We probably all know someone who swears by their protein shake, whether as a meal replacement or as an after-workout drink. There’s a time and a place for an extra dose of protein, especially if you’re deficient or have specific dietary concerns, but some of the protein powders on the market today aren’t exactly the healthiest.
The unfortunate truth is that some protein powders are full of less-than-desirable ingredients—think artificial sweeteners, thickeners, heavy metals, and even sneaky trans fat. The best protein shakes are the ones you make yourself, whether by using a quality powder or blending high-protein ingredients like yogurt or chickpeas (yep, you heard that right!). But where to start? No need to fret—we’ve figured it out so you don’t have to.
The problem with protein powders
If you already get plenty of protein in your diet, there’s probably no need to supplement with shakes. But let’s get real—not everyone can get the perfect amount of nutrients they need every day of the year. In cases like this, drinking a healthy protein shake could be a once-in-a-while solution.
Like pretty much every product on the market, protein powders and pre-made shakes come in varying degrees of quality, and just like anything else, they could contain impurities. We don’t say this to frighten you—we just want to encourage you to check the label and do a quick online search so that you don’t do more harm than good.
Finding a reputable brand is essential when going for a protein powder, especially since there have been reports of contaminants finding their way into popular protein powders. The nonprofit group Clean Label Project published a report screened 52 top-selling brands for 130 toxins, and the results weren’t pretty—many of the tested protein powders contained heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead, pesticides, and cancer-causing bisphenol-A (BPA).
If you do decide to go the powder route, be sure to check out Clean Label Project’s website to make sure the brand you purchase is up to scratch. According to the report, the plant-based powders scored the lowest, meaning that choosing whey protein could be a better choice if contamination is your concern. Additionally, we recommend that you purchase a protein powder with at least 70% protein.
Here are three of the most common types of protein powders you’re likely to find on the market today:
Whey: Made from cow’s milk, whey protein is the kind you probably see most often in supermarkets and supplement stores. Quickly absorbed by the body, this type of protein contains all of the essential amino acids. Make sure to steer clear if you’re lactose intolerant!
Hemp: Fully vegan and plant-based, hemp protein has a grassy flavor and a notably higher amount of fiber than other protein powders. It’s a good choice if you don’t eat dairy products (and happen to like the color green).
Pea protein: This hypoallergenic protein variety is an option for those who can’t tolerate dairy, soy, or other allergens. However, just note that it doesn’t contain all the essential amino acids necessary to make a complete protein, so be sure to mix it with another source of protein to make it more useful for your body.
Shake things up: For more information on protein powders, take a look at 8fit’s Guide to Protein Powder.
Some of the best protein shakes don’t require protein powder
If you’d rather stick to consuming whole versions of protein, add some of these mix-ins to your blender.
Greek yogurt: At 15 to 20 grams of protein in a 6-ounce serving, Greek yogurt is an excellent choice. Add a couple of tablespoons of the unsweetened variety to your smoothie to power up.
Chickpeas: We know it sounds crazy, but cooked chickpeas can make an excellent smoothie ingredient—don’t knock it ’til you try it! If you get the canned variety, be sure to get the plain type and rinse before you use them. Add ¼ cup of them to your smoothie alongside something with a stronger flavor like bananas or nut butter.
Flax seeds: With two grams of protein per tablespoon, flaxseeds offer a signficant amount of protein for their small size. No, you won’t get the same high amount of protein as in an artificial powder, but what you will get is high-quality. And, as an added bonus, flax seeds are rich in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
Oats: There’s a reason why oatmeal has a reputation for being health. Not only are oats a great source of dietary fiber, but they’re also chock-full of protein. At 11 grams in one cup, oats pack in a serious protein punch. Add a ¼ cup to any smoothie for some extra texture and flavor.
All about the oats? Check out our article on how to make oat milk to discover another way to incorporate this versatile ingredient.
Protein shake recipes to whizz up at home
Since we do our best to use mostly whole foods in our recipes, that means you’ll need a blender for the ones we’ve listed here. They may not be your traditional protein shake recipes (with just a protein powder, water, and a shaker), but we like them a whole lot more. We think these shakes are some of the best protein shakes out there because they contain more than just protein—they’re also chock-full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to provide you with a balanced diet.
Below we’ve included a few of our best protein shake recipes—you’ll find all of these and many more when you subscribe to 8fit Pro—for making with your blender. Two of our recipes require no protein powder at all, but we’ve included one with a scoop of powder in case you have some you want to use. And, if you’d like to forgo the protein powder entirely, feel free to substitute two tablespoons of Greek yogurt for a scoop of protein powder. Drink up!
Chunky Sesame Banana Smoothie
- 2 banana
- 2 Tbsp peanut butter
- 2 cups almond milk
- 3 tsp raw cacao powder
- 4 Tbsp protein powder
- 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
- Combine all the ingredients together and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
Spiced oatmeal smoothie
- 2 tsp almond butter (plain, without added sugar) (~⅓ oz)
- 1 tsp honey or agave syrup (~¼ oz)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ apple (~2 ¾ oz)
- 3 Tbsp Greek yogurt, plain (low-fat) (~2 oz)
- ½ cup buttermilk (or skim milk) (~4 oz)
- 3 Tbsp rolled oats (uncooked) (~¾ oz)
- 1 ice cube (~⅛ oz)
- a tiny bit of cinnamon
- a tiny bit of raw cocoa powder (~⅛ oz)
- Wash the apple, remove the core and chop it coarsely.
- Put the chopped apple into a blender and blend so that there are only small pieces (you can also use a knife).
- Add the other ingredients (oats, buttermilk, yogurt, cinnamon, cocoa powder, vanilla, honey, almond butter, and ice cubes).
- Blitz on a high power until smooth.
- Pour into a glass or jar.
- Finish with a light dusting of cinnamon on top and enjoy!
Banana and Orange Smoothie
- ⅔ cup Greek yogurt, unsweetened (regular) (~6 oz)
- 2 ½ Tbsp ground flaxseeds (~1 oz)
- ½ banana (~2 oz)
- 1 orange (~5 oz)
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil (~½ oz)
- ½ cups water
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger (grated) (~⅓ oz)
- Peel and chop the banana and oranges then add to a blender along with the yogurt, flaxseed, coconut oil, cinnamon, grated ginger, and a splash of water.
- Blend on high until well mixed and smooth.
- Serve and enjoy!
Bulking up? If you're upping your protein intake to increase muscle mass, try some of these weight gainer shakes.