Supplements, shakes, smoothies. These aren’t typically associated with a ketogenic diet—which prioritizes nutritious, whole foods that are high in fat. Many shakes and smoothies are high in sugar, carbohydrates, and other unwanted ingredients, despite being labeled as “healthy.”
But there is no reason you can’t enjoy a protein shake every now and then, even if you are keto. In fact, protein is an essential macronutrient, especially when you’re on the keto diet (more on this later). To make the perfect shake, you need the perfect protein powder. Let’s dive into why protein is so important, and take a look at some of the best keto-friendly protein powders available today.
The Importance of Protein
You’ve likely heard of protein, and likely know a bit about what it does in the body. While proteins are structural components of our body that make up organs and tissues, the protein we are discussing is the macronutrient we get from food.
When we eat and digest protein from sources like meat, cheese, eggs, and nuts (these are only a few sources of dietary protein), it gets broken down in our body into smaller molecules called amino acids (AAs).
Amino acids are the building blocks of cells.
Amino acids are then used to build and repair muscle and tissue, synthesize hormones, maintain the nervous system, and promote immune health. There is virtually no body system that can function without input from amino acids (from protein).
On a macro scale, dietary protein is essential to maintain muscle mass. This can be beneficial for everyone, but especially aging individuals. Some studies have found that muscle mass can decline as much as 1 - 2% per year in older individuals (people over the age of 50).
In a “typical” western diet, protein makes up anywhere from 14% - 16% of daily calories.
If you’re looking to pack on some extra muscle mass, maintain muscle during weight loss, improve body composition, or simply integrate more protein into your diet, you might fall into the higher protein intake group. And, since you’re reading this article, you might also be trying to consistently eat a ketogenic diet. Protein has been a source of controversy as it relates to keto.
Let’s take a look at the role of protein on keto.
Protein on Keto
On a ketogenic diet, protein will typically make up around 10% - 15% of your total calories. The other macronutrients—fat and carbohydrates—will provide about 70% - 80%+ and 5% - 10% or less of your daily caloric intake, respectively. As such, keto is considered a high-fat, low-carb, and moderate-protein diet.
It might seem that protein is fairly limited on keto. There are a few reasons for this.
The first is that keto is necessarily high in fat—as fat is the substrate from which ketones are produced. Eating fat is a priority, as is restricting carbs. Thus, dietary protein fills the extra calories in the diet (you won’t be eating 100% fat...most likely).
Second, there is the heavily disputed idea that eating too much protein on keto will cause an increase in blood sugar and insulin through a process known as gluconeogenesis (GNG).
GNG is a process by which our body takes non-carbohydrate sources (like fat and protein) and converts them into glucose. The reason GNG exists? As humans, we need to maintain a minimal amount of blood sugar (glucose) to fuel red blood cells and other tissues that can’t use fatty acids or ketones for energy. GNG allows us to function even in the context of severe carbohydrate restriction (i.e ketogenic diet).
Since protein (amino acids, really) is a substrate for GNG, the thinking goes that downing too much protein will increase GNG, cause a rise in blood glucose, and kick you out of ketosis. This isn’t 100% true, however.
For one, GNG is a demand-driven process.
Glucose doesn’t spike just because you eat protein—our body will only make as much as we need it to, even if you’re eating keto.
There have been a few studies to dispel the myth of protein kicking you out of ketosis—showing that even under fasted conditions (i.e. “optimal” gluconeogenic conditions), consuming a high-protein meal (eggs) doesn’t increase GNG substantially.
Protein is nothing to fear on keto. In fact, for those looking to build muscle mass while also on a ketogenic diet (yes, it’s possible), protein is essential.
The low- to moderate- protein intake of keto has led some to believe that it’s hard to build or maintain muscle mass on this diet. That’s far from the truth. In fact, several studies have shown that a ketogenic diet combined with a resistance training program can build muscle and lean body mass, reduce body fat, and maintain strength and power.
Given the evidence that a moderate protein is safe on keto, you might be looking for ways to up your intake. Well, one “easy” way is to integrate plenty of animal-based products into your diet—meat and eggs are super high in protein and can also be great sources of fat.
But maybe you enjoy a routine protein shake or post-workout protein smoothie with your favorite powder. Protein powders can be a great way to boost protein intake, and many also provide some extra ingredients like vitamins, minerals, or other compounds.
If you’re keto though, many commercially available powders won’t make the cut.
The Problem with Typical Protein Powders
We aren’t here to dis any one specific protein powder. But if you’ve experimented in the past with different protein mixes, it’s likely you’ve had a bad experience with one or two protein powders. We definitely have.
Many commercially-available protein powders aren’t keto.
This might be due to the fact that they contain carbohydrates, starches, or added sweeteners that increase the carb content. Some may not be gluten free—which a concern for some people. In this case, it isn’t just the carbs that make these products undesirable, but the added sugars. Sure, some protein powders use artificial or zero-calorie sweeteners, but many people aren’t a fan of these ingredients either.
Along with artificial sweeteners, many protein powders contain other artificial ingredients: preservatives, colors and dyes, and flavors.
While they might make the protein taste alright, fake flavors are a no-go for a natural lifestyle.
Another consideration for people on a low-carb diet is that most protein powders are primarily (or entirely) protein; they don’t contain a desirable protein-to-fat ratio. Some contain no healthy fats at all.
And lastly, many protein powders just taste plain gross, get clumpy when mixed into liquid, or leave a gritty aftertaste in your mouth. We assume a clumpy, bad-tasting, artificial protein powder isn’t what you’re looking for.
What to Look for in a Keto Protein Powder
Simply put, if you are on a ketogenic diet and in the market for a protein powder, there are a few things to look for.
First, the product should have zero (or minimal) net carbs. Net carbohydrates are simply the amount of carbohydrates present in a food, minus the grams of fiber. For instance, something with 5g of carbs and 2g of fiber would have 3g of net carbs. Many keto protein powders contain acacia fiber, but this adds a negligible amount of carbohydrates (while boosting fiber).
Second, look for a powder that contains at least some amount of a high-quality healthy fats. If it has medium-chain triglycerides (MCT oil) or other “ketogenic” fat—this is an added bonus.
Look for something that is completely natural, contains no artificial ingredients, colors, or flavors.
And taste! A protein powder should be enjoyable to drink. Look for a product that mixes well with whatever you’re adding it to.
With these criteria, let’s take a look at some of the top keto-friendly protein powders available.
Keto Protein Powders
These keto protein powders all have some unique qualities. All of them are keto-friendly, paleo, pack a delicious taste, and have lots of health-boosting ingredients.
Level Up Grass-fed Keto Protein
Level Up describes their protein powder as “versatile” and “pure,”packed with staple ingredients for the ketogenic diet and absent everything you don’t want. Plus it has zero fillers or chemicals.
Level Up’s main ingredients are grass-fed whey protein isolate from pasture-raised Irish cows, grass-fed bovine collagen (from the same cows, we’ll assume), the company’s own “Clean MCT” pure caprylic acid MCT oil, and grass-fed butter.
Other ingredients include non-fat dry milk, tapioca starch, sunflower lecithin, pink Himalayan sea salt, prebiotic fiber, natural flavors, and monk fruit extract.
One scoop of Level Up keto protein contains 95 calories, 6g fat (5g saturated), 10g protein, and 1g of carbohydrate. There’s also 2mg of calcium, 38mg of potassium, and 5mg of magnesium per serving.
Level Up keto protein is non-GMO and 100% natural, and comes in one flavor: chocolate cream. One container of Level Up Keto Protein contains 24 servings and costs $37.94.
Kiss My Keto Protein Powder
Kiss My Keto Protein powder is a 100% keto-friendly protein powder that is designed to help you hit your daily macro goals.
The main ingredients are pasture-raised bovine collagen peptides (the source of protein in this powder) and MCT oil powder. The MCT in this product comes from an MCT oil powder containing MCTs, inulin, sodium caseinate, silicon dioxide, and sunflower lecithin. The MCT powder is a 67% / 33% mix of C8 MCT and C10 MCT oil powder.
While MCTs are great, having a mixture might not be ideal to having a pure MCT oil.
This is because of the MCTs, C8 (caprylic acid) is referred to as the “most ketogenic MCT” because it is rapidly broken down into ketone bodies.
Additional ingredients are cocoa powder, natural flavors, salt, and stevia leaf extract.
One serving (1 scoop) contains 70 calories, 3.5g fat (3.5g saturated), 9g of protein (from hydrolyzed collagen peptides), 2g of carbohydrates (1g fiber), and 5g of MCT powder.
Kiss My Keto protein comes in chocolate and birthday cake flavors—both keto-friendly. You can purchase one 25-serving container for $38.99.
NOW KETO Keto Collagen
NOW KETO keto collagen is low-carb, high-fat protein formula with protein from grass-fed bone broth collagen designed to help optimize your routine and provide ketogenic nutrition.
NOW KETO contains a proprietary keto and collagen blend with high-quality non-GMO grass-fed collagen from bone broth.
This powder also contains NOW KETO Pure MCT; a unique blend of C8, C10, and C12 MCTs to support ketosis. As stated above, when searching for a ketone powder, you want one that is predominantly C8, and a blend of various MCTs, while beneficial, may not provide optimal levels of ketosis.
One serving (1 scoop) of NOW KETO protein has 45 calories, 2g fat (2g saturated), 7g protein (from collagen peptides), 1g carbohydrate, and 3g of MCT oil powder.
Other ingredients include natural flavors, beet juice, stevia leaf extract, and acacia fiber.
One 30-serving container costs $36.99. You can find NOW KETO protein in strawberry creme and vanilla creme flavors.
How to Make the Perfect Keto Smoothie
Keto protein powders are designed to be mixed with anything—whether it’s water, milk, or other low-carb beverages. It’s totally fine to keep things simple.
But, if you want to make a supercharged keto smoothie or shake, you can add ingredients that will both enhance the taste, palatability, and health benefits of your drink.
MCTs and coconut oil can be easily blended with any smoothie concoction, adding fat, flavor, and a nice smooth texture. Instead of water, try to use whole milk, almond milk, or other low-carb unsweetened plant-based milk. High-fat, low-carb yogurt can also enhance a smoothie, making it creamy and thick.
Nut butters are also great additions to any smoothie, as are just plain nuts, which can be a good source of micronutrients and a hearty fat source.
Peanut butter and almond butter are two keto favorites.
If any of this sounds delicious, then look no further than our keto smoothie recipe below. Try it out for yourself, and throw in some H.V.M.N. keto collagen + for a keto health boost.
Keto Avocado Smoothie Recipe
Here are the ingredients for a delicious, keto-friendly avocado smoothie (we love avocados).
- 1 (or two) scoop of keto collagen powder (we love vanilla for this recipe!)
- 1 avocado
- 1 tbsp natural peanut butter (or any nut butter)
- 1.5 cups (12 oz) almond milk or other milk
- Psyllium husk (a great source of prebiotic fiber)
Throw all of the ingredients into a large blender, mix, and enjoy!
Protein powders have been a staple in the diets of athletes and gym rats forever.
However, protein powders can have a time and a place in every diet; whether as a meal replacement when time is running short, or as a source of supplemental protein.
With the keto diet becoming so popular, people want to find keto-friendly products that fit their lifestyle. Typical protein powders don’t fit the criteria, but newer keto-friendly formulas can be a great addition to a ketogenic diet, without compromising taste and enjoyment.
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