Protein Powder Alternatives for Smoothies

February 11th, 2014 at 10:10 am

Protein Powder Alternatives

A few weeks ago I shared my thoughts on protein powder and why I think it does more harm than good. Last week, I touched on some protein-rich breakfast ideas without protein powder. But this week is where things really get exciting: let’s talk smoothies!

In our protein powder-obsessed nation, a smoothie only crosses the line into meal territory when we bulk it up with protein powder. But if we truly want to build a whole foods protein smoothie chock-full of healthy fat and satisfying protein from real food sources, we start scratching our heads.

Powder may be a whole lot more convenient for our morning blends, but from what I’ve learned about protein powder in the past few months, I’d much rather take a bit more time to whip up a real food smoothie instead. Let’s take a look at some much more natural sources of protein that we can be adding to our smoothies.

Chia Seeds

Hemp & Chia Seeds

Both are not only great sources of plant-based protein, but they’re also powerhouses of healthy omega-3 fats! These are the types of fat that actually help you burn stored body fat more effectively and can aid in weight loss. Packed with fiber, chia seeds in particular pack amazing satiating and hydrating power that works wonders for balancing blood sugar and helping us stay full.

Almond Butter

What can I say? I’m nuts for almond butter. It’ll give your smoothie an incredibly rich and creamy taste while also adding lots of good fats and some protein, too. My personal favorite is raw almond butter, but if you want more of a nutty flavor, go with roasted.

Nut-free? Sunflower seed butter is another great option, offering the same amount of protein as almond butter.


Great Lakes Gelatin

Great Lakes Gelatin

With a hefty amount of protein in every tablespoon, gelatin from grass-fed cows is a great addition to smoothies. Take note that you must use this brand of hydrolized gelatin so that it easily blends into liquids. The Great Lakes gelatin with the green label is what I recommend. If you use the kind with the red label, your smoothie will turn to a gloppy, gluey, clumpy mess!

Some nutritionists go so far as to recommend eating this gelatin every day, as it’s benefits are far-reaching (improvement of skin/hair/nails, joint care, healing for the gut, bone building, muscle building, and more). Ultimately it’s up to you to decide how frequently you’ll consume it, but I’m of the “variety is the spice of life” approach. Unless you’ve been guided by a health professional to include gelatin every day for therapeutic purposes, I personally believe that mixing things up and not becoming reliant on any one food/supplement is the best route.

That said, Great Lakes hydrolized gelatin is the most pure variety I’ve come across to date. And the fact that you can add it to cold or hot liquids without having to dissolve it is a big plus.

Goat’s Milk or Grass-Fed Cow’s Milk Yogurt

If you can tolerate dairy, goat’s milk or cow’s milk yogurt offers both protein and fat as well as probiotics, so it’s a great smoothie booster here and there. But please understand that it’s only a great protein source if you don’t have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy! I see so many people guzzling the milk and pounding back the cheese and yogurt only to find out years later that they’ve been intolerant to it the entire time. Situations like that can result in massive gut damage, so please be careful and listen to your body.

When it comes to choosing yogurt, go for plain (unsweetened) options that are preferably organic/grass-fed and full fat. Avoid low fat yogurt like the plague! Why? While it may be lower in fat, it’s almost always higher in sugar. But as Dr. Mark Hyman so smartly points out in this article and video, it’s not fat that makes us fat. It’s SUGAR that makes us fat.

So just for kicks, let’s create some hypothetical smoothies that incorporate the protein sources above.

Dairy-Free Protein Packed Smoothie


Dairy-Based Protein Packed Smoothie


As you can see, creating a protein-rich real food smoothie is all about choosing your ingredients strategically. But satisfying smoothies without protein powder can be done! And they can be done healthfully and deliciously.

Stay tuned for a new protein-rich smoothie recipe next week.

What are some of your favorite ways to boost the protein content naturally in your smoothies?

More posts in this series:



  1. I often add a (shelled) hard-boiled egg to my smoothies for protein. Once blended, there is no “boiled egg” taste. I have also added a cup of cooked lentils (with no added salt or spices). I would love your feedback on this smoothie recipe that I make for my kids:
    1 c. milk
    1/2 frozen banana
    1 c. spinach
    5 frozen cherries
    1/2 Tbs ground chia seeds
    1 tsp psyllium husk powder
    1 Tbs peanut butter
    1 Tbs cocoa powder
    a few drops of stevia (if needed)

  2. Thanks for this great post. I am struggling with breakfast options since I am gluten, dairy, soy and egg-free. I recently just developed a sensitivity to pea protein and am still grain-free (at the moment) so I am limited to hemp protein. It’s very frustrating.

  3. I feel your frustration on food choices. I avoid meat, gluten, dairy soy and some veggies and fruits, too. I never enjoyed making a protein drink. I liked doing so to ensure that I got in some protein. I am following Rawfully Organic for some of my eating plans and feel better eating that way.

    I do eat wild caught salmon but that’s about it. I like this site because it is healthier eating and I am curious about making protein drinks with the chia, which I love!

  4. I like to add avocado to my smoothie. It adds a wonderful creaminess and coconut oil is very goo, too.

  5. There is still this obsession and misconception that we need to eat lots of high-protein foods, especially if we are working out. And of course the “complete protein” or “complementing protein” theory, recanted decades ago, is still alive and well.

    You really don’t need to add high-protein foods to your meals, or to combine proteins to make sure that you get enough of each amino acid. Even if all you eat is potatoes, you will get enough protein.

    I am vegan, grain free, allergic to some nuts. My breakfasts are often some take on potato, sweet potato, chili, lentil soup, or buckwheat. I’m not big on smoothies other than as a dessert/treat or when I have just had dental work done.

  6. Great post.
    Anyone have ideas for smoothies with NO FRUIT???

  7. Does the gelatin have a taste at all? Or is it sort of neutral? Is it chalky?

    • Peggy: No, there is no taste at all and it’s not chalky. My very picky son has it in his chocolate milk (with homemade chocolate syrup) for lunch every day. I mix it up in his thermos and it stays dissolved nicely. Just make sure you buy the green container, not the red.

      • how do you make homemade chocolate syrup?

        • Homemade Chocolate Syrup: Mix 3/4 cup water, 3/4 cup cocoa powder , 1 cup maple syrup and 1 tsp vanilla in saucepan. Heat to a low simmer, stirring constantly until thickened. It will thicken more upon refrigeration. I use 1-2 tsp in a glass of milk (6-8 oz).

  8. Something else I always add to my smoothies (and anything else I can get away with!) along with gelatin is Argentine desiccated beef liver powder. So good for you and packed with protein!

  9. Hi there! I was hoping you could help me figure out a good rule of thumb for figuring out how much almond butter or chia seeds to use when replacing for a recipe with protein powder?

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