They're fast, they're easy, and they seem healthy—but protein shakes can pack in too many calories and too few nutritional benefits. Rather than selecting the first powder you see on the shelf at your grocery store, strategize your shake routine to supercharge your weight loss goals. As with any part of your diet, how you use a protein shake can make or break your progress. Here, we spoke with health and nutrition experts on healthy protein shake hacks for the best results. And for more healthy eating tips, be sure to check out our list of 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
Make sure you're buying the right protein for your goal.
Are you hopeful to drop a specific amount of weight for an upcoming special event? Are you trying to shift your relationship with food fundamentally? Are you coming back from a low activity period and finally hitting the gym again? Depending on where you are in your weight loss journey, you need to choose a protein powder that works for your current lifestyle and habits, according to NESTA Sports Nutrition Specialist for Body FX Mika Morris. As she explains, casein protein is slow-releasing, keeping you fuller for longer. Whey, on the other hand, absorbs quickly in your system.
"Some protein powders are high-carb to help you gain weight, others low-carb to help you lose weight. And others are somewhere in between as a meal replacement," she says. "Make sure you purchase protein supplementation with your goal in mind."
Use frozen berries instead of fresh ones.
One of the reasons people don't lose weight? They are too busy being pulled in an every-which direction, from their professional obligations to their personal responsibilities. One solution that weight loss coach Stephanie Mansour has recommended to her clients is using frozen berries in their protein shakes. Since many powders can be chalky—read: hard to digest—adding natural sugar from fruit is a way to make them more edible. But, chopping up berries in the A.M., while also tending to children or dialing into a work meeting. That can be a stretch for some.
"Starting your day off with a smoothie—instead of cooking eggs or even microwaving oatmeal—can literally take 30 seconds," she says. "All you need is a handful of frozen berries, a little milk and water, and protein powder to be on your way to a protein-packed and metabolism-boosting breakfast that's a couple of hundred calories and keeps you full for hours."
You could even turn one of these 27 Best Immune-Boosting Smoothie Recipes into a protein shake!
Switch up the recipes.
Many people go through phases where they can't get enough of their super greens protein shake, and others where it tastes blah. According to wellness expert Emilie Perz, it's a normal part of the human appetite, which is why making swaps and experimenting with different flavors is effective for weight loss. A few of her favorites are:
- Swapping seeds or nuts for tahini: "This delicious sesame paste adds amazing flavor to shakes. Plus, it contains more protein than milk and most nuts. It's also rich in many vitamins, and just a tablespoon or dollop can add 3 to 4 grams of protein."
- Skip the protein powder for quinoa: "Just one cup adds 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber, which will also leave you feeling fuller, longer compared to processed powders. Another benefit is that it has a low-glycemic index, which means it won't spike your blood sugar like many powders that have artificial sweeteners and sugars do."
- Add cacao nibs: "They complement both tart green or rich vanilla smoothies and add texture and chew. Plus one ounce adds 3 to 4 grams of additional protein."
Speaking of shakes, Here's Exactly How to Build the Perfect Protein Shake for Breakfast.
Add healthy fats and fiber to your shakes.
If you're making your protein shake at home and your hope is to shed weight, celebrity chef and certified nutritionist Serena Poon says to make sure to add a bit of healthy fat and fiber. Adding fat may feel contradictory to dropping a pant size, but Poon says a small number of healthy options can keep you full and decrease your cravings. Her favorite options for protein shakes are avocado, nut butters, and coconut oil.
And don't forget fiber: you can add almost any vegetable to your blender for added fiber. "Fiber also helps your digestive system run smoothly, so you will be less likely to experience bloat. If you eat too many raw vegetables, though, they may become difficult to digest and have the opposite effect," she says. "Try out different veggies and quantities to figure out what works for you."
Choose a flavor according to your cravings.
We all enjoy different flavors, and curving that sweet tooth is no easy task, especially if you've had a diet full of sugar for a while. Rather than punishing yourself and depriving your tastebuds of what they want, Morris suggests using protein shakes to your advantage.
"Craving hot chocolate? A pumpkin spice latte? Coffee ice cream? All of these can be satisfied with a protein shake," she says. "Get creative with the extracts you use, the protein flavors, and even try drinking it hot vs. cold. Variety goes a long way."
Try it yourself with our Pumpkin Spice Smoothie Recipe.
Steer clear of protein shakes that are high in sugar or processed ingredients.
Protein shakes may give off the impression of being innately healthy, but many actually contain added sugars and processed ingredients, Poon warns. Before you select a protein shake, she urges dieters to do their research.
"Read the label and keep an eye out for anything over 5 to 10 grams of sugar, a long list of ingredients, or anything that you can't pronounce or that sounds like a chemical," she says. "It's also important to look into the integrity of the manufacturer and only purchase from a company that you trust to source clean ingredients."
Experiment with different milks.
Fun fact: what you mix your protein powder in will change your shake completely.
"If you want something creamy, cashew milk is wonderful and full of healthy fats. If you're looking to keep the calories as low as possible, unsweetened almond milk is a good go-to," Morris says. "And if you want a tropical flavor to combine with pineapple or mango flavors, coconut milk is best. Using something more than just water can provide a different flavor and consistency." And will make it less likely you'll skimp on your diet plan, since you'll feel satisfied from your shake. It's a yummy win-win!
But before building that protein shake, here's The Surprising Truth About Protein Powders You Need To Know.