One of the most frustrating things about trying to eat healthier is how often the "healthy" alternatives are unpleasant to consume. Protein powder – as part of shakes for supplement purposes, for muscle building, for weight loss, and for nutrition – is one of the biggest offenders.
How often have you tried to make a protein shake, only to find the protein powder clumped up in little nuggets throughout the shake itself, making a pleasant sip of shake into a burst of chalky awfulness? It's quite common, quite unpleasant, and makes the best of us feel like it's just not worth it.
So what can you do to solve this issue? Here are our tips.
Understand the Clump
The first and best thing you can do is understand why your protein powder is clumping up in the first place. Protein powder is just that: protein. Protein likes to attract a certain amount of moisture to bind to. Many powdered ingredients do this over time; they clump up or cake up inside their containers.
Even if your protein powder is still nice and powdery when you scoop it out and add it to your shake, adding it to something with liquid in it can make it start to clump up before it blends or mixes nicely.
This is why a lot of the "less organic" protein powders include some anti-clumping agents in their formula. Some people don't mind this, but the more health-conscious among us generally prefer the organic, whole food versions of protein powder, which will be more prone to clumping.
Blend More Thoroughly
Clumping is generally an issue with poorly mixed smoothies, shakes, and beverages. It's tricky, because we often want to mix up a quick smoothie in a shaker cup on the go, where we don't have access to a blender.
If you're using a shaker cup, shake it more than you think you should. Try to time how long you shake it, and note down whether or not you got clumps or chalky tasting powder in your resulting beverage. Shaking it too much won't hurt anything – and hey, it actually burns a few calories while you do it – so you can probably be just fine over-shaking. Under-shaking, though, becomes a problem.
The ideal amount of shaking you need to do to get a thorough mix will depend on the kind of shaker cup you have and how vigorously you're shaking, as well as how thick the ingredients you're adding are. In general, shaking for around 45-60 seconds will give you a thorough mix. If you still experience clumps after that much shaking, consider adjusting your mix.
If you're at home and have the luxury of a blender, make sure you're blending your ingredients thoroughly. Add your liquid ingredients first, then your protein powder, then your solids. Pulse the blender a few times for a few seconds at a time, to mix up the ingredients and start to bread down the solids. Then blend it for a solid 30-60 seconds to ensure that everything is ore completely mixed up. You may need to blend longer depending on the quality of your blender; buying a nice, high quality blender can be more effective.
Pick the Right Shaker Cup
If you're using a shaker cup, we recommend looking for one with a metal shaker ball rather than a plastic shaker. Plastic doesn't have the heft necessary to really help mix the ingredients as well, and while it can work, it's not going to be quite as effective.
You can try one of those blender bottles with a small motor built in, but we've found them to be more of a gimmick than a real tool. They tend to drain batteries quite quickly, and they don't have the power of a real blender. Meanwhile, they require a lot more effort to clean, they're more expensive, and they have more potential points of breakage.
Consider Warmer Beverages
One thing to note is that, if you're adding protein powder to a hot beverage, you won't have as much of a problem with clumping. Adding a little protein powder to hot cocoa or to soup is easy; all you need to do is stir it until it's dissolved. That's because the heat helps break apart those clumps and more thoroughly dissolve, rather than just mix, the powder into the beverage.
If you want a cold shake, you can still have one, but consider leaving the base ingredients out of the fridge for a few hours before you start mixing to let them come up closer to room temperature. You can always mix up the shake, then stick it back in the fridge to let it chill for another few hours before you drink it.
We've seen some suggestions to microwave whatever your liquid is for 30-60 seconds before mixing, especially if you're in a hurry and don't have time to let it come up to room temperature naturally. This can work, but you run the risk of inconsistent temperatures, and you won't have time to chill it again either. Really, it comes down to finding the right balance between warm enough to blend and cool enough to enjoy.
If you do choose to let your shake sit to chill, make sure you shake it back up before you actually drink it. Letting it sit means the ingredients can separate out some, and that means you're more prone to grittiness or clumping after the fact.
Add Dry to Wet
In baking, you often want to add wet ingredients to your dry ingredients, to avoid having to deal with pouring powders and making a mess. With protein powder, the opposite is true. Since you don't have large amounts of powder, you can add the powder to your wet ingredients.
Adding powder first to a dry shaker or blender means that powder will stick to the bottom or the sides of the container more readily. Mixing your shake will then involve scraping at the sides and bottom of the container in a vain attempt to get the last bits off, and those bits are likely to make your last sips of your shake much more unpleasant.
Add the we ingredients first to add a buffer zone and get the powder starting to mix up first. Adding any solids, like fresh fruit or ice, after the powder means the powder is more likely to stick to the solids, which will then be blended up along with the rest.
Add Crushed Ice to a Shaker Cup
Shaker cups often have a little device or ball inside them that acts as a mixing device, a mechanical intervention to help break up clumps and mix ingredients more thoroughly. That said, there's nothing wrong with giving it a little help.
Adding ice is fine, and some people like adding a couple larger ice cubes to help with the mixing. We find that coarsely crushed ice works quite well. The chunks are still large enough to help with the mixing, but they melt faster and mix up more thoroughly than larger cubes, which are often left over at the bottom of a shake and left to melt and make the last few sips very watery and unpleasant.
Check For Clumps First
Before you even add your protein powder to your shaker bottle or blender cup, check it for clumps. Fresh protein powder is likely to be fine, but if you've had it for a little while, you might want to give it a mix before you add it.
There are a bunch of different ways you can do this, so experiment with what works best for the level of clumping you have.
- Shake up the entire container of protein powder before opening it to break up clumps.
- Use a utensil to stir and break up the powder before you scoop it out.
- Use a sieve or sifter to break up clumps as you add the powder. A simple mesh sifter works fine, or a mechanical flour sifter can easily break up clumps with manual action.
The fewer clumps in your powder before you add them to your beverage. As an added bonus, some of these sifters can be repurposed for things like matcha as well.
Store Your Powder Properly
As mentioned up above, the reason protein powder clumps up is because moisture gets into the container and starts to bind the molecules together. As such, you want to do what you can to minimize any moisture access.
First, make sure your protein powder is stored in a container that is air-tight. A lot of protein powders come in air-tight containers to begin with, but over time they can degrade – particularly for the larger jugs of powder – and fail to seal properly. It might be worthwhile to transfer the powder to a more known good container, like a large Tupperware.
Second, try to avoid opening your protein powder container in an area where there's a lot of moisture. It can be hard to avoid this if you live in a humid climate, but you can at least avoid boiling water for tea in the same room at the same time, you know?
Finally, store the powder container in a cool, dry place. A cool place means less moisture will linger in the air, and dry, obviously, is ideal. Just leaving the jug on your kitchen counter isn't enough, unfortunately.
Try a Different Brand
Some brands and some formulas for protein powder include different ingredients of different quality levels. Some of them will have anti-caking agents to prevent clumping, while others won't. Some will just be more naturally prone to clumps.
There are a ton of different brands out there, so feel free to do your research and make a choice. Buy smaller containers initially, if you can, to give it a try and see how it works out for your usual smoothies and shakes. If you don't like it, just try another brand, until you find one that satisfies you.
Remember that some protein powders have flavors to them, and those flavors necessitate extra ingredients, some of which may make it more or less prone to clumping. Keep track of that as well.
When you're looking into protein powders, try to see if you can examine the powder itself. Fine-grain powders tend to be easier to mix than coarse grain powders, and larger grains mean that you're starting closer to "clump" than not.
Add More Liquid or Less Powder
The ratio of powder to liquid is very important for preventing clumps. The more liquid you have, the less the protein can bind together. It doesn't even need to be a ton of adjustment in one direction or another; a tablespoon or two more liquid, or a teaspoon or so less protein powder, can make all the difference without significantly impacting the number of calories or nutrients you're getting from your shake.
Use a Creamier Base
Whatever liquid you're using to base your shake is going to have an impact. A creamier base might not actually help prevent clumps, but it can minimize the chalky or gritty textures you get with some kinds of protein powder, particularly plant-based powders. Milk and coconut milk are great, while water doesn't help too much.
For added creaminess, you can also add in a creamy fruit like banana or avocado to the mix. You'll need a blender for this – a shaker cup won't properly mash it all up – but the added creaminess goes a long way.
What about you? What are your tips for avoiding clumping and chalkiness in your protein shakes? Let us know.