Smoothie vs Shake – What is the Difference?
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Smoothie vs Shake – What is the Difference?

Health websites are filled with drink recipes to make you look and feel healthier.

Protein Shakes and Green Smoothies are two common themes… but what is the difference?

At first glance, these two drinks are very similar. I think of them as basically interchangeable, but there are some key differences that might make you choose one over the other.

Today I’m going to weigh in on the smoothie vs shake debate.

I’ll start with the main differences, but keep reading for important information on how to choose the best option for you.

The Bottom Line:

  • ​Smoothies are thick due to the vegetable and fruit pulp they contain, while shakes use creamier ingredients.
  • Shakes usually contain a hefty dose of protein, while smoothies may not
  • Common smoothie flavors: strawberry, mango, kiwi, pineapple or green vegetables
  • Common shake flavors: vanilla, chocolate, caramel, or peanut butter
  • Smoothies and shakes can be both healthy options as long as you make them yourself at home
  • Pre-workout smoothies are the best option, and shakes are great for post-workout.
  • When ordering at a restaurant, ask questions and ensure you’re not getting a milkshake in a false healthy disguise.

Base and Texture

Shakes have a creamier texture than smoothies. Think of milkshakes… they are so thick you could probably use a spoon if you wanted to.

In the article we’re only referring to shakes that are made from health-friendly ingredients. This excludes milkshakes which are usually based on ice cream.

Shakes use a much healthier base ingredients than ice cream - frozen banana, avocado, and coconut milk are just some of the ingredients you will find adding richness to a healthy shake recipe.

This is different than smoothies, as they don’t necessarily have a creamy texture. They can be thick, as they contain the pulp of the fruit and vegetables. Especially frozen fruit can add thickness but not necessarily creaminess.

The liquid base of shakes is often milk, coconut milk or yogurt, while the more typical liquid base for smoothies is water or almond milk.

Green protein shake

Protein Content

Protein is where shakes really stand apart from smoothies.

Smoothies may or may not contain any protein at all. Often smoothie ingredients are limited to fruits and vegetables, with some hemp seeds or nut butter added to increase protein content.

Shakes are typically fortified with some kind of protein powder. This adds a creamy texture and will make you feel full for longer. Shakes are often designed as a meal replacement so their nutrient ratio is more comprehensive.

That said, you could always add some protein powder to a smoothie if you want to increase the protein content. That’s usually all it takes to turn your green smoothie into a green protein shake.

Here's a list of high-calorie smoothie recipes in contrast to a regular "weight loss" smoothie list. See how the protein and fat ratios compare.

Flavor Combinations

When most people think of a smoothie, they think of a brightly colored drink.

Popular fruit smoothie flavors include combos like strawberry/kiwi, mango/pineapple, orange/berry and other sweet, fresh ingredients.

Popular green smoothie ingredients include spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, cucumber, and one of my personal favorites - celery.

Smoothies combine colorful ingredients

Shakes, on the other hand, are more likely to be based on healthy fat-based ingredients.
Popular shake flavors include vanilla, chocolate, caramel and peanut butter. The base of the shakes themselves is often a creamy ingredient like avocado, coconut milk or frozen banana.

Which is healthier - smoothie or shake?

By now you’re probably wondering which would be better for you, a shake or a smoothie?

The answer really depends on what is in the recipe and what you are hoping to accomplish by drinking it.

Having a smoothie containing mostly fruit and some vegetable ingredients would be a better option as a pre-workout drink.

This kind of recipe would be rich in carbohydrates, which your body would burn through as fuel during a workout. Unlike fat and protein, carbs are very quick and easy to digest.

Shakes with plenty of protein are better as a post-workout drink.

Since muscle recovery depends heavily on protein, it’s important to choose your post-workout fuel wisely. Shakes contain some carbs too, and are the best combination to ensure you get the most out of your workout.

If you are looking to replace a meal, it’s probably best to use a shake or to ensure you choose a smoothie recipe that contains adequate fat and protein.

Often people will drink a blender full of strawberries, spinach and almond milk, then wonder why they are hungry 30 minutes later.

You wouldn’t eat a bowl of strawberries and expect it to hold you all afternoon, so think of smoothies the same way.

Adding in some protein powder, nut butter or hemp seeds can elevate your smoothie to the same level of nutrition as a shake.

Should you make your own smoothies and shakes?

Keep in mind that the smoothies and shakes you make at home are almost always healthier than what you would buy on-the-go.

Check out this video for an explanation of common restaurant smoothie and shake ingredients:

As you can see, this isn’t exactly what you would expect from a healthy beverage...

What to Choose at a Restaurant or Smoothie Bar?

When ordering a smoothie or shake, always ensure you are getting a natural product with no added sugars. You can find out if it’s healthy by asking these questions:

  • Do you add ice cream or frozen yogurt to the recipe?
  • Is the fruit fresh, frozen or from concentrate?
  • Do you use any syrup to add flavor or color to this drink?
  • Do you have nutritional information available for this drink?​

If you can, get a list of ingredients and an overview of the nutrition information. Most major smoothie bar chains are required to have this information.

Try to order a drink that contains fewer than 1.5 oz (about 45 grams) of carbohydrates and the lowest sugar possible. All sugar should come from fruits, never added sweeteners.

Smoothie vs Shake: The Verdict

Depending on your nutritional needs, smoothies and shakes are both healthy options as long as you make them yourself at home.

For exercise nutrition, pre-workout smoothies are the best option, and shakes are great for post-workout.

When you are ordering these drinks at a restaurant, be careful to ask questions and ensure that you aren’t just being served a milkshake in disguise!

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Smoothie vs Shake – What is the Difference?
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Smoothie vs Shake – What is the Difference?
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Which is healthier for you, and what are the real differences between a smoothie and a shake? Here’s the complete story, including what to avoid!
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Easy Healthy Smoothie
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  • Peter says:

    Thanks for highlighting the main differences between smoothies and shakes. I know quite a few people who get confused about them and think they’re basically the same thing so I will show them this 🙂

  • Liam says:

    Good to know which situations smoothies and shakes work best in! I much prefer my smoothies, not to keen on shakes but I can see they have their plus points too 🙂

  • Martin says:

    Always wondered what the difference was between a smoothie and shake! I thought they were pretty similar so I feel a bit silly now, haha. Turns out I was going for shakes when they weren’t really appropriate but I’ll know better now!

    • Jennifer Pelegreen says:

      It’s a really easy mistake to make, Mike – don’t feel bad about it as it’s actually pretty common! Glad we could help you understand the difference and work out when it’s good to have them both.

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