This article lists the ingredients & recipes I use in my high-calorie protein shakes.
I’m a “hard-gainer” ectomorph, and so whenever I want to gain lean weight I need to really ratchet up my calories.
And I need to do it in a smart way in order to make sure any weight gained is more muscle than fat.
Smart (for me) means only using high-quality natural food sources for the additional protein, carbs, & fats necessary for adding muscle.
Adding a high-calorie protein smoothie in between my daily meals is one of the things that help me gain lean mass while strength training, even at the age of 61.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science and medical resources, clinical studies, & nutritional data used in this article.
6 best weight gain shake ingredients
- Peanut butter / almond butter / nut butters
- Chia seeds
- Flaxseed meal
- Extra virgin olive oil
These are all nutritious foods that can help provide healthy calories during a weight gain muscle-building cycle.
Up ahead I’ll get into my protein shake recipes that I regularly use with these high-calorie foods in combination with several others, and I’ll also share each weight gain smoothie’s macronutrient numbers (calories, protein, carbs, fats) too.
If you’re interested in reading how a skinny ectomorph like me gained over 20 lb. of muscle weight twice in my life, here’s my article on that.
What’s not in my weight gain shakes
Next, I want to briefly touch upon the ingredients I don’t include in any of my protein shakes.
No excessive saturated fats & sugars
This means I do not pile high amounts of saturated fats & sugars in my protein shakes like I’ve seen suggested in several online articles.
For me, fatty crappy foods just end up as stored fat & leave me feeling crappy too.
Believe it or not, neither of those outcomes are fitness goals of mine. Who knew? 😏
Note: Some saturated fats are needed; I’ll re-visit that point a little later.
No processed simple carb “mass gainers”
The other ingredient I do not use that I’ve seen recommended are those weight gain supplements sold as high-calorie “gainer” protein powders or ready-to-drink shakes.
Take a look at their ingredients list. Most of these products are:
- heavily processed with artificial chemicals
- rely on simple sugars & starches for calories
- contain all sorts of things I simply don’t need in my body.
Here’s what’s in one of the best-selling “Mass Gainer” supplement powders on the market:
I can gain lean weight naturally without these processed ingredients just fine, and you can too.
Good fats are good for weight gain shakes
Note: I’m assuming that if you’re reading this then you’re like me in that the weight you’re looking to gain is lean mass, AKA muscle.
So that means you’re lifting weights or doing some consistent resistance training program too.
As mentioned a bit earlier, good quality fats in moderation are helpful for any weight gain program.
I’ve found it hard to boost my calories high enough to gain muscle weight without them, as you’ll read about below.
Hard to eat a ton of good carbs
Complex carbs are the kind of carbs we need to be eating a lot of if we’re active, given the health benefits they provide. (1)
But it’s not easy to use them as the sole source of that extra 500-750 calories needed per day in order to gain weight. (2)
You see, high-quality carbs are usually high in fiber, which is great but also keep us feeling full for longer than I want.
And when I’m on a mass-building cycle, I have to put down some calories every couple of hours or so.
That’s hard to do when I’m still feeling full (stuffed?) from a dense carb meal I ate earlier.
Eating too much protein isn’t smart either
Anyone who’s lifted weights or played sports knows that those of us who do these activities need more protein than the amount you’ll hear recommended by non-sports doctors, health websites, nutritionists, & the like.
Just read the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s Position Stand on protein & exercise here (3).
Then compare their daily amount to the Recommended Dietary Allowance put out by our government’s Health Dept. and echoed by the medical industry. (4)
And it’s even been shown that experienced resistance trainees can consume as much as ~1.5 grams of protein per lb. of body weight per day and burn more fat off doing so. (5)
Further, those males & females in the study had zero negative health issues associated with that really really high protein intake.
However, there is always such a thing as too much of a good thing.
* Excess protein is stored as fat (6). Meaning, eating more than your body can use for its muscle building & other functions will add fat onto your body.
* The amino acids that are contained in that excess protein are unused and get excreted. In other words, wasted.
* Per the ISSN’s extensive sports science research, unless you’re an elite athlete (or really hittin’ the weights hard) your body is unlikely to utilize any protein you consume much above 1 gram per lb. of your bodyweight per day (180 lb. person = 180 grams protein/day). (7)
Let quality fats provide some calories
So, leave some of the caloric surplus* responsibility to good fats.
After all, a gram of fat has over twice the calories as a gram of either carbs or protein, 9 vs. 4. (8)
(*- Caloric surplus just means the additional calories you need to consume in order to gain weight, meaning those above your normal diet.)
Plus when you’re getting it in the form of olive oil, an ounce of chia seeds or a tablespoon of nut butter, it’s not taking up anywhere near the space in your digestive system as a bunch of barley, brown rice, or beans would.
From my experience this makes it easier to consume more calories per day when on a weight gain program.
Weight gain ingredients for protein shakes
Here’s a quick rundown of the things I usually choose from to make weight gain or replacement meal smoothies.
I’ll go into the serving sizes for these & all other ingredients later on in the recipes section.
First up are the high-calorie ingredients I mentioned at the beginning of the article.
Peanut butter & nut butters
(Kirkland Organic Creamy Peanut Butter)
If you have an issue with peanut allergies, no problem: go for an almond butter or other organic nut butter.
*Tree nuts like almonds, cashews, etc., can help improve your cholesterol, per the esteemed Mayo Clinic. (9)
*And per the American Heart Association, people eating peanut products reduced their heart disease risk. (10)
*Avocados provide a wide variety of health benefits, according to research in the National Institute of Health’s database. (11)
*They offer essential minerals, boost heart health, lower cholesterol, & more. (12)
(from the Bob’s Red Mill Organic Flaxseed Meal that I use)
*Flax seeds contain a boatload of good things: fiber, protein, heart-healthy fatty acids, & more. (14)
Tip: I eat the flaxseed meal, not the whole, uncrushed flax seeds.
I believe I absorb more of flax’s nutrients this way, since whole flax seeds often pass through our digestive system intact.
Give it a try sometime, you’ll see this with your own two eyes 😄.
Even medical publishing giant Healthline agrees with me.
*Oats, preferably organic & unprocessed, are a nutritional powerhouse, containing vitamins, minerals, fiber, & antioxidants. (16)
*Be aware that eating raw oats is not a good idea, according to experts in medicine & nutrition (17).
Oats must first be cooked or soaked in water for 12 hours before eating them.
Here’s a tip on how to have oats ready for your weight gain protein shake without having to cook them: soak them overnight for use the next day.
Just put the oats you’re going to use in a bowl and cover them with water that’s about a ½” above the oats.
By the next day they’re good to go.
Most of the water will have been absorbed, but you can pour out any excess if need be, before using them.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
(Kirkland Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
*Medical experts consider olive oil “the healthiest fat on Earth”. (18)
*It’s good for your heart & acts as an anti-inflammatory agent too. (19)
Protein sources for weight gain shakes
Here are the three protein products I choose from for weight gain smoothies:
- whey isolate
- collagen peptides
- plain nonfat Greek yogurt.
I use the whey isolate twice as much as the other two.
Main protein source: whey isolate powder
My go-to protein for my shakes & smoothies is whey isolate, because I:
1) get the combination of a great essential amino acid profile that is also fast digesting, something only whey can provide;
2) avoid 99.5% of the lactose in regular whey by going with an isolate powder instead. (20)
There aren’t many calories in a serving of whey: mine has 89 I think.
It’s here for the 22 grams of protein it provides; we’ll get the calories from the other ingredients.
The whey isolate I drink is this pure, unflavored powder from Muscle Feast.
If you’d prefer a plant-based protein powder, I evaluated all of the top lactose-free products on the market in this article here on heydayDo.
We drink Orgain’s pea & rice-based protein powder in this house.
I take collagen protein once a day via a smoothie.
It can also be used in a shaker easily, but I blend it with my fruits & vegetables in the ol’ Vitamix.
Collagen peptides have zero taste somehow, which is real nice since it’s made from the skin & bones of cattle. (21)
A 2-scoop serving for the majority of legitimate brands provides 18 grams of protein.
Collagen’s amino acid profile is not as good as whey’s is for muscle building, but collagen provides me with benefits (skin repair, joint pain relief) that make it a good secondary smoothie protein choice. (22)
Oh, and I also bought a can of Bulletproof’s collagen recently and wrote up my opinions on it (thumbs up) in this Bulletproof Collagen Protein review you can read here on heydayDo.
Nonfat Greek Yogurt
Another secondary protein choice for my smoothies is the Greek yogurt made by Costco’s Kirkland brand.
It’s organic and I get the plain nonfat version.
It has more protein per serving (18g per ¾ cup) than the fattier ones.
Yogurt blends easily with any of the 10+ other ingredients I have to choose from.
Fruits & vegetables for protein shakes
These are the remaining ingredients to be added to any of my daily smoothies, whether I’m drinking weight gain shakes or just regular protein-based smoothies.
Weight Gain Smoothie Recipes
From all the protein shake ingredients I’ve shared in this article, I choose different combinations of them for my various smoothies.
This gives me a nice variety of flavors, and provides a broad nutrition spectrum every day too.
Let’s look at all of the ingredients in one spot here:
My (broad) recipe guidelines
No hard & fast rules here, and you should definitely experiment on your own with these ingredients, creating all sorts of combinations.
No need to do it like I do; this is what works well for me.
…when I stopped to think about my protein smoothie-making process for this article, I notice there are a few things I always do.
Or don’t do.
Here are the guidelines I seem to follow:
- Whey isolate is in almost every smoothie that’s for the “between meal protein pop”
- I often combine the whey with the collagen (44g protein combined) or with the nonfat yogurt (42g protein), or with peanut butter (32g protein)
- I sometimes combine the collagen with the nonfat yogurt (38g protein), without adding whey
Fruit & veg choices
- Fruit & greens are in every smoothie
- I only use one of the 3 greens per smoothie
- I usually use 2 different fruits in every smoothie
High-calorie ingredient choices
- I never use avocado & peanut butter in the same smoothie, for some unknown reason
- During a weight gain training cycle, I put olive oil in every smoothie
- I have at least 2 a day of these when on a weight gain program*
(* – These don’t replace my regular food meals during weight gain cycles, they’re in-between them.)
I stick to the same serving size for each ingredient in all my smoothies. Here’s what those portions are:
Whey isolate: per manufacturer, 1 scoop (24g protein)
Collagen peptides: 2 scoops (20g protein)
Nonfat Greek yogurt: ¾ cup (18g protein)
Fruit & Greens
Greens: 4 oz. per smoothie
Fruit: 4 oz. per each of the two fruits in the smoothie
Peanut & Nut Butters: 2 tablespoons (200 calories)
Avocado: 3-4 oz., roughly 1 small avocado (161 calories)
Chia Seeds: 1 oz. (138 calories)
Flaxseed Meal: 2x manufacturer serving, 4 tablespoons (120 calories)
Oats: ½ dry cup (200 calories)
Olive Oil: 1 tablespoon (120 calories)
Sample weight gain smoothie recipes
As you can imagine, there are umpteen varieties of high-calorie protein shakes you can make choosing from the ingredients I shared here, and they all taste good to me.
Just following my rough guidelines & fave ingredients above yields over 25 different weight gain shake styles, so I’m not going to list them all – I think you get the picture.
It’s easy to convert them to low-calorie protein shakes too
For example – for a “regular” version, consider cutting the high-calorie ingredients in half, keeping the protein, fruit, & vegetables as is.
And for a low-cal smoothie, just eliminate the high-calorie ingredients (nut butters, seeds, oil, etc.) and you’ll have a nice high-protein/low-calorie meal replacement that’ll keep you satiated for a few hours.
Get creative in your kitchen
Remember, experiment with your own recipes.
As is, these are high-protein, high-calorie meals with a decent amount of fiber, so play around with it and see which ones your body prefers digesting.
(All of these use the serving sizes I shared earlier.)
Weight Gain Smoothie #1
- Chocolate whey isolate
- Collagen peptides
- Olive oil
- Flaxseed Meal
Weight Gain Smoothie #2
- Chocolate whey isolate
- Peanut Butter
- Olive Oil
- Chia Seeds
Weight Gain Smoothie #3
- Collagen peptides
- Nonfat Greek Yogurt
- Olive Oil
Weight Gain Smoothie #4
- Chocolate Whey Isolate
- Nonfat Greek Yogurt
- Olive Oil
- Flaxseed Meal
I hope that this article on my protein shake recipes for your weight gain smoothies is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.