Why I’ve changed my mind about daily protein shakes and smoothies

It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, right?

Well, I’ve changed mine. About protein shakes and smoothies, that is.

protein shakes and smoothies

One of the challenges that many of my clients face is getting enough protein in their diets. Most are ‘carbivores’ and are unlikely to meet their body composition goals without switching out some of their carbohydrates for protein. Not only does protein support their growing muscles, it also fills them up until their next meal and when consumed together with complex carbohydrates ameliorates the effects of carbs on blood sugar levels.

For years, I’ve routinely suggested protein shakes and smoothies as an easy way to increase lean protein intake without having to eat yet another chicken breast.

Never one to preach and not practice, I’ve made it a regular habit to consume some sort of protein shake or smoothie after my daily workouts. Two scoops of whey protein mixed with unsweetened almond milk, flax seed, some fruit and a big handful of spinach or kale (to get that extra veggie serving in at the same time).

protein shakes and smoothies

The problem is, despite having provided me with 150 to 250 calories (and lots of important vitamins and nutrients) my shakes and smoothies never really fill me up. I’m always back in the kitchen looking for my next meal within an hour of emptying my cup.

Recent studies suggest that I’m not alone. That liquid meals never satisfy and satiate the way that solid, whole foods do. That whey protein may actually precipitate the same insulin response that sugar does. That the extra fruit I add to offset the bitter taste of the greens may be elevating my sugar consumption above recommended levels (I aim for no more than 30 g of sugar daily) and undermining my recent attempts of reduce my cravings for sweet foods.

While I still see protein shakes and smoothies as a valuable addition to my nutritional tool box, I’m using them less frequently these days, and opting for other sources of portable protein post-workout, including single-serving tuna packets, hard-boiled eggs and yes, my old friend the chicken breast. I’m also making sure that they contain more vegetables than fruit… and I’m encouraging my clients to do the same.

protein shakes and smoothies

Are you protein shake-a-holic?

If so, do you find that your shakes and smoothies fill you up or leave you wanting something solid to fill your belly shortly after?





  1. I drink a shake/smoothie each day as a snack or meal. It’s easy and portable. However, I agree – it doesn’t satisfy so when I do. I have it for breakfast, which I have while I teach so it doesn’t bother me.
    Julie recently posted…High Five Friday: Enough to cookMy Profile

  2. I would NOT GO A DAY without mine—but it’s dessert.
    on the couch.
    in front of the tv.
    Miz recently posted…Youโ€™re not a priority right now.My Profile

    • And you know EXACTLY what works for you! Lately I’ve been paying more attention to my body and how it responds to food (not sure what it’s taken me 40+ years to get to this point)… I’m LISTENING more now!

  3. I used to be a constant shaker. I haven’t had a protein shake in over 6 months now..I think. No real rhyme or reason, my body (and I) just haven’t had the urge to shake things up lately ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Kierston @candyfit recently posted…#RECIPEFRIDAY: Sweet & Savoury Spaghetti Squash Protein Loaves!My Profile

  4. There is no shortage of data that suggests that, despite that nutrients from liquid meals are assimilated better, that the digestive organs don’t have to work as hard in digesting liquids, and thus (in small doses) actually slow the metabolism down.

    Though people can argue for the rest of their lives about dairy, carbs, meats, paleo, Mediterranean, etc., there has been no era of man, until the 20th century, that has so relied on liquid meals.
    Contemplative Fitness recently posted…Unintended Consequencesโ€ฆMy Profile

  5. Great post, makes me happy that I have not been able to get into the habit of having a protein shake or smoothie! Feeling much better about my boiled eggs and tuna! ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I was drinking smoothies daily for breakfast as a way to get in protein, L-glutamine, and good fats (I added avocado). But I’ve never been a fan of super green smoothies so while there was no added sweetener there was still a fair amount of fruit in them! Since then I’ve switched over to protein/energy balls for snacks and a heartier porridge for breakfast. I think the smoothies were actually doing a number on my digestive system anyways!
    Danielle @ Labelsarefortincans recently posted…Highlights of the weekMy Profile

  7. I drank so many protein shakes from my late 20’s to 40’s while I lifted & trained & then trained for competition that I totally burned out on liquid meals! Although I always was too full from mine because they were a whole blender full – ๐Ÿ˜‰ – once I stopped, I do prefer food – just something about the chewing & all that makes it more satisfying for me. I just like to know I ate food vs. drinking it.. a mental thing for me… saying all that, I do think they help a lot of people on the go & the green ones have lots of nutrients…. people do have to realize that calories add up too & many people throw a lot of stuff in these drinks! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…Gratitude Monday, Cooler Weather & Tired Fingers!My Profile

    • Exactly. The calories do add up and my clients with weight loss goals may be undermining their work in the gym by consuming 300-400 liquid calories post workout…

  8. I have a protein shake every morning since I just don’t have an appetite for actual food. It keeps me full until lunch:) Later in the day though, protein shakes don’t keep me full for long.
    Rachelle Q recently posted…Stay Hydrated on the Go with OhyoMy Profile

  9. I like a protein shake when I am in a hurry or on the run…much easier to drink it in the car than try and eat eggs. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Kathy recently posted…All dressed up and some place to goMy Profile

  10. Good points you make here, Tamara! I don’t have protein shakes too often, but when I do, I always feel the need to eat something solid with it – a piece of toast, a wrap, anything that I can chew in addition to swallow. Interesting study – I totally get it! Way to get your protein in other ways; I’m sure I always need a bit more than I get and just yesterday bought some deli meat (not the best, but it’s easy if I don’t have chicken or beef prepared!) and am already looking forward to that at lunch! ๐Ÿ˜€
    Bonnie recently posted…SnippetsMy Profile

  11. I have a smoothie with peanut butter or hemp hearts mixed with sugar free yogurt and a bit of fruit with almond milk, minus the protein powder. When I tried the protein powder I noticed right away how hungry I felt, soon after. I also make sure my lunch is full of protein like chicken because if I eat carbs for lunch it will throw me off and I will feel hungry all day. Great topic! Sky

  12. Interesting post! I have mine about 3x/week as breakfast but usually manage to stay satisfied. I think there are two reasons for that: one is that I don’t have it until post-workout (and believe me I am pretty hungry at this point!), and the second is that I use coconut milk as a base, and add nuts and/or chia seeds in addition to a really good protein powder (Whey Cool). I will also aim for two types of veggies and two servings of fruit in there. If I were to time this differently, and eat the protein shake first/then workout, I’d never make it to lunch, though!
    misszippy recently posted…Races–completion or competition?My Profile

    • Good points. I haven’t tried mine with a heartier, fattier base. Coconut milk may help suppress hunger. And the before/after workout point is a good one. (I must admit, your shake recipe sounds delicious!)

  13. I tend to use protein shakes more as a meal replacement than a post-workout snack, especially when I want to pack a lot of nutrients in that I feel I’ve been lacking. They’ve been few and far between though over the summer. But I did get into a daily habit of adding half a scoop of protein powder to my second cup of coffee that I bring to work. I eat an early breakfast and it was a good way to tide me over until snack time ๐Ÿ™‚
    Jenny @ simply be me recently posted…Scenic Half Marathon Race RecapMy Profile

    • Yes! Jenny I like adding protein powder to other foods to up the protein content too. It’s just the liquid meals that don’t satisfy me.

  14. I usually have a very green smoothie in the morning. I add not too much fruit to keep the sugar down. I like knowing that I eat/drink a ton of greens in the morning. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted…Risotto and Sticking to Your RoutineMy Profile

    • I do like that about smoothies too; easy to sneak in an extra serving of greens. Thanks for stopping by today!

  15. wholly cow you weren’t kidding. My green smoothie calculated 33 grams of sugar and I consider myself low on the fruit. I need to revisit as a regular breakfast. Though in a time crunch I think it is a good solution. I am not usually hungry in the morning so that is not my issue
    Stephanie Robbins recently posted…Affiliate Labor Day Deals with Robbins Interactive ProgramsMy Profile

    • What an eye-opener! I know that sometimes we are time crunched and it works. I’ve just decided that it can’t be a daily part of my nutrition plan.

  16. One way that protein shakes help me is that I use them as my first meal – I get up and have a shake and take my morning meds/vitamins, and then settle in to let them all kick in. with fibromyalgia, sometimes the pain is just too much to do much more, but this gives my body some protein and fuel to get started with the day. I generally do a mix of protein powder, almond milk, a little fruit and/or a sugar-free syrup, ice/water, and i just started adding spinach. Periodically, I add in more bulk with chia seeds or oats, nut butters, smoothie mixes, coffee or cocoa powder. But it really is just something to get my body going ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. I used to drink smoothies for breakfast religiously and although I got in the habit of making them mostly veggies, I too have gotten out of the habit. I did some reading awhile back that talked about the differences of eating pureed/liquified food and how it just wasn’t the same. I still like me a good smoothie now and then though!
    Nikki recently posted…Surrey Marathon Week: Weather WatchMy Profile

  18. Tuna is my go- to for a healthy snack or lunch. I also love having boiled eggs around- they are so quick and they really do fill me up! I still love my green smoothies, but I can see how it can be easy to overdue it with the sugars.

  19. I’m more of a egg/tuna girl than a smoothie girl in general. Smoothies are still fantastic for those “on the go” times and when it is simply too hot outside to chew. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I do love a pumpkin pie smoothie this time of year too.
    Barbara recently posted…Hiking With The FamilyMy Profile

    • Mmmm, I love all things pumpkin (except for the terrible pumpkin overnight oats recipe I tried yesterday…)

  20. I routinely struggle with getting enough protein, being no big meat eater and able to only stand one or two protein shakes per day.

    However, routinely eating tuna may not be a solution either, given its high level of mercury.
    evilcyber recently posted…Where To Buy The Best Creatine AvailableMy Profile

    • That’s true as well. I probably eat 2 servings of tuna a week and in my mind, it’s better for me than a diet full of fructose (have you read the newest research out there on fructose and Alzheimer’s? Sugar is now being implicated in what they’re calling Type 3 diabetes….)

  21. I still use a protein shake after a workout. BUT I do not add anything to it. Especially no fruits.
    Here’s why I do:
    Whey protein will provide a slight spike in insulin without raising blood sugars. This insulin spike is necessary to begin the hormonal cascade (insulin, cortisol, HgH) of healing. Without that slight spike, the healing process doesn’t really begin. However, add fruit and whole host of other ingredients to it, and the insulin spikes too high, the cortisol never gets high enough to turn on the HgH and you slow healing.

    I don’t view it as a meal replacement and normally eat my next meal within a couple hours.

    If I consume a liquid meal, then I add veggies, perhaps a little fruit, chia seeds, healthy fats. I find that without the fats the meal will leave me unsatisfied. Still aim to limit the fruit because I just don’t need the calories or sugar burst.
    deb roby recently posted…Start Where You Are. Do What You Can.My Profile

  22. I rarely drink protein shakes or smoothies for this very reason. Plus, the most likely time to have one would be in the morning and I’d rather drink my coffee. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I usually have eggs for breakfast anyway.
    Coco recently posted…I’m Heading To The FitSocial 2013 Conference!My Profile

  23. I have protein shakes maybe 3 or 4 times a week. I put a LOT of stuff in there, so it holds me over really well. Lately I’ve tried putting fewer things in (spinach, protein, coconut oil, water or soy milk) but I have it as a snack instead of a meal. I’m not a big veggie fan so smoothies are the easiest way for me to get a serving or two of veggies, especially leafy greens.
    Thea @ It’s Me Vs. Me recently posted…Fitness Friday โ€“ ProgressMy Profile

  24. I NEVER recommend protein shakes and have to do everything in my power to NOT roll myeyes atpeople who say they’re going to have a protein shake. That protein shake means, whey (grain-fed) protein (most likely), first of all, and then secondly they’re going to be back in the kitchen within an hour or two because no one really takes into account how many calories they’re chugging. There is just something different about drinking vs. eating (as you mention). So I am right there with you. I have stashed cans of sardines, salmon, tuna and chicken in my car and house for easy, on the go, protein “bars”. I love that cans come in the easy-open variety now, or else I WOULD BE LOST! ha ha. I do routinely stop at Whole Foods and purchase food off their salad bar too for quick on the go lunches too! On Wednesday, their salad bar is 1/2 off too! Ha Ha. You can pick up a few lunches for the rest of the week! Screw protein shakes. LOL
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted…¡Ay, Caramba! – Guest PostMy Profile

  25. I am not a shake fan either. I always thought it was more because, like Jody, I prefer to chew my food. But there’s something to the science behind the increased sugar etc. Not to mention that I think people create these 400 calorie shakes and then wonder why they can’t lose weight. Now, my coworker has a shake every morning for breakfast, but he’s a 29 year old single guy that hardly ever eats fruit or veggies otherwise. For him, it totally works.

    • Carrie it really is all about finding what works for you. If I were a 29 year old single guy, it would probably work for me too ๐Ÿ˜‰

  26. This is also the same reason why I stopped with smoothies and protein shakes after a workout. They don’t fill me up. So now I just add the protein powder to my cooled down oats.
    blackhuff recently posted…Today’s findingsMy Profile

    • That’s a great idea! I still bake with protein powder too; sometimes you need a little extra protein in your day (as long as it’s in solid food form!)

  27. It sounds to me like the problem is less with “smoothies” as a category but with the ingredients in yours. That doesn’t have enough vegetables, nuts, and has too much sugar from fruit and whey (a brown rice/pea/hemp protein that I use doesn’t cause the insulin spike). My vegetable- and seed-packed protein smoothies are THE ONLY breakfast that keeps me full from workout to lunch. Everything else – even eggs, and especially oatmeal and other “filling” breakfasts – spikes my blood sugar and makes me starving within an hour. But my smoothies keep me even and full until lunch.

    • Sarah, I think you’re probably right! Including more fat, as some of my other readers suggested, would also increase the satiation factor. But I do find oatmeal or eggs with veggies to be very filling and never need a mid-morning snack when I have them for breakfast. Interesting how different things work for different people!

      • Indeed – I really have come to truly believe that all bodies are different, and that there is no one “perfect diet” for us all. Strange that we’re all humans but the ideal foods/diet for each of us can be so different!

  28. I think protein powder is fine in moderation as long as you’re using a good quality powder. What brand powder do you recommend using?

  29. I know this is an old post but thought I would put my two cents in anyway. I use Hemp Protein powder that also has a higher fiber content. I don’t have shakes very often, but on that odd occasion that I am not going to be able to eat my normal breakfast, this works. I find that the hemp protein power fills me up quite nicely, especially with the added fibre. It is a bit gritty but I am okay with that. I am usually good for 3 hours or so, when it is time to eat a small snack or lunch. I found with whey protein, like you, I was hungry right away after.

    • Hi Danea,
      Yes, it is an old post! And after reading all of the fantastic suggestions that readers left, I changed how I was making my smoothies, incorporating more greens, fibre and healthy fats. I’ve also tried hemp protein and agree that it does do a better job of filling me up. I think I was just using too much fruit before!

  30. I suppose I’m here a year too late for this board, but thank you! I’ve been struggling with if I should consume my calories through a shake. When you’re already on a low calorie meal plan, those calories add up quickly! It almost makes you queasy to realize you just had an entire meal in a cup & still hungry! They’re sweet and I believe they’d knock out a sweet tooth, but they’re not helping my appetite. I’m hungry again within an hour. It’s certainly a waste of my calories for the day. Tuna/Chicken/Eggs, ect… Those are fabulous ideas that I just always assumed I had to eat as a meal. I think I’ll look into in place of my shake routine. 110 calories vs 400?! Yes, please & thank you! It’s a learning process. Day by beautiful day.

    • Kristy, never too late to comment! I’m happy that you found this post and got something useful from it. I’ve since discovered that if I add lots of green stuff (and a bit of healthy fat) to my smoothies, all the while keeping the fruit content low, that I can include a smoothie as a snack. The trick is to keep the calories around 150. Then it doesn’t become a non-satisfying meal!

  31. Tamara, protein or maybe protein shakes make me feel so full that I can’t fathom eating. I had egg whites for breakfast, half (4 oz) of protein shake in the mid-morning, turkey patty for lunch, and it’s nearly 5 pm and I haven’t finished the remaining 4 oz of my shake. I am not hungry at all and dinner is fast approaching. My shake is 1 scoop of powder, 4 ounces of milk, 4 ounces of water and half a tablespoon of peanut butter. I’ve had about 7 cups of water too.

    Any advice? I’m trying to lose weight in a healthy way and I definitely don’t want to skip my meals! But I don’t even want to eat dinner.

    • Hmmm, hard for me to comment when I don’t know much about your weight loss goals, your exercise routine or the rest of your diet. It doesn’t sound like a lot of protein to me, but then again, it depends on what you’re eating it with!

  32. I am right with you, Tamara. After I started really paying attention to how my body responds to certain foods, I noticed that I would be hungry shortly after drinking a smoothie/protein shake, which resulted in constant snacking. I finally decided to stop drinking and try my hand at eating my food instead of drinking it. I found that I could go longer between my meals and was more satisfied (limited to no snacking). I will occasionally do a smoothie, when I want something a little sweet/different. But for the most part, I don’t make smoothies and protein shakes a main thing in my diet these days.

    Take care,
    Evelyn recently posted…30 Tips for a Healthier Mind, Body, and SpiritMy Profile

    • I am really late to this post. am 63 been working out for more than 34 yrs yoga, pilates, weights, now kettlebells. i have never been a breakfast eater, which surprises most people. i gave up liquid drinks yrs ago cuz as soon as i drank them i was hungry. the same reason i never eat breakfast , i will be hungry all day. love boiled eggs, tuna, sardine, turkey, chicken breast and will even stir fry some tofu cuz i like crunchy foods.

      • Hi Shirley! Thanks for your comment. Better late than never, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰
        I love that you’ve figured out what works for you, and if you’ve been able to keep it up for 34 years, I don’t see any reason to change a thing!

  33. How do you explain the studies (dozens) on whey protein and its positive impact on fat loss. I use whey isolate and sometimes and some blueberries and a handful of spinach. Excellent nutritional punch. The problem with blending is it can easily allow you to over do it. You wouldnt eat a half a pound of strawberries, but you can blend that quite easily. Then blammo, 2000 calories.

    • Not disputing those studies at all! And am actually agreeing with your final point; lots of extras in my smoothies, and the smoothies of many people who share theirs on social media. Just sharing my own experience that they don’t fill me up and often lead to eating again too soon.

      Find what works for you and stick with it. That’s what I aim to share with readers and clients ๐Ÿ™‚


  1. […] couple weeks ago, Tamara of FitKnitChick did a really interestingย post on why she’s cutting back on the number of smoothies she eats and recommends to her fitness […]