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How Do I Make My Protein Shake Not Taste Like a Protein Shake?

I’m looking for less powder and water, and more jamba and juice

I don’t know how I would have survived grad school if it hadn’t been for the protein shakes I blended together on the countertop of my microscopic kitchen counter each morning. On its own, the whey protein powder provided me with nothing short of a mouthful of chalky nastiness. However, I loaded that blender with a nutrient hodgepodge that rendered the powdered protein almost superfluous. 

Depending on the day, my whey protein would have been accompanied by some or all of the following: milk, bananas, spinach leaves, light blueberry or raspberry yogurt, raw eggs and honey. The benefit to packing a shake with so many food sources was that it often rendered lunch entirely unnecessary, and kept me thoroughly satiated until dinner time. 

And trust me, after you’ve spent at least a solid year experimenting with protein shake taste enhancers and upgrades — which in my case was because I didn’t have the first clue how to cook a respectable meal at the time — you become something of a self-styled expert on the matter. 

Awesome. So how do I make my protein shake taste better?

One of the first things you can do is decide whether or not you’re looking to bolster any of the other micronutrient or macronutrient content in your shake. Since I always used to wash mine down with a multivitamin, I typically didn’t worry about the former. However, when it comes to the latter, you’ve got tons of options, but much of it will be dependent upon the base flavor of your shake.

In my experience, most mainstream protein powders are available in either chocolate or vanilla variations, or both. With chocolate, you often need to consider what your favorite chocolate-fruit pairings are before you can even begin to think of throwing something into the mix. However, vanilla is a blank canvas of sweetness that’s defined more by the ingredients that are added to it. 

Let’s say I want to add more protein to my shake. What should I do?

One of the easiest things to do would be to add your favorite type of milk, provided that you’re not lactose intolerant. Milk is relatively neutral in terms of its flavor, and it will lend a creamy texture to the shake alongside the protein it contributes. Also, depending on how many calories you want brought to the table, you can vary that figure substantially simply through your decision to opt for skim milk (10 calories per ounce), 2-percent milk (15 calories per ounce) or whole milk (18.75 calories per ounce). 

If you want to add a similar creamy texture as well as some sweetness and extra flavoring, a light yogurt is a good option as it contributes 12 grams of protein and only a further 80 calories.

That’s all well and good, but I’m not so big on dairy, and I don’t need this shake to be creamy. I do want some added protein, though!

Okay, try peanut butter, especially if the base flavor of the shake is chocolate. Chocolate and peanut butter are natural companions, or at least that’s what Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Butterfingers have instructed me to believe. However, the caloric penalty (nearly 100 calories) for adding even a tablespoon of peanut butter to a shake is steep relative to the protein payoff (only four to five additional grams).

What if I just need something sweet to offset the acrid flavors of the spinach that’s in there?

First of all, that’s a smart move for sneaking in some vegetable antioxidant content, since spinach leaves usually blend up smoothly and are distributed easily, unlike a vegetable akin to a carrot

But to your question, one of the best ways to simultaneously improve the sweetness and texture of your smoothie is to introduce bananas to it. Be forewarned, though: As inviting as this may sound initially, the sweetness of a banana might vary greatly over the course of its ripening, so you may not be doing much of anything to counteract the bitterness of something like spinach by dropping in a banana if the banana isn’t ripe. Similarly, you can add other fruits to the blend, like blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. All of these flavorful berries can keep your shake from tasting like powder and water.

Of course, if the only thing you were ever interested in doing this entire time is adding a consistent dose of sweetness to your shake, that could have been accomplished easily with a standardized portion of natural or artificial sweetener, like sugar, honey, Splenda, Stevia, Sweet’n Low, Equal, Truvia or whatever else scientists have cooked up in a lab this month.

Thanks! I’ll be sure to give some of these a try.

No problem. But do me a favor and think through your rationale for adding each ingredient and carefully consider the ramifications. After all, if your true goal is to ratchet up the protein content of your shake while minimizing its caloric contribution to your diet, adding whole milk, a banana, three tablespoons of peanut butter and four tablespoons of honey might end up being delicious, but it’s also gonna be pretty self-defeating.