Build a better shake for your nutrition goals

Shakes can be a convenient option for pre- or post-workout nutrition and play a beneficial role in your daily routine.

But if you just dump everything in your blender without paying attention to balance or serving sizes, you’ll likely add too many total calories or too much of one macronutrient. Customization is key, so get your blender ready and find your goal below.

Goal: Quick breakfast or snack

Shakes make for a convenient on-the-go breakfast or afternoon snack. The key here is to balance your shake with carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Carbohydrates with fiber will help keep you feel fuller longer, and heart-healthy fats and protein will slow digestion, allowing for longer energy levels helping you stay mentally focused as you start your day or avoid that afternoon slump. A general rule of thumb for this type of shake is to aim for 250 to 400 calories.

Here’s the nutrient serving size calorie breakdown:

  1. Protein: 1 serving (15-20 grams)
  2. Fat: 1-2 servings (7-14 grams)
  3. Carbohydrates: 2-3 servings (30-45 grams)

Goal: Weight loss

When it comes to weight loss, portion control and satisfying your hunger are keys to successfully including shakes as part of your nutrition plan. Just be careful not to overdo the total calories and instead focus on making it more nutrient dense rather than calorically dense.

Here are some tips to keep your shake geared toward weight loss:

  • Control portion sizes and keep it balanced (see serving size calories above)
  • Limit to one cup of fruit and load up on the vegetables
  • Choose one to two fat sources, like avocado, nut butter, or flaxseed
  • Aim for 15 to 25 grams of protein
  • Choose a low-calorie liquid like water or unsweetened almond, soy, or coconut milk

Goal: Muscle gain

Calories through food alone can be a challenge for those looking to gain more muscle. Easy-to-digest beverages are an excellent option to sneak in extra calories and protein.

Build on your work in the weight room by following these tips: 

  • Carbohydrates are the most important energy source here, no need to overdo the protein
  • Limit vegetables with this one because too much volume will lead to a very large shake.
  • Fats are an easy way to add calories with avocado, nut butter, MCT oil, and flax or chia seed.
  • For your liquid, fruit juice is an easy way to add carbohydrates, and milk can add protein and carbohydrates.

Goal: Post-workout recovery

What you put in your body immediately after a workout impacts your body’s ability to repair, recover, and rebuild muscle so you’re ready for the next workout.

Your recovery shake should match the workout you just did, so a higher intensity, longer duration should mean more carbohydrates, and lower intensity and shorter duration means less carbohydrates. Just choose the right ratio for your workout:

  • High-intensity workouts: (8 to 10 out of 10 exertion, or greater than 60 minutes) aim for a 3-to-1 ratio with 60 grams of carbohydrates and 20 to 30 grams of protein.
  • Moderate-intensity workouts: (6 to 7 out of 10 exertion, less than 60 minutes) aim for a 2-to-1 ratio with 40 to 60 grams of carbohydrates and 20 to 30 grams of protein.
  • Low-intensity workouts: (3 to 6 out of 10 exertion, less than 60 minutes) aim for a 1-to-1 ratio with 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates and 20 to 30 grams of protein.

Ingredients for every goal

Now that you know the ratios, it’s time to decide what you want in your shake. Just choose from the right categories and watch serving sizes.

Protein

  • Hemp hearts
  • Greek yogurt
  • Whey or plant-based protein powders
  • Unsweetened milk like almond, cashew, or soy
  • Spirulina

Carbohydrates

  • Frozen fruit like berries, pineapple, and mango
  • Dark leafy greens, beetroot, and cruciferous veggies
  • Dry oats

Fats

Amino acids

  • Anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, or peppermint
  • Glutamine for gut health, immune health, and muscle recovery
  • Creatine for rebuilding of muscle tissue

Quick tip: A high-quality blender will make it easier to blend certain ingredients without having to pre-cut too much. But a basic blender will work just fine if you select ingredients that blend easily for a good consistency.

For quality ingredients to add to your shakes, check out this list of our favorite Onnit supplements and products.

About the Author

Shannon Ehrhardt

Shannon Ehrhardt MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, is a senior performance dietitian at EXOS and has worked in sports performance for over 10 years. With a master's degree in exercise physiology and nutrition, she works with EXOS' nutrition partner Onnit, supporting the performance goals of athletes and working alongside the product development team.

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