8 Ways to Add Protein to Your Smoothie

ways to add protein to smoothie

With whole food ingredients

One of my all-time most popular recipes is my Chocolate Hemp Protein Shake, a simple smoothie that packs 18 grams of protein but uses no protein powders!  A combination of hemp seeds and almond butter (along with small amounts of protein from the other ingredients) easily reaches that number without needing to add additional supplements.

But that's not the only way to add more protein to your workout shake.  Here's a list of 8 other ways you can bump up the protein, usually real food. The cool thing about these whole foods is that they provide so many other nutrients (like antioxidants, fiber, omega 3s, vitamins, minerals, etc) in addition to the protein, so don't fall into the trap of just looking at the protein on the nutrition facts.  

The serving size for each ingredient is based on a 24-32 ounce smoothie.  With all of these additions, start with about 1/4 of the suggested serving size and work up to the full amount.  No reason to ruin your smoothie with a 1/2 cup a beans and then realize that you hate it!  

1. Cooked Red Lentils

Suggested serving size: 1/2 cup cooked lentils
Grams of protein: 9g
Tips: Cook red lentils ahead of time (plain--no seasoning!) and freeze or refrigerate to add scoops to smoothies and soups.  Red lentils turn mushy when cooking, so be sure to let them cook fully and then drain.  Here's a sample recipe.  Skip these or work up to the full amount if you have trouble digesting beans.

2. Cooked White Beans

Suggested serving size: 1/2 cup cooked white beans (rinsed and drained from can)
Grams of protein: 8g
Tips: Thoroughly rinse and drain canned beans to lessen that bean-y taste.  Extra beans can be tossed into salads, bowl meals, or soups.  Cannelini, navy beans, or any white bean would work (others like black bean, kidney, chickpeas, would work to a certain extent too--they just have stronger colors and flavors and don't blend into the smoothie as well.) Like lentils, those who can't tolerate beans should skip this one or try 2 tablespoons to start.

3. Hemp Seeds

Suggested serving size: 3 tablespoons hemp seeds
Grams of protein: 10g
Tips: Add these buttery and slightly grassy seeds to smoothies and they'll blend right in and add a little creaminess as well.  I keep a bag in my pantry to add to salads, oatmeal, and smoothies.  Find them at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or online.  

4. Nut Butters

Suggested serving size: 2 tablespoons nut butter
Grams of protein: 6-8g
Tips: Peanut butter and almond butter are the most common spreads to add to smoothies, other varieties like cashew or brazil nut would work too.  Be sure to buy butters that only list 2 ingredients: the nut and salt.  Otherwise you'll dilute your protein and nutrition with unnecessary oils and sugar.  Nut butters are a great addition to smoothies if you DON'T have a high-powered blender since the blending is already done for you!

5. Whole Nuts

Suggested serving size: 1/4 cup
Grams of protein: 8g
Tips: If you do have a high-powered blender (or if you don't mind a little grittiness), whole nuts will blend right into your smoothie as well!  This is a great way to make use of odds and ends that build up in the pantry.  Unroasted, unsalted, raw nuts work best.  Soak for up to 8 hours (if you can!) to unlock more nutrients, strain the soaking liquid and blend in with the rest of your ingredients.  I like almonds, cashews, and macadamias this way.

6. Rolled Oats

Suggested serving size: 1/2 cup rolled oats
Grams of protein: 5g
Tips: Rolled oats thicken smoothies by absorbing extra liquid so be sure that you add plenty of liquid.  Blend for an extra minute or so to get rid of any grittiness.  You can soak the oats ahead of time too (like for overnight oats) if you like.  Oats add some protein but also soluble fiber which is good for digestion and lowering "bad" cholesterol.

7. Chia Seeds

Suggested serving size: 2 tablespoons chia seeds
Grams of protein: 4g
Tips: Chia seeds are a decent source of protein but also rich in ALA Omega 3 Fatty Acids.  Chia seeds absorb up to 20x their weight in water, so, unsurprisingly, will also thicken your smoothie by soaking up any extra liquid (that's basically how you make chia pudding too.)  That's actually why I stick to 2 tablespoons, otherwise your blender might be a big clumpy mess that's hard to clean!  Extra chia can be stirred directly in your glass, although you may end up with more of a pudding consistency.

8. Kefir

Suggested serving size: 1 cup plain, unsweetened kefir
Grams of protein: 11g
Tips: Kefir is a fermented milk product that's somewhat similar to yogurt, but thinner and native to Eastern Europe and Central Asian.  If you tolerate dairy well, use this probiotic beverage in place of water or non-dairy milk in your smoothie.  Like all dairy products seek the highest quality (organic, grassfed, small-scale, or homemade if possible) for both your health and the cow's. :)

Looking for more ideas or OK with a powder as long as it's not super processed and chalky? 

Non-vegetarians might like collagen powder (like this one from Vital Proteins) because it's relatively tasteless and blends into just about anything.  For a plant-based protein powder, I like Manitoba Hemp Pro and SunWarrior Blend Natural.  Protein powders can be great (especially when you really need to amp up protein like in pregnancy or after an illness) but for culinary reasons, I like the real food ingredients better.  They are usually cheaper and more versatile:  I can use a bag of almonds for different uses all month, whereas a $30 tub of protein powder sits in my cabinet until the next time I make a smoothie.

Have any suggestions that I left out? Write them in the comments below.