If you’re obsessed with smoothies, here’s a pro tip to step up your game—don’t forget the protein! It helps to keep you full for longer, and it’s especially important after exercise, to help your muscles recover and rebuild. Do you need protein in every smoothie? Not necessarily, a smoothie can just be a refreshing drink. But if you’re treating it as breakfast or a post-workout snack, you definitely want to pump it up. For breakfast, try to hit 15 to 30 g of protein, and for a post-workout snack, more like 10 to 20 g of protein.
Many athletes reach for powders, made from whey, soy, and casein to get that protein boost. But they can be expensive and often hide processed ingredients and sweeteners—and still not taste great. If you’re trying to clean up your diet, or looking for other small ways to boost those grams, there are natural alternatives! Try these real ingredients, starting with delicious dairy, nuts, and seeds.
Greek yogurt | ½ cup (4 oz/125 g) | 13 g protein
Dairy is the tried-and-true way to dollop protein into your smoothie. Many sports nutrition studies focus on whey, a protein found in milk, yogurt, and cheese, and while it’s not the only option, there is solid research confirming the benefits. Greek yogurt is a tempting choice, for it’s smooth, creamy flavor and gut-friendly, active cultures.
Kefir | 1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) | 8 g protein
Kefir is one of those superfoods you might hear about, buy, and then stare at the bottle in your fridge for a while, wondering how to use it. The fermented milk is runnier than yogurt but thicker than milk, making it ideal for smoothies. Slurp your protein with a side of awesome probiotics.
Almond butter | 2 tablespoons | 7 g protein
If you’re vegan, lactose intolerant, or just don’t do dairy, nuts are up next, packing protein and healthy fats. If you have a high-powered blender, you can throw a handful of whole nuts right in. With a standard blender, nut butters go down easy. Use any type you like, so long as it’s unsweetened: almond and peanut are classic, or cashew butter is cool right now. Nut butters can muddy the flavor, but they match well with banana, cacao, cinnamon, and vanilla.
Tahini | 2 tablespoons | 5 g protein
Not feeling the nuts? Try seeds! Enter tahini, the paste that’s made of toasted and ground sesame seeds. Tahini traditionally flavors hummus, but there’s no reason you can’t spoon it into your smoothie, too.
Chia seeds | 2 tablespoons | 5 g protein
Superfood chia seeds are known for that tapioca-like texture (perfect for pudding), so expect some thickening. Before blending, it’s best to soak chia seeds in liquid to help them soften, at least 10 minutes or overnight.
Hemp heart seeds | 2 tablespoons | 7 g protein
Healthy eating experts and bloggers seriously heart hemp. The shelled seeds contain enough protein to make you do a double take. Plus, those tender hearts blend beautifully into drinks.
Oats | ¼ cup (¾ oz/20 g) | 3 g protein
You might not think of grains in terms of protein or smoothies, but a sprinkle of oats contains a surprising amount of protein, with fiber, to boot. Oats will definitely thicken your smoothie, so soak them first, if you like, and loosen with liquid.
These are the current favorites, but there are plenty of other protein-packing ingredients to try—silken tofu and low-fat cottage cheese work, too. And if the convenience of a powder is too hard to pass up, make sure you pick a good one. Fitbit nutritionist Tracy Morris doesn’t have a problem with 100 percent pure whey protein powder, even with a little raw cacao.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.