5 Ways to Boost Your Protein Shake
by Jeff Tomko
A protein shake doesn’t need to be complicated to do its job. Add a serving of high-quality protein powder to a shaker bottle with a few ounces of water and you’re good to go. Simple, but effective.
That said, while muscle building and post-workout recovery are typically the main benefits we associate with protein shakes, why limit yourself? Just as shakes can serve as a quick and convenient delivery system for protein, they can be equally efficient at delivering other nutrients with complementary benefits.
From shoring up your immune defenses to providing a post-workout mental boost to power you through the rest of the workday, the right ingredients can bolster your shake with all kinds of extra perks.
Ready to shake things up? Read on for five go-to protein shake power-ups from Living Fit dietician Catherine Gervacio, R.D.
Ingredient: Rolled Oats
Bonus Benefit: Pre-Workout Energy
Packing 29 grams of high-quality carbs per quarter cup, rolled (or “old fashioned”) oats have more to offer than another boring bowl of oatmeal. This power ingredient can infuse your smoothie with satiating fiber and complex carbs for sustained energy—perfect for the start of your day or even before a workout. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends rolled oats before workouts, notably for their ability to reduce oxidative stress created during exercise (thanks to the powerful antioxidant avenanthramide) and slow the absorption of carbs for prolonged energy. Just be sure not to accidentally grab instant oats instead. “Rolled oats have more fiber in them, so they’re digested more slowly than instant oats,” Gervacio says. “This can help keep you energized during your workout for a longer period of time.”
TRY THIS: Add about a quarter cup of rolled oats to your regular pre-workout shake, along with an extra cup of almond milk for consistency. You canalso add additional flavor and nutrients to your pre-workout smoothies with antioxidant-rich berries like strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries.
Ingredient: Pasteurized Egg Whites
Bonus Benefit: Post-Workout Recovery
The quality of your calories should never be overlooked, especially right after a tough workout when key nutrients are depleted and your body is primed to spin protein into new muscle. Pasteurized egg whites deliver a healthy dose of muscle-building protein with minimal calories. “It’s a powerful post-workout protein choice as well as a source for replenishing energy and nutrients that support the muscles,” Gervacio says. According to 2021 research published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, opting for egg whites is a smart way to reap the anabolic benefits of one of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods while dodging the unnecessary extra cholesterol and calories found in egg yolks.
TRY THIS: Add two or three egg whites to your post-workout smoothie. If you’ve got a blender handy, experiment with complementary ingredients like banana and nuts, which will contribute potassium and healthy fats, respectively.
Ingredient: Greek Yogurt
Bonus Benefit: Immune Support
Greek yogurt’s 12 grams of protein per serving is reason enough to add this ingredient to your shake–especially at just 70 calories. But Greek yogurt is also rich in probiotics—healthy bacteria that help digest food, synthesize vitamins, and protect against inflammation. “The probiotics found in Greek yogurt can help reduce disease-causing agents, and therefore aid in immune system function,” Gervacio says. A 2014 study published in the The British Journal of Nutrition found that probiotics could shorten the duration of respiratory infections. More recently, a 2018 study found that probiotics like those found in Greek yogurt may increase the production of immune cells, strengthen the lining of the gut, and suppress the growth of harmful bacteria.
TRY THIS: try adding about half a cup of yogurt to your next shake. To up the immune-boosting potential of your shake even further, add a cup of spinach—a low-calorie green rich in antioxidants and chockfull of iron.
Bonus Benefit: Circulation
You may have leaned on ginger to settle your stomach, but its benefits don’t stop there. “Ginger is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich food with the ability to improve blood circulation.” Gervacio says. In terms of your protein shake, better circulation translates to faster and more effective delivery of nutrients to your muscles. Similarly, this multifunctional root has been shown to aid digestion, lower blood sugar, and even play a role in shuttling toxins out of the body. In line with supporting improved circulation, ginger may even have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system overall, reports a comprehensive review published in the journal Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects.
TRY THIS: About a teaspoon of ginger will do the trick. For extra credit, consider adding turmeric, a powerful natural anti-inflammatory ingredient loaded with curcumin, which can help fight off free radicals.
Bonus Benefit: Focus
Ever find it hard to get your head back into work mode after a midday workout? You’re not alone, but you also don’t need to leave it to chance. Nuts like walnuts, almonds, and pistachios are big-time supporters of natural energy, including the kind you need to stay focused (not to mention the extra protein they pack). “Nuts are digested slowly in the body and can also contain plenty of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, great for long-lasting physical and mental energy,” says Gervacio. Researchers have repeatedly pointed to the cognitive benefits of nuts, including a recent 2021 study, which concluded that increased nut consumption is “positively associated with cognitive function.”
TRY THIS: Add a handful of nuts to your post-workout shake the next time you need to get back to work after the gym. Use a blender but don’t just toss the nuts in with reckless abandon; the fat in nuts can make them calorie-dense foods—something to keep in mind if weight loss is one of your goals.