One of the more popular homemade protein shake myths is that you have to use protein powder as the basis of your protein shake or power smoothie. This is not even a little bit true.
While casein and most notably whey protein do offer certain benefits for obese, overweight or older adults, some protein powders offer more protein than most people need for good health and others not enough.
Making your protein shakes from scratch allows you to control the quality and the balance of your ingredients. Whether you are looking for a bit of light protein to get you through a busy day or are feeling feisty enough to try a full-on Bruce Lee meat shake, making it yourself helps ensure that your protein is tailored exactly to your needs.
Protein Powder Pros and Cons
Protein is important to every facet of your body's functioning, according to the experts at the University of New Mexico (UNM). There are two basic types of protein available in foods, UNM clarifies. The first is complete proteins — those found in animal products such as meat and dairy.
They are considered complete proteins, UNM explains, because they contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs to build, maintain and repair muscle and other tissues. Incomplete proteins are missing some amino acids.
Protein powders, UNM goes on to say, also come in two basic types. The first is derived from animal sources and the second from plants. Whey and casein proteins are made from milk, and as such, they are complete proteins. Whey protein contains lactose, so it may upset the digestion of those who are lactose intolerant. Casein is digested very slowly, so it is best consumed before fasting or before bed.
Plant-based protein powders are most often made from amaranth, bean, hemp, pea, quinoa, rice or soy proteins, UNM says. The drawback with these is that, except for powders made from amaranth, quinoa or soy, you are not getting the full run of amino acids. Some protein powders can also be very high in sugar, sodium and fillers, so it is best to make your own protein shakes from scratch.
Homemade Protein Shake Basics
The key ingredients in any healthy and effective meal replacement drink, advises Tiffany Chag, MS, RD, CSCS, one of the health care experts at the Hospital for Special Surgery, are protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals — and it must be delicious enough that you will want to drink it.
Registered dietitian Anne L. Koth, writing for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, reminds you that mass-produced protein drinks and smoothies often contain large amounts of sugar and far more calories than you need.
The trick to making a healthy protein shake, Koth explains, is to start with milk or a nut milk as your base. Add fruit such as apples, bananas, berries, mangoes, pears or pineapple. For protein, Koth says, you can add peanut or other nut butters, chia or flax seeds, or oats. Yogurt will also add protein and provides a bit of silky thickness to the texture.
Start With Soy
Fruit juices can be used as a base liquid for your protein shake, but they can be high in sugar and they add no protein. Cow's milk contains plenty of protein, but it can be a problem if you are lactose intolerant or vegan. Soy milk, according to the experts at Tufts University, is the closest substitute for cow's milk.
Soy beans are legumes, Tufts explains — just like beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts and peas — and one-third of their weight consists of protein. Fortified soy milk also offers calcium, Tufts says. In addition to protein and calcium, soy milk also provides zinc, selenium, magnesium and polyunsaturated fatty acids, all of which, Tufts reassures, are necessary to a healthy diet.
The best type of soy milk or other nut milks to use in your protein shakes, Tufts recommends, is an unsweetened variety. This helps you to avoid added sugars, which can raise the calorie count while adding no nutritive value. You can also add tofu to your protein shakes, though that may affect the texture.
Grab Some Greek Yogurt
Another way to make a protein shake without powder is to add yogurt, specifically Greek yogurt. While yogurts start out basically the same, according to Columbia University's Go Ask Alice! advice site, Greek yogurt is strained one extra time. This extra step, Alice explains, removes more of the whey liquid, offering a denser, creamier texture and a slightly stronger flavor.
This more condensed version of yogurt, Alice goes on to say, gives you twice the protein and half of the carbohydrates and sodium of regular yogurt. These nutritional benefits apply mostly to plain Greek yogurt, Alice says, because Greek yogurt that has been sweetened or had fruit added will have more calories and carbs than the plain kind.
Pack in the Peanut Butter
One of the more delicious and satisfying ways to create a homemade mass gainer without protein powder is to grab a jar of peanut butter. Peanuts, explains Colorado State University, have been eaten since approximately 950 BC, originating in South America. From there, they were brought to Africa, Colorado State reports, and from there to America, where they are grown mostly in Georgia and Texas.
Peanut butter not only adds flavor and texture, it provides solid nutrition, including:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin E
- Folic acid
- Unsaturated fatty acids
According to Colorado State University, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter contains 94 calories, 3.8 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat. Peanut butter mixes well with many flavors, but is especially delicious when combined with soy milk, Greek yogurt, bananas and a bit of maple syrup. Freeze the bananas for a thicker, creamier protein shake.
Flirt With Some Fruit
Start with about 1 cup of fruit for each protein drink, advises the University of Washington. Fruit adds fiber as well as sweetness and flavor. Fresh fruit is good, especially if it is locally grown fruit that's in season.
Frozen fruit adds a thick, creamy texture, the University of Washington says, and because it is frozen immediately upon being harvested, it does not lose any nutrients. There are all sorts of frozen fruits, fruit mixes and medleys available in your supermarket's freezer section. Just make sure that there is no added sodium or sugar.
The most popular fruits for smoothies, according to the University of Washington, are the softer ones such as bananas, berries, pineapple and mangoes. If you want to get adventurous and use peaches, pears, apples, nectarines, plums or grapes, make sure you peel them to avoid an unpleasantly bumpy texture.
Don't be afraid to mix and match. A banana protein shake is tasty with mixed berries or mango. The University of Washington recommends that if you are mixing fruits, you should use half a banana and 1/2 cup of whatever other fruits you are using. Get creative with fresh fruits and try things like kiwi and dragon fruit. Cantaloupe and watermelon also add sweetness and flavor.
Look to Leafy Greens
Animal products, such as dairy in the form of milk and yogurt, and protein powders made from dairy are not the only sources of protein available to you. Soy is an excellent substitute, but you can also get proteins from green, leafy vegetables and other sources, explain the health experts at Cedars-Sinai.
Quinoa is a complete protein, but it can make for a slightly grainy texture that some people may find unpleasant, Cedars-Sinai cautions. Kale and spinach are especially good in protein shakes, because they blend completely into the liquid. They are also complemented by the fresh and tangy flavor of pineapple.
- University of New Mexico: "Protein Supplements - Which 'Whey' to Go?"
- HSS: "Quick and Easy Meal Replacement Smoothie Recipe for People on the Go"
- Tufts University: "Soy - Still Good For the Heart?"
- Columbia University - Go Ask Alice!: "It's Greek (Yogurt) to Me!"
- Colorado State University: "Nut Butters"
- University of Washington: "3 Steps For Building the Perfect Summer Smoothie"
- Cedars-Sinai: "Are Animal Proteins Better for You Than Plant Proteins?"
- US Department of Veteran's Affairs: "VA Dietitians Suggest Homemade Smoothies As a Heart-Healthy Option"