Protein Shake Check-Up

So you’ve found the PERFECT protein shake. You’ve tested, you’ve tweaked, you’ve tested, you’ve tweaked and now it is divine. And Nik has to come and mess it all up!

It’s good, as we’re playing with our food, to every once in a while do a “check up” on our protein shakes (with all our recipes really) to make sure we’re still moving in the right direction.


Well protein shakes are a tricky thing. It’s easy for them to tiptoe over the line of being protein heavy to being carb heavy. As I’ve said ad nauseum, carbs are NOT evil. But your protein shake should be predominantly protein. So let’s go over how you give YOUR shake a check up.

The Base

What liquid/soft substances are you using with your base? Some popular ones are water, milk and Greek yogurt. I did hear recently of a post-op who uses a bit of ice cream in their shake. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Here are some things to consider:

  • What percentage of fat is in my shake base? If you’re using whole milk that could tip the balance of your shake toward being more fat than protein, depending on other ingredients.
  • How many carbs are in my base? Milk has 12g of carbs. That’s fine so long as you’re watching your carbs in other places. Yogurts tend to be lower in carbs but they are still present. I will sound like a broken record, but carbs, in and of themselves, are not bad! We just need to make sure our shake stays protein heavy.

As for the ice cream in the shake, I don’t advise it. I also don’t rule your pouches. But do the right thing, people!

The Protein Powder

What protein powder are you using? For the purposes of this check up one kind of protein isn’t as important as the stats. Yes, some proteins are more easily absorbed than others, but the ones we tend to use are about on equal playing fields. It’s the stuff companies add to the protein powder to flavor it that can get us tripped up. Here are your questions there:

  • How much fat is in my protein powder? Usually there isn’t a lot.
  • How many overall carbs? If you have a powder high in carbs, you’re likely using a powder meant for bodybuilders. Go to GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe or someplace where someone can help you pick out one meant for weight loss.
  • How many of those carbs are sugar? Most decent protein powders have less than 5g of sugar.
  • Where does the sugar come from? Look at the ingredients. If no table sugar is listed, and sugar can have many names, it is likely from the protein source which is likely to be lactose found in whey concentrate mixes.
  • How much protein does it have relative to calories? Here, the 10:1 rule is a good one, in my humble opinion. If your protein powder doesn’t have at least one gram of protein for every 10 calories, you need to re-think that protein powder. So a 120 calorie protein powder would need to have at least 12g protein. Most powders have way more than that, some even having 2g of protein per 10 calories (the maximum amount possible per 10 calories).

Your Additives

This is where many of us get into trouble with protein shakes. Firstly, protein powder already has its own flavor additives. Secondly, if you’re not careful it’s VERY easy to throw your shake stats off with just a little of something extra. Here, for what it’s worth, are a few things I NEVER put in my protein shake (and what I use instead).

  • A whole banana. Bananas are something of a sugar nightmare amongst fruits but they do have good nutrition which is why I still love them. If you must use banana, I’d suggest using half of one and freezing it. It ripens up and makes your shake really creamy. I use a tablespoon sugar-free banana cream pudding mix instead. You can also use sugar-free banana flavored syrup if you feel so inclined.
  • Peanut Butter, in ANY quantity. One tablespoon of peanut butter has 100 calories and 7.5g fat. Need I say more? You have several substitution options. Some protein powders are peanut butter flavored. Then there is peanut flour, like PB2, and there is sugar-free peanut butter flavored syrup. I suggest the former. But that’s just me.
  • Cream Cheese. Same deal as peanut butter. Too many calories, not enough protein given in return. If I want to make a cheesecake flavored shake I use sugar-free cheesecake flavored pudding mix. One tablespoon. BONUS TIP: to really make it cheesecakey, give it a squirt of lemon juice or a packet of True Lemon. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes!

Other than that, just take into account how many extra calories you’re adding to your shake. I’d also encourage you to think about your “return on investment.” What I mean by that is you are taking a certain amount of extra calories but what are you getting for it? Sometimes your pay-out is not in protein. For instance, I use sugar-free pudding mixes to make my shakes thicker and creamier when I want them that way. I’m willing to pay the caloric price for that when the mood hits me.

The Big Picture

Ok, so you’ve looked at all the parts of your shake, now it’s time to bring it all together.

Figure out the stats to your whole shake. Is it protein heavy? Here’s the scale I use for myself:

  • Green light: WAY more protein (10+ grams more) than carbs or fat
  • Yellow light: A bit more protein (6+grams) than carbs or fat
  • Red light: The same amount of protein as carbs or fat or less

If you get into the yellow or red light district, go back and look at each of those components I described above. Think about what swaps you can make to bring your protein shake back to the land of the living.

Yes, this may seem like a lot to think about. I don’t suggest doing this every day. But if you are in a stall, a protein shake check up could very well help you out of it. It’s important to be aware of what we put into our bodies!

These are the types of topics that will be included in my mythical but really-for-real-its-coming-and-its-almost-finished protein shake book. I’ll give an update on that soon. Until then…

Click here for a free PDF download of The Protein Shake Check-Up to share with your support group and friends!

Protein Shake Check-Up
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  1. Very insightful…good food for thought!! Thank you!

  2. I usually go for Musle Milk, what’s your take on the brand?

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