Cost-effective Alternatives to Protein Shakes

Protein Shakes

Whether used to fuel training or as a recovery aid, protein shakes are becoming an increasingly prevalent source of nutrition for athletes. Due to the highly individual nature of each person's training requirements, learning how to make a homemade protein shake can be an excellent and cost-effective way to attain bespoke nutritional benefits.

For example, those with a high requirement to replenish lost energy or fuel particularly demanding workouts, can tailor their protein shake to have a higher calorific density. Conversely, those looking to reduce body fat can use ingredients that minimise carbohydrate and glucose intake, focusing upon protein and added low sugar fruits such as berries, to provide energy and electrolyte replenishment.

Premium market brands are often costly, and many brands also add preservatives and bulking agents. Making your own protein shake allows you to tailor the ingredients to your specific performance requirements, physical needs and personal goals. It also allows you to source natural ingredients and create a flavour according to personal taste. From a financial perspective, homemade protein shakes can be highly cost-effective. Buying your own whey, or using egg whites, allows you to tailor your protein shake recipe to your specific needs. Additional nutritional benefits can be gained by adding vitamin powders, fruit, and natural caffeine sources. In this article, we look at the benefits of the core ingredients used to make DIY protein shakes as an alternative to protein powder.

Egg whites

Eggs are a complete protein - meaning that they provide an adequate ratio of all nine amino acids. A single egg provides on average of 6g of protein, 0.6g carbohydrate and 78 calories. An egg white alone provides 3.6g protein and 17 calories, with a cup serving of egg white providing an impressive 26g of protein - and only 1.8g carbohydrate.
Boiled eggs are a convenient, portable, cheap and highly effective snack for adding protein and replenishing energy stores. Alternatively raw pasteurised egg whites can be added to protein shake recipes and smoothies for a cheap and easy addition of abundant protein from a natural food source.

Whey (or Pea & Rice Protein)

For a homemade protein shake, whey, egg whites or dairy-free isolate provide the liquid-soluble protein source, and additional ingredients are added to this basis. Ingredients for added energy, electrolyte-replenishment, nutrition and flavour can be added according to performance requirements, fitness goals, personal nutritional needs, health benefits and general preference.

Whey is a highly protein-dense food source derived from the by-product of milk products. A highly utilised protein source in the sport and fitness industries, the resulting powder is broadly used in the majority of commercial protein shakes. A dairy-free alternative is now available in the forms of pea and rice protein isolate powder. Pea and rice protein isolate are excellent choices for those with allergies, seeking to avoid dairy, or for those who would prefer an organic protein powder.

Milk Alternatives

Non-dairy milk alternatives such as almond, hazelnut or coconut-based milk generally contain contain higher levels protein and lower sugar levels than dairy milk. Enriched with calcium and vitamins, it is also a vital ingredient to help protect bone strength and integrity, and added B vitamins are crucial for the body's ability to effectively assimilate and use energy from food sources. For those without an allergy, nut milks are the optimum option for the training athlete.

Soya milk is a contentious nutritional source, however it can be of great benefit to some. Perimenopausal and post-menopausal would benefit from the hormone-boosting qualities of soya milk in moderation, so should definitely consider it as an addition to their personalised protein shake. The unsweetened versions of dairy milk alternatives are particularly good for those seeking a low carbohydrate content, however those seeking the energy should opt for sweetened versions. Chocolate nut milks are also an excellent option for adding energy and the additional bonus of boosting flavour.


Caffeine is a popular training aid, adding additional energy and boosting the circulation - but be careful with your dosage to avoid the jitters or heart palpitations. Depending on your palette, caffeine tolerance, and personal preference, adding a shot of espresso or green tea can allow you to utilise the performance-stoking benefits of caffeine at a dosage that suits you, and from natural sources.

Increasingly green tea has been utilised by the sports and fitness community. Not only does green tea provide a caffeine boost, but also has the added benefits of it's potent antioxidant and metabolism-boosting qualities. Green tea has a high density of catechins, a potent type of polyphenol, and is particularly rich in the catechin ECEG which has been found to have 25-100 times higher the antioxidant quality of vitamins C and E. Not bad for a humble tea bag! Adding strongly brewed, cooled green tea to your homemade shake allows you to reap these benefits, at a fraction of the cost of market products and from a natural source. For those happy to invest a little more, matcha green tea powder is considered the most potent type of green tea, and it's powder form allows for greater convenience and time-saving than preparing brewed tea.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a natural potent thermogenic, meaning it revs the metabolism, and actually has the ability to temporarily raise the metabolism to an even greater degree than protein. This is due to the abundance of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) found in the oil. Coconut oil also has anti-bacterial qualities and supports correct thyroid function. 1 tsp of coconut oil contains 39 calories, and 117 calories are found in a table-spoon, so it is not only useful for adding energy but also stoking the metabolism, providing health-protecting benefits, and adding additional flavour to your protein shake.


Oats are a highly nutritious source of complex carbohydrate and slow release energy. Additionally, oats pack a potent punch of protein with 17g protein per 100g, or 6g of protein per 1/2 a cup. While oats are not a complete protein, they contain 12 of the 13 vital amino acids. This makes them an excellent additional to natural protein shakes, for a protein hit with added slow-release energy from a complex carb source, with the added benefit of fibre and sating the appetite.

Nut Butters

Nut butters provide an excellent source of highly nutritious slow-release energy. An optimum way to add calorific density, nut butters are also high in protein, so they are an excellent ingredient for providing training fuel and replenishing lost energy stores. Nut butters are an abundant source of manganese which is vital for bone health, the connective tissues, and maintaining a steady blood sugar level. Manganese also serves to regulate the metabolism and fight inflammation.
While good old-fashioned peanut butter packs the highest level of protein (8g for every 2 tbsp serving), cashew and walnut butters come in at a close second with 6g protein per serving, and almond butter provides 4g. Nut butters average at around 200 calories per serving, so depending on your personal energy needs you can add accordingly.

Fruit & Vegetables

The addition of blended fruits and vegetables into your protein shake is a smart choice to naturally re-hydrate and replenish electrolytes. It is also a convenient way to ensure you are getting a good dose of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables into your daily diet. Strenuous, high-impact exercise does produce the release of free radicals in the body, so upping your antioxidant quota is a smart way to negate bodily stress. Blending fruit and vegetables allows for nutrients to be more readily assimilated by the body, due to the break-down of cellulose that forms plant food sources, which is why juicing and green smoothies have become such a health and fitness trend in recent years.

Bananas are a slow-release form of complex carbohydrate energy source, so an excellent addition for pre-workout energy and replenishing energy stores post-training. Bananas are also very high in potassium and magnesium, two vital electrolyte minerals that are depleted during exercise. Depending on your goals bananas and dates are excellent for electrolyte replenishment and a boost in calorific intake. Pitted dates are another highly nutritious option for added energy, flavour and essential vitamins and electrolytes - dates are particularly abundant in calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium.

Alternatively, green vegetables (such as spinach) and low-sugar fruits such as berries, are excellent choices for those who wish to boost antioxidant intake and add flavour, whilst maintaining a lower carbohydrate and calorific intake. Dark green leafy vegetables and blueberries are particularly rich in antioxidants.

Natural Flavours & Sweeteners

If you're eager to avoid added sugar (or a potential sugar crash) use liquid Stevia - a natural sweetener derived from the Stevia plant. This also ensures your protein shake is all-natural, where as commercial products often add artificial sweeteners or glucose derivatives. Stevia does not spike blood glucose levels, meaning it is an excellent choice for those who are insulin resistant, following a low carbohydrate nutrition plan or simple for those who wish to keep their energy levels on an even keel. Whilst relatively expensive on the market place (in relation to artificial sweeteners) a little goes a very long way. Using Stevia provides you with sweetness without the negative effects of refined sugars, and additional slow-releasing food ingredients (such as oats, coconut oil, banana) can be added to your protein shake recipe for energy.

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