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Recipes

Three Ways to Flavor Unflavored Protein Powder

Plus a fall-friendly bonus flavor.
By Published Oct. 11, 2022

If you frequent the gym, you've probably had your fair share of post-workout protein drinks. Maybe you've seen the premade varieties advertised at your gym, or you've picked up a tub of powder at the health food store.

By now you’ve probably realized that these “shakes” taste nothing like the flavors on their label. This is especially true for protein powders, which are either too sugary or taste like little more than chalk if you purchase the unflavored variety. 

The solution? Make your own. 

Going rogue and adding a sprinkle of cinnamon or equal amounts of cocoa powder and protein powder won’t yield the best results. That’s why our team tested and retested many combinations for The Everyday Athlete for the tastiest protein drinks you can make at home. 

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What’s in a protein drink (and do you need it)?

Protein drinks are helpful in rebuilding muscle after a workout. Most of the fat and water are removed from protein powders to maximize shelf life and aid in muscle building without the bulk. Athletes can choose between protein powders containing different types of protein (including from plants, eggs, and dairy) needed to regenerate tissue, optimizing muscle repair time.

Although flavored protein powders are all over the market, having control over your protein source and ingredients puts your health in your own hands. In our recipe, we used readily available unflavored whey protein isolate powder with a touch of sugar, spice, and chocolate (or coffee or matcha flavors) for a superlative shake that will be the envy of the locker room.

What is whey protein isolate powder?

Whey protein isolate powder comes from processed whey (the by-product of cheese making). The fat and lactose are reduced for easier digestion and storage, but whey powder is not recommended for those with milk allergies. Be careful not to confuse protein isolate powder with protein concentrate powder as they have differing amounts of protein.

There are plant-based alternatives processed from peas and legumes for those with dietary restrictions or sensitivities. Always consult the packaging for a full ingredient list before making a tasty beverage. 

Our simple recipe contains only four ingredients for the dry mix, which can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

The small amount of sugar in the dry mix and the choice of rice or oat milk (when you mix up your drink) give the drink enough carbohydrates for proper fuel before a workout or for optimizing the protein uptake for muscle rebuilding afterward.

Note: Though delicious and chocolaty, this is not a shake. The consistency is similar to what you'd get in a store-bought protein drink (but the taste is much more delicious).

Here's how to make the drink and prep the powder in advance.

Chocolate Protein Drink

Do not substitute whey protein concentrate for the whey protein isolate powder; their protein amounts differ.

Makes 2¼ cups powdered protein mix, enough for 8 drinks

Total Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients: 

Dry Mix

  • 2 cups (6 ounces) unflavored whey protein isolate powder
  • ¼ cup (¾ ounce) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2½ teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)


Drink

  • Unsweetened rice or oat milk


Instructions: 

1. FOR THE DRY MIX: Whisk whey protein powder, cocoa, sugar, and cinnamon, if using, together in a bowl; transfer to a storage container with a tight-fitting lid.

2. TO MAKE ONE DRINK: Combine 8 ounces of rice milk and a rounded ¼ cup dry mix in a 2- to 4-cup beverage container with a tight-fitting lid. Seal the container and shake vigorously until the protein mix has fully dissolved, about 30 seconds. Serve.

Variations

The chocolate flavor is just the starting point. Try these variations to shake it up.

  • Spiced Coffee Protein Drink. Substitute espresso powder for the cocoa powder and 2 teaspoons five-spice powder for the cinnamon.
  • Matcha-Cardamom Protein Drink. Substitute matcha powder for the cocoa powder and ground cardamom for the cinnamon.
  • Pumpkin Spice Protein Drink. Substitute Pumpkin Pie Spice for the cocoa powder and omit the additional cinnamon.