or almond milk
  • Formulated by a professional athlete (IronMan and ultramarathoner), Brenden Brazier, and my perception is that the guy knows his stuff
  • Contains probiotics and antioxidants to help speed recovery, including turmeric and tart cherry
  • Formulated specifically for post-workout recovery
  • I like the mix of protein sources, including pumpkin seeds
  • The chocolate and vanilla flavors taste great and not artificial
  • Easy to find – Amazon sells it, as does Whole Foods and Thrive Market

Cons:

  • If you only do half scoops (and you still get 15g of protein with that, which makes it more comparable to the others in the post), it obviously makes it more economical.
  • A full scoop to get 30 grams of protein is massive so you have to adjust your liquid ratios to whatever you’re adding it to (like protein pancakes, oatmeal breakfast cake, cacao nib mint smoothie). Or, you can just do a half scoop depending on your wants and needs.
  • It’s difficult to blend without a real blender. Even with a shaker bottle, it often gets chunky.
  • It uses Stevia as a sweetener. Sometimes that flavor bothers me more than others.
  • The Vanilla flavor was ranked poorly by the Clean Label Project.
  • Like Garden of Life, it’s very low in carbs (6 grams) which isn’t ideal for post-run recovery. But again, you can easily pair it with carbs easily in a smoothie.

 

Perfect Supplements Collagen

I’ve tried three different brands of collagen and I like the Perfect Supplements Collagen best. Note that collagen is an incomplete protein so it’s not the best option to help repair muscles, and it’s important to understand the different types of collagen. And, like any supplement, it’s not a cure all as much as people sing its praises.

Stats:

  • 1 full scoop = 10 grams protein = 40 calories
  • Cost: $39.95
  • Ounces per container: 23
  • Servings per container: 60
  • Cost per serving:$0.66

Pros:

  • This collagen blends the most easily of any collagen I’ve found. In hot water, it dissolves immediately. In cold or room temperature water, it does require some stirring.
  • It’s grass-fed and non-GMO.
  • Contains both Type I and Type III Collagen. Most collagens only contain one type of collagen. Different types of collagen have different benefits.
    • Type I and III are supposedly the best ones to help support skin.
  • It’s free of pesticides, hormones, chemicals and contaminants — and Perfect Supplements publishes the Heavy Metal Lab test to verify it.

Cons:

  • You can only purchase it online but you can use promo code TERI for 10% off your entire Perfect Supplements order.
  • You can taste it if you add it to coffee. But, to be honest, I’ve NEVER tried a collagen that I couldn’t taste in coffee. If anyone tells you it’s tasteless in coffee, they’re lying or they are used to their coffee tasting like crap with collagen in it!!! I never add collagen to coffee for that reason – I add it to my smoothies instead.

 

Heavy metals in protein powder

There has been some press recently about protein powders testing high for heavy metals and since supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, you have to do your own research to verify what each brand does to go above and beyond on this aspect. (Skincare is another industry that isn’t regulated enough, so it’s important to seek out brands that go above and beyond for safety.)

Two protein powders brands I use and are included in this post are listed as having poor scores from the Clean Label Product (which looks at heavy metals, pesticides, and contaminants like BPA), but they called out specific flavors, so you’ll see that called out below. I don’t know if they tested multiple flavors and only called out the one that was an issue OR if they only tested one flavor. So, if this is something that’s very important to you, be sure to do more research. As I replace my protein powders, it’s definitely something I plan to dig into more. Unfortunately all of the best-rated scores were given to whey protein powders, which I don’t tolerate well.

Interestingly, the plant-based proteins got worse scores compared to those made from whey (milk) or egg, on average container as much as 2x more lead. It may be that animals’ digestive systems help to remove some of the toxins. As it relates to “organic” protein powder, that label doesn’t have any correlation to a more positive or negative score. On average, organic protein actually had higher levels of heavy metals. But, one of the scientists who worked on the testing stated that it “probably as more to do with these products being plant-based than being organic.” You can read more about the testing here.

 

I’d love to hear your favorite protein powder brands and why you love them! Leave a comment and share!

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