Smoothies are the perfect on-the-go breakfast: they’re quick and easy to make, and a convenient way to fuel up for the day or recover after a workout. It’s also a great way to get more protein in your morning.
Research has shown many benefits to enjoying breakfast, especially when it comes to protein. The American Dietetic Association states that eating a high-protein breakfast helps with better control of blood sugar, reduces nighttime cravings, and increases muscle mass. Eating a breakfast containing at least 18 grams of protein was found to be an effective weight loss strategy, as it reduced participants’ calorie intake later in the day, according to a meta-analysis published in August 2021 in the journal Nutrients. And people who drank a high-protein drink at breakfast time gained more muscle and strength compared to those who drank it at lunch or dinner, according to the results of another study published in December 2021 in frontiers in nutrition.
Despite these benefits, most Americans do not include enough protein in their morning meal, according to the American Dietetic Association. Smoothies can be a tasty solution.
So how much protein should you aim for in your morning smoothie? The optimal amount you need per day varies with factors including age, gender, body size and activity level, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Estimates vary, but generally range from 0.8 grams, according to the Institute of Medicine, to 1.2 grams, per other research, of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day. This means that a person who weighs 130 pounds needs to consume between 47 and 71 grams of protein in total each day. This amount should be ideally distributed throughout the day, because your body can only handle so much protein at one time.
If weight loss is your goal, you’ll want to get between 14 and 30 grams of protein at breakfast. Study published in Journal of Advances in Nutrition It found that at least 30g of protein at breakfast provided the most satiety and appetite control among the participants. According to a separate small study published in the Nutrition Journal.
More protein at breakfast also supports other aspects of health, including strengthening bones and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to the University of Arkansas. Today’s Dietitian reports that eating high-protein snacks improves blood sugar levels, lowers blood pressure, and can improve athletic performance in active people.
The best protein for smoothies
A scoop of protein powder isn’t the only way to add this valuable nutrient to your smoothies. Although protein powders are convenient, they do come with some risks. Protein powders are considered a dietary supplement, and therefore are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to Colorado State University. This means that no one is checking to see if the actual ingredients or amounts listed on the label are actually in the scoop of protein. Protein powders tend to be processed, and may contain added sugars, calories, and harmful contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides, reports Harvard Health Publishing. To avoid these toxins, choose a third-party tested protein powder.
Many whole foods are great sources of high-quality protein. These include:
- kefir: A fermented dairy drink, kefir contains probiotics like yogurt, which aid in digestion and support immune health. One cup of plain, fat-free kefir contains 9 g of protein, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Kefir also contains calcium to support bone health, and is 99% lactose-free, so people who are lactose intolerant can usually tolerate it.
- Milk: One cup of cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein and is fortified with vitamin D and vitamin A, according to the USDA. Vitamin D supports bone health and the immune system and may improve mood, while Vitamin A supports eye and skin health. The USDA notes that cow’s milk is also one of the cheapest sources of complete protein, as defined by Johns Hopkins.
- I milk: Dairy-free varieties can vary greatly in their protein content, but soy milk offers among the most protein per serving compared to other plant-based beverages, according to time magazine, and is nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk, according to the USDA. One cup of soy milk contains 7 g of protein, notes USDA data. Soy milk is also lactose-free and also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Choose a can of unsweetened plain soybeans to limit your intake of added sugar.
- Greek yogurt: Because it’s filtered, Greek yogurt contains more protein than the regular kind, which is 25 grams per cup of nonfat yogurt, according to USDA data. It also contains live and active cultures, which support gut health. Prebiotics and probiotics work best together, so pair a probiotic like Greek yogurt with a prebiotic like a banana in a smoothie, for a synbiotic effect.
- cheese: cheese? in juice? Yes! Cottage cheese packs 23 grams of protein into a cup, according to USDA data, and is smoothed to a lumpy texture in a blender. It also contains bone-building minerals and some varieties have added probiotics. Look for low-sodium cottage cheese, so smoothies aren’t salty.
- Tofu: Silken tofu mixes easily, and a 3.5-ounce serving contains 7.4 grams of plant-based protein, according to USDA data. It also adds a creamy texture to smoothies and adds iron.
- Nuts: Peanuts have the most protein per serving of all nuts with 7 grams per ounce, according to USDA data, although almonds and pistachios are close at 6 grams per ounce. In addition to protein, nuts also contain dietary fiber and healthy sources of fat. You can add a handful of nuts to your blender or add a tablespoon (tbsp) of two in the form of nut butter. Just be sure to use natural nut butters with no added sugar or salt.
- Seeds: Like nuts, seeds offer a trifecta of protein, fiber, and healthy fats in a small package. Just 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds contain 6 grams of protein, according to the USDA, while the same amount of chia and flax seeds contain about 3 grams. According to Oncology Nutrition, grinding flax in your blender will unlock nutrients and help you better absorb healthy fats and fiber.
- Oats: These whole grains can thicken the smoothie without affecting the taste too much. You can add any type of oatmeal to your blender, from steel cut to quick cooking. Just ½ cup of quick oats contains 5.5 grams of protein, per the USDA.
Once you stock up on your favorite high-quality protein sources, you can combine them to make all kinds of delicious and filling breakfast smoothies. Here are eight delicious examples.