How to Make a Protein Smoothie Without Protein Powder

Protein powders are an easy and convenient way to boost the protein content of your smoothies, and if you’ve found a protein powder you like, that’s great. However, many people find the taste, texture, or idea of protein powders displeasing. Fear not! There are several ways you can boost the protein content of your smoothies using whole foods.

How to Make a Protein Smoothie Without Protein Powder

Protein-rich bases

Starting with a protein-rich liquid base is a surefire way to boost the protein content of your smoothie. Good high-protein options include cow’s milk or soymilk, both of which boast 8 grams of protein per cup. Greek yogurt is a protein superstar with an average of 17 grams in a single (6-ounce) serving. Oat milk also contains a moderate amount of protein, usually around 4 grams per cup. Nut milks such as almond milk contain less protein—only around 1 gram per cup—but can still make a great base for a protein-rich smoothie depending on what else you add in.

Protein-packed mix-ins

Many of the mix-ins we love in our smoothies for taste and texture can also help to increase the protein content.

  • Nuts, nut butters and seeds comprise some of the more obvious add-ins. A couple of tablespoons of peanut butter, for example, contain 8 grams of protein, while two tablespoons of hemp hearts or almond butter each contain around 7 grams.
  • Speaking of seeds, have you ever blended quinoa into your smoothie? Try it! Adding half a cup of cooked quinoa to your smoothie provides 4 grams of complete protein, along with adding fiber, which will help fill you up.
  • A half-cup of oats will add about 5 grams of protein to your smoothie. Soaking them overnight, or even for just a couple of hours, will make them blend easily and helps turns your smoothie into a filling and protein-rich drink.
  • Beans, beans, good for your heart… and they’re good for your smoothie, too! Yes, beans! Try blending black beans into a chocolate-flavored smoothie or cannellini beans into a smoothie with vanilla as the flavor base. I promise you, it blends into a smooth and creamy shake and you won’t taste the beans at all. Half a cup of black beans provides 15 grams of protein.
  • Tofu is also a good choice for adding plant-based protein to your smoothies. I recommend silken tofu if you have it, but any kind will do. I’ve been known to toss a bit of leftover extra-firm tofu into the mix and it blends up nicely, although the taste is a little more ‘tofu-y’ than with silken tofu. The protein content in tofu ranges by firmness, but a good ballpark figure is around 10 grams of protein per 100 grams of tofu.
  • Greens! Love green smoothies? Good news! The protein in the greens you’re blending in totally counts! Depending on what greens you choose, you’ll be adding an extra 1 to 3 grams of protein per cup. For example, one packed cup of kale has nearly 3 grams of protein.
  • In the dairy world, with around 12 grams of high-quality protein per 100g (about half a cup), cottage cheese is a definite winner in the protein department.

Combinations for maximum protein

Depending on how you combine some of these ingredients, you can end up with a mighty powerful protein smoothie based entirely on whole foods.

  • Start with 1 cup of almond milk (1 gram of protein), half a cup of black beans (15 grams of protein) and 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds (7 grams of protein) and your smoothie already contains 23 grams of protein! Add in a banana, a couple of dates and a tablespoon of cocoa powder, and you’ve got a delicious chocolate smoothie.
  • Try 1 cup of Greek yogurt (17 grams of protein), half a cup of soaked oats (5 grams of protein) and 2 packed cups of kale (6 grams of protein) and you’re already at 28 grams of protein. Just add some fruit and you’re good to go!
  • Start with a cup of soy milk (8 grams of protein), 2 tablespoons of almond butter (7 grams of protein) a tablespoon of chia seeds (3 grams of protein) and you’re at 18 grams of protein before you’ve added anything else. Adding a couple of handfuls of your favorite greens would bump it up to 20 grams of protein.

So, as you can see, building a protein-rich smoothie entirely from whole foods can be just as easy and convenient as using a protein powder—and, dare I say, even more delicious!

More Protein Smoothie Ideas

Chocolate Black Bean Brownie Smoothie

Chocolate Black Bean Brownie Smoothie

This chocolate smoothie from The Muffin Myth is protein-powered with beans, but we promise you won't taste them one bit! It's all chocolatey goodness going down.

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Chocolate Hemp Seed Smoothie

Chocolate Hemp Seed Smoothie

Hemp seeds are the magic ingredient for boosting the protein content in this chocolate smoothie from The Roasted Root.

Chocolate Hemp Seed Smoothie →


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Blueberry Mango Smoothie

Blueberry Mango Smoothie

This Blueberry Mango Smoothie from Cookie Monster Cooking uses both Greek yogurt and milk for a blast of protein that'll keep you satisfied.

Blueberry Mango Smoothie →


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Mexican Chocolate Breakfast Shake

Mexican Chocolate Breakfast Shake

Oats are the magic ingredient in this Mexican Chocolate Breakfast Shake. Combined with a bit of almond milk, it's vegan protein power for the win!

Mexican Chocolate Breakfast Shake →


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Chocolate Peanut Butter Chia Smoothie

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chia Smoothie

This delicious chocolate smoothie from Connoisseurus Veg uses peanut butter AND chia seeds for a quick 1-2 protein punch.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chia Smoothie →


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Strawberry Coconut Lime Smoothie

Strawberry Coconut Lime Smoothie

Soaked cashews + hemp hearts turn this strawberry lime smoothie into a creamy and protein-rich delight.

Strawberry Coconut Lime Smoothie →


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Power Pumpkin Seed Smoothie

Power Pumpkin Seed Smoothie

Pumpkin seeds, vanilla yogurt, and almond milk make for a protein-rich trifecta in this delicious fall smoothie from Hello Natural.

Power Pumpkin Seed Smoothie →


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Quinoa Smoothie

Quinoa Smoothie

Quinoa + Greek yogurt + milk means that this smoothie from My Fussy Eater really packs in the protein.

Quinoa Smoothie →


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Peanut Butter Protein Power Smoothie

Peanut Butter Protein Power Smoothie

This Peanut Butter Protein Power smoothie from Kitchen Treaty is seriously proteined up! With peanut butter, yogurt, chia, AND flax seeds, who needs protein powder?

Peanut Butter Protein Power Smoothie →


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Strawberry Coconut Super Smoothie

Strawberry Coconut Super Smoothie

Oats, almond milk, and hemp seeds come together in this Strawberry Coconut Super Smoothie from The Muffin Myth for a stick-to-your-ribs start to your day.

Strawberry Coconut Super Smoothie →


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Spinach Almond Smoothie

Spinach Almond Smoothie

Don't forget that greens count too! This Spinach Almond Smoothie from Dishing Up The Dirt combines spinach, almond butter, and almond milk for a healthy and protein-rich smoothie.

Spinach Almond Smoothie →


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This post was originally published on August 31, 2014.

About Katie

Katie is a university-trained nutritionist and professional writer based in Stockholm, Sweden. She is a vegetarian of more than two decades, and is passionate about real food. Her blog The Muffin Myth is all about approachable nutrition.   Read more from Katie →

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Comments

  1. says

    Great post!! It’s often assumed that protein shakes have to be packed with isolated protein powders which often leave a lot to be desired in the taste department and are not whole foods, so proving this is not always necessary is fantastic. 🙂

  2. says

    I’ve never thought about adding beans to my smoothies for protein! I’m often throwing my smoothie together while packing lunch and this would be such an easy way to add protein to my green smoothie! I love baking with beans and you are right, you never taste them (kind of like spinach in a green smoothie). Thanks for the great ideas!!

  3. says

    Great idea! I actually use quite a few of these, but some of them are a good idea that I would never have thought of. Interesting you put tofu into them, I could see how that would work. I love to bulk up my smoothies without powder, as its so much better for you. This is a great way to refuel quickly after a run, thank you!

  4. says

    Awesome ideas! I’m all about smoothies lately, so this will definitely come in handy. Thanks for including my chocolate peanut butter chia smoothie. Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it already, my boyfriend and I absolutely loved your chocolate black bean brownie smoothie – we will definitely be having that one again! 🙂

  5. says

    I’m so glad you wrote this post! There are so many whole food sources of protein out there, and I find most protein powders totally gross. I love using most of these suggestions for my smoothies, especially nut butters and seeds.

  6. says

    Great post! I’m a protein powder fan, but I also like using soy milk, nut butters, seeds, and oats in my smoothies. I love making green juices, but for some reason I never really incorporate greens into my smoothies. I think it’s because I like my smoothies all sweet and brightly colored – ha! – but perhaps I should try throwing some spinach in there sometime 🙂

    • says

      A lot of protein powders are all full of artificial sweeteners or other additives. I’m mainly not a fan of the chalky taste and texture, so much prefer adding real foods to boost the protein instead!

  7. Teresa says

    Don’t forget frozen peas. I bought fresh, shucked peas at a farmer’s market last year, blanched and froze them. Couldn’t use them up fast enough, so I started throwing them into smoothies. Loved it.

  8. Susan says

    This is a most interesting post. I always use whey protein powder to add protein to my smoothies. I also use Great Lakes gelatin (collagen hydrosylate) for an extra boost. I am intrigued by the idea of adding quinoa, and appreciate the advice to soak the oats before using. Especially when I don’t have my high speed blender… Having a chewy smoothie always gets to my husband. 🙂

  9. Yee says

    I’m looking at trying to make a bean smoothie and to be honest, I don’t know if I need to cook the beans first? Thank you so much in advance! 🙂

    • says

      If you’re using canned beans, then they’re already cooked. If you’re starting with dried beans you’ll need to soak and cook them before you do anything at all with them!

  10. Amine says

    Hi, Are we talking raw beans or cooked beans ? because i don’t think half a cup of cooked beans contains 15g of Protein…Raw beans would destroy my blender lol

  11. Nicole says

    Thank you for writing this! Most protein powders whether whey or plant based both give me horrible stomachs pains. I am glad to find more natural ways to add protein in my morning breakfast shakes

  12. says

    Hi Katie I have a 3yr old is is allergic to dairy, nuts, gluten, and soy but he is underweight and I would like to prepare a weight gaining smoothie for him any suggestions.

    • says

      Hi Tanya. I would look for calorie dense foods like avocado and banana for your base. Can he eat seeds? Hemp seeds are a great source of healthy fats and protein, and you could replace nut butters with seed butters like sunflower seeds. Soaking oats and putting them into your smoothies is also a good idea for making them more calorie dense. Good luck!

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