Smoothies are the perfect on-the-go breakfast: They’re fast and easy to make, and a convenient way to fuel up for the day or recover after a workout. They’re also a great way to get more protein into your morning.
Research has shown many benefits to enjoying breakfast, particularly when protein is involved. The American Society for Nutrition states that consuming a high-protein breakfast assists with better blood sugar control, reduced nighttime cravings, and increases in muscle mass. Consuming a breakfast that contains at least 18 grams (g) of protein was found to be an effective weight loss strategy, as it reduced participants’ intake of calories later on in the day, according to a meta-analysis published in August 2021 in the journal Nutrients. And people who drank a high-protein beverage at breakfast time gained more muscle and strength compared with those who consumed it at lunch or dinner, according to results of another study published in December 2021 in the Frontiers in Nutrition.
Despite these benefits, most Americans are not including enough protein in their morning meal, according to the American Society for Nutrition. Smoothies can be a tasty solution.
So how much protein should you be aiming for in your morning smoothie? The optimal amount you need in a day varies depending on factors including age, sex, body size, and activity level, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Estimates vary, but generally range from 0.8 g, per the Institute of Medicine, to 1.2 g, per other research, of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day. That means a person who weighs 130 pounds needs to consume between 47 and 71 g of protein, total, each day. This amount should ideally be spread out over the day, because your body can only handle so much protein at once.
If your goal is weight loss, you’ll want to get between 14 and 30 g of protein at breakfast. A study published in the Journal of Advances of Nutrition found that at least 30 g of protein at breakfast provided the most satiety and appetite control among participants. And people who had a morning snack that contained 14 g of protein ate fewer calories later in the day, according to a separate small study published in Nutrition Journal.
More protein at breakfast also supports other aspects of health, including stronger bones and a decreased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, per the University of Arkansas. Today’s Dietitian reported that eating high-protein snacks improves blood sugar levels, lowers blood pressure, and can improve athletic performance in active people.
The Best Types of Protein for Smoothies
A scoop of protein powder is far from 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 therefore they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to Colorado State University. This means no one is checking to see if the actual ingredients or amounts listed on the label are truly 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 protein powder that is third-party tested.
Many whole foods are great sources of high-quality protein. These include:
- Kefir: A fermented dairy beverage, kefir contains probiotics like yogurt, which aid in digestion and support immune health. One cup of nonfat plain kefir contains 9 g of protein, per U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. Kefir also contains calcium to support bone health, and is 99 percent lactose-free, so people with a lactose intolerance typically can tolerate it.
- Milk: One cup of cow’s milk contains 8 g of protein and is fortified with vitamin D and vitamin A, per the USDA. Vitamin D supports bone health, immune system and may improve one’s mood, while vitamin A supports eye and skin health. The USDA indicates that cow’s milk is also one of the cheapest complete protein sources, as defined by Johns Hopkins.
- Soy Milk: Nondairy milks can vary greatly in their protein content, but soy milk delivers among the most protein per serving compared with other plant-based beverages, according to Time magazine, and is nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk, per 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 plain, unsweetened carton of soy to limit added sugar intake.
- Greek Yogurt: Because it is strained, Greek yogurt has more protein than the regular kind, a whopping 25 g per cup of nonfat yogurt, per USDA data. It also contains live and active cultures, which supports gut health. Prebiotics and probiotics work better together, so pair a probiotic like Greek yogurt with a prebiotic like a banana in a smoothie, for a synbiotic effect.
- Cottage Cheese: Cheese? In a smoothie? Yes! Cottage cheese packs an amazing 23 g of protein into a cup, per USDA data, and its lumpy texture smooths out in the blender. It also contains bone-building minerals and some varieties even contain added probiotics. Look for low-sodium cottage cheese, so your smoothies aren’t salty.
- Tofu: Silken tofu blends easily, and a 3.5-ounce serving contains 7.4 g of plant-based protein, per USDA data. It also adds a creamy mouthfeel to smoothies and adds iron.
- Nuts: Peanuts pack the most protein per serving of all nuts with 7 g per ounce, per USDA data, although almonds and pistachios are close behind with 6 g per ounce each. In addition to protein, nuts also contain dietary fiber and healthy sources of fat. You can add nuts by the handful to your blender or add a tablespoon (tbsp) of two in nut butter form. Just be sure to use natural nut butter without added sugar or salt.
- Seeds: Like nuts, seeds offer a trifecta of protein, fiber, and healthy fat in a small package. Just 2 tbsp of hemp seeds has 6 g of protein, per the USDA, while the same amount of chia and flax seeds each have around 3 g. Per Oncology Nutrition, grinding flax in your blender will unlock their nutrients and help you better absorb their healthy fat and fiber.
- Oats: This whole grain can thicken a smoothie without affecting the taste much. You can add any variety of oat to your blender, from steel cut to quick cooking. Just ½ cup of quick oats pack 5.5 g of protein, per the USDA.
Once you stock up on your favorite quality protein sources, you can combine them to make all kinds of delicious and filling breakfast smoothies. Here are eight delicious examples.