So you’re looking to add some extra protein to your diet, and you have (wisely) chosen a protein powder to help supplement your efforts.
But as you twist open your shiny new jar, you realize that you actually have no idea how to make a proper protein shake!
The good news is, you are definitely not alone – we get this question ALL the time here at UNICO, so today we’re going to help you get your protein journey off on the right foot.
In this post we’re going to cover all the basics of how to use protein powder the right way.
While the protein mixing guide below is very much intended for beginners, (or folks who are new to protein powder), I’m confident that even the most seasoned ‘protein shake veteran’ is sure to find a new little hack or tidbit in here that they hadn’t thought of before.
Here’s how the guide will be organized:
Table of contents
- How Do I Make a Protein Shake?
- First – Do You Want a Shake, or a Smoothie?
- What to Put in a Protein Shake
- How to Mix Your Protein Shakes
- How to Enjoy Your Protein Shake
How Do I Make a Protein Shake?
…you say to yourself, as you hunt around for that pesky little scoop, which seems to be purposefully evading you in the sea of fluffy white powder…
As you keep searching, you think about what you want out of your protein shake.
Fun Fact: Our motto at UNICO with our protein powders is ‘never chalky, always tasty’, so you can rest assured your shakes are smooth and tasty no matter how you make them
You know you also want it to actually taste good, which is totally fair.
You know you don’t want your shake to be gritty, or chalky, like you sometimes see people complain about with their protein of choice…
After all… if you can’t enjoy the ritual of your shake, whether you are using it for weight loss or weight gain, than it probably won’t be sustainable.
That all being said, you might not yet be ready to be mixing up crazy sophisticated protein pancakes and waffles like the gym influencers you follow on Tik-Tok.
And that’s totally fine.
For now, all you need to know is how to drink your protein powder in a way that is going to be a tasty and sustainable starting point for your new protein powder habit.
The best way to do that, is to go over the basics of how to make a protein shake, step by step.
The Basic Process of Making a Protein Shake
- Step 1: Choosing Your Format (do you want a shake, or smoothie?)
- Step 2: Choosing Your Liquid / Other Ingredients (i.e. what to put in a protein shake)
- Step 3: Choosing Your Mixing Technique (how to mix protein powder for best results)
- Step 4: Drinking Your Protein Shake (and tweaking if necessary)
We recommend trying a few different combinations of formats and add-ins to figure out what the best way to use protein powder for you is.
Again – the goal is to find out what works for you, so that you actually enjoy your shake or smoothie.
This will make for a sustainable habit that will go along way in ensuring that you are getting enough protein per day.
TIP: Unsure exactly how much protein you need per day? Check out this post.
Once you’ve done that, let’s just dive into the process – it’s really quite simple – you will get the hang of it in no time!
First – Do You Want a Shake, or a Smoothie?
The first thing you need to decide, as you prepare to make a protein shake, is what format you want your protein delivered in.
Typically, there are two basic ways to drink protein – in either a protein shake or a protein smoothie.
The differences are pretty easy to understand.
The first way to drink protein, is in a protein shake.
This is the most common way to make a protein shake with protein powder.
In a protein shake, you are simply mixing your protein powder alone with the your liquid of choice.
Protein Shake Example: Mixing 1 scoop of protein powder into 10-12 ounces of water or milk.
In a protein smoothie, you are mixing your protein powder into a liquid along with other added ingredients for either taste, textural, or functional benefits (or some combination of the three!).
This can be a more dynamic way to enjoy your protein powder, as it allows room for more creativity with combining different flavors together.
Protein Smoothie Example: Mixing 1 scoop of protein powder into 8 ounces of milk with 4 oz frozen berries, 3 oz fresh baby spinach, 1 tbsp almond butter.
Protein Shakes vs. Protein Smoothies:
There are a few key differences between a protein shake and a protein smoothie.
The first, is that a smoothie will usually take longer to make.
1. Smoothies Take Longer
It makes sense that the more ingredients you use, the more time it will take to make your protein creation…
But, that extra time spent can be very rewarding, as a smoothie allows for you to make different fun flavor combinations!
Most folks incorporate both standard shakes and smoothies into their daily routines, depending on what they have time for, throughout the day.
For example – the most popular time to drink a protein shake is immediately after a workout, when your body can use protein quickly to recover.
Many athletes opt for a shake during that window, to ensure they are supplying their body with a stream of essential amino acids quickly.
It’s also quicker, and easier to make a protein shake than a smoothie in the gym locker room, where you likely have access to your protein shaker bottle, but not a blender.
Alternatively, if you were looking to use protein as more of a snack, or meal replacement, a smoothie might be a better play.
2. Protein Smoothies Typically Have More Calories
…along with more micro, and macronutrients!
We usually recommend making protein smoothies in the morning as a nutrient-dense breakfast (we actually have a fabulous protein smoothie recipe for all you avocado lovers here).
That’s because with smoothies, you can mix healthy carbohydrate and fat sources along with your protein powder to create more of a homemade ‘meal replacement‘ shake.
For example, I love mixing spinach (the world’s healthiest vegetable IMO) into almost every protein smoothie I make, to get the anti-cancer benefits, along with tons of naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals.
Obviously when you combine several ingredients together (especially nut butters – which are very calorie-dense) you create a drink that contains more calories than a drink with just protein powder + water shake – so just keep that in mind!
Having more calories is one of the subtle differences between a protein shake and a protein smoothie.
One of the not-so-subtle differences is in the taste, and flavor.
3. Smoothies and Shakes Have Different Flavor & Textures
As I said before, you can create unlimited flavor profiles with protein smoothies.
With protein shakes, your flavor profile is going to essentially be limited to the flavor of your protein powder, and how it interacts with your liquid of choice, whether it’s water, or a variety of milk.
That’s why we take such pride in the flavoring of our line of proteins – because the taste of your protein powder is going to take center-stage whenever you opt for a protein shake.
Texture is another important consideration.
With smoothies, textures can be thicker or thinner depending on the ingredients that you choose, but are for the most part thicker than protein shakes.
Frozen fruits, which are a common smoothie add-in, can add a great deal of thickness to your protein smoothie.
That being said, you do have some control over the thickness of your protein shake by adjusting the amount of liquid in your shake.
The less liquid you use, the thicker your shake will be, and the more liquid you use, the thinner your shake will be.
In protein shakes, the natural texture of your protein powder will also be more prominent than in a smoothie.
Did you Know: At UNICO, we focus heavily on texture – using isolate protein instead of concentrates, and also using a specialty emulsification system to ensure that your shake tastes great, even in water.
Now that you understand the difference between protein shakes and smoothies, you are probably ready to roll up your sleeves and get started…
But you actually have a few more decisions to make, no matter if you opted for a shake or a smoothie!
What to Put in a Protein Shake
The second step in creating your ultimate protein shake or smoothie is in choosing your ingredients.
It might sound straight-forward, but choosing the best liquid to mix protein powder into will make an enormous difference in how your smoothie or shake turns out.
The best liquids for a protein shake or smoothie include:
- Water – most common, and the least calories
- Milk – also very common – makes for slightly more decadent texture and taste
- Juice – adds a citrusy tang
- Coffee – protein coffee provides the best of both worlds!
The list above refers to both shakes and smoothies.
Where things start to get interesting is with protein smoothies, when you get to choose your additional ingredients
Those other ingredients will determine the ultimate flavor profile, as well as the functional / nutrient profile of your masterpiece.
Let’s go over some of the most common additional protein smoothie ingredients.
One thing to keep in mind when you are picking ingredients from the list below, is that each ingredient will have a dramatic effect on the taste of your smoothie.
I will list some common smoothie ingredient combinations below this master-list to give you some ideas for some basic combinations.
Popular Smoothie Add-ins:
- Frozen Fruits* – mango, coconut, peach, pineapple, bananas, avocado, passionfruit
- Frozen Berries* – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
- Frozen Vegetables* – spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, kale
- Grains – oats, quinoa, amaranth
- Additional Base Ingredients – yogurt, frozen acai, ice cream (for a special treat!)
- Nut Butters – peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter
- Misc. Superfoods – chia seeds, flax seeds, cacao nibs, collagen powder, coconut oil, adaptogenic mushroom powder, MCT oil, super greens powders
- Misc. Flavoring Ingredients – vanilla extract, cocoa powder, dates, lemon zest, lemon juice, honey
*you can substitute fresh fruits and vegetables for frozen, but keep in mind that frozen will add a thicker texture, while keeping your smoothie cold. Frozen ingredients are typically less expensive than fresh, too!
You Put Veggies in a Smoothie??
I know, I know.
Some of these ingredients might sounds a little strange (you probably wouldn’t guess cauliflower, for example, would make a good protein smoothie ingredient!)…
But many of these ingredients fade to the background from a flavor perspective.
So even though you can’t taste them, you can get their health benefits.
Hiding vegetables in your favorite protein smoothie is actually a great way to get some extra veggies in your diet.
Part of making a smoothie is getting creative with your protein powder recipes.
But while you practice ideating your own creations – here are 5 simple, tasty ideas / flavor combinations to get you started:
- ‘Chunky Monkey’: Milk, banana (frozen), chocolate protein powder, peanut putter, ice, cocoa powder, oats
- ‘Berry Blast’: Milk, orange juice, yogurt, frozen spinach, frozen berry mix, vanilla protein powder, flax, vanilla extract
- ‘Tropical Sunrise’: Milk, orange juice, frozen mango, frozen passionfruit, frozen avocado, frozen cauliflower, strawberry protein powder, coconut oil
- ‘Green Monster’: Milk, frozen spinach, frozen broccoli, vanilla protein powder, greens powder, chia seeds, greens powder, lemon juice
- ‘Birthday Bash’: Milk, frozen banana, frozen coconut, birthday cake protein powder, cashew butter, vanilla extract
Now that you have some ideas for what to put in your protein shakes & smoothies, let’s talk about the actual process of how to make a protein shake.
How to Mix Your Protein Shakes
We have chosen between either a protein shake or a smoothie.
We have picked our shake/smoothie ingredients.
It is now finally time to mix our protein shake or smoothie.
There are three basic methods to mixing your shake or smoothie:
- Mixing By Hand: As it sounds, this is mixing by hand with a spoon or fork. It is the least efficient method, and could lead to a ‘clumpier’ shake. This can work with a protein shake, but not a smoothie.
- Using a Protein Shaker: This is another technique available for protein shakes, but not smoothies. Protein shakers have technology that enables them to evenly distribute the protein powder within your liquid, and are more efficient than hand-mixing.
- Blender or Food Processor: Using a blender is the best option for protein smoothies, and is a good option for shakes too, although in can be ‘over-kill’. Blenders are usually only an available option when you are in your home kitchen, but they are by far the best for making smoothies.
Key Takeaway: A protein shaker is the easiest, and quickest way to make a protein shake, whereas a blender is the only realistic way to make a protein smoothie.
There are a few important things to keep in mind depending on what method you choose.
Tips for Mixing Your Shake/Smoothie
Use this chart to ensure that no matter which mixing technique you use, your shakes come out perfect:
|Protein Shake||Protein Smoothie|
|Hand- Mixing||Put your liquid in first, and then powder to prevent sticking.||Not recommended|
|Shaker/Blender Bottle||Make sure the lid of your blender bottle is closed tightly, to prevent a chaotic mess!||Not recommended|
|Blender / Food Processor||Try adding some ice to your liquid and protein powder to add a fun milkshake texture to your shake!||– Put your liquid in first, to make sure your powder doesn’t congeal and stick to the bottom of your blender cup. |
– If your blender is struggling to mix your ingredients, you may need to add more liquid
Another thing to note when it comes to mixing your protein shake, especially when using a blender, is that it is likely to make a good bit of noise.
So if your significant other is on a Zoom call in the other room – you might want to either wait a moment, or take your shake-making into another part of the house!
Speaking of blending… here are a few of our favorite blender options for protein powders:
Once your shake is mixed to perfection, it’s time for the tasty conclusion to our ultimate protein-shake-creation guide…
How to Enjoy Your Protein Shake
You’ve made it to the end.
Your shake (or smoothie) is blended to perfection, with all the right ingredients.
You are now ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Crack open that shaker bottle or ‘Nutribullet’ lid, and pour your masterpiece into your favorite cup.
Hopefully you’ve nailed your shake right off the bat.
If something is off, it’s usually because of one or two typical reasons…
How to Make Your Protein Shake Taste Better
Didn’t ‘nail’ the flavor or texture first time?
Don’t give up just yet – you can probably fix your shake easier than you think.
If Your Shake isn’t Sweet Enough, or Lacks Flavor
Try adding more protein powder, since the protein powders have sweetener in them.
You can also try adding more fruit, which are naturally sweet, or even some honey if you really need to bump up the sweetness.
If You Shake is Too Thick
You just need to add more liquid.
Gradually add 1-2 ounces more liquid at a time and re-blend/mix until your smoothie gradually becomes thinner.
Just be careful not to add too much liquid, because your shake could become too thin, quickly!
If Your Shake is Too Thin
Yep, you guessed it.
Just add either more ice, or more frozen fruit/veggie to achieve a thicker texture.
You can also add more protein powder, which contains emulsifiers that can add more of a full-bodies texture.
Using these tips, you should be able to fix the most common issues that folks have when trouble-shooting their shakes.
Let’s recap what we learned today.
- Using some common guidelines to making a protein shake, you will be able to make healthy high-protein shakes consistently
- The first step is choosing between a protein shake and a protein smoothie, which each have unique properties and benefits
- A protein shake is quicker, and easier to make than a protein smoothie. A smoothie allows for more creativity with flavors, and also allows you to add nutrient-dense add-ins.
- Choosing the right liquid is an important step in making the best protein shake. Water, milk, coffee, and fruit juice are great choices.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables make excellent smoothie inclusions, because they add flavor, texture, and extra nutrients. Superfoods, nut butters, and other flavor ingredients can make your smoothie even more dynamic.
- There are three main ways to mix protein powder – hand-mixing, shaking in a shaker bottle, or using a blender. Using a blender is the best (and only realistic way) to make a smoothie.
- Troubleshooting a shake or smoothie usually involves either adding more sweetness, or adjusting the thickness by adding more liquid, or more solid ingredients
Use this guide to make your next protein shake or smoothie, you will be well on your way to protein shake perfection.🙂
– Lance Herrington (CEO/Founder)
- How to Make a Protein Shake: The Ultimate Guide - May 3, 2023