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Why Does Protein Powder Taste So Bad?

Christiana Mikesch
Published by Christiana Mikesch
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

I’ll never forget the first time I used protein powder. My shake was bitter and chalky, and I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth the whole day - no matter how hard I brushed my teeth.

It was that bad. But since then, I learned why protein powders can taste so bad and what to do about getting a delicious protein shake in the end.

My personal training clients have been amazed at these secrets. The ones I’ll share with you here have all been fact-checked by a dietitian, so you know they’re safe.

Quick Summary

  • Artificial sweeteners and ingredients can make protein powders taste bad.
  • Texture, inadequate blending, and mixing the wrong ingredients all affect the taste of a protein shake. 
  • Make your protein shakes taste better by adding flavorful ingredients, following the directions for use, and blending well.

Why a Protein Powder May Taste Bad?

man holding up a bottle

A protein powder may taste bad because you simply don’t like the ingredients. But there are a few additional reasons you should be aware of.

It could be the case that the powder you’re using doesn’t contain natural ingredients or that the texture is off.

Let’s explore how these factors influence the taste of your protein shake in more depth.

Artificial Sweeteners

Does your protein powder contain an artificial sweetener—or a handful of artificial sweeteners? If so, they may be causing your protein shake to taste like metal.

Artificial sweeteners can be unpalatable because they’re made in a lab. They’re human-produced chemicals that lack animal or plant origin, which may lead to unnatural flavors.

Here are a few common artificial sweeteners found in protein supplements: 

  • Sucralose
  • Acesulfame potassium
  • Aspartame
  • Saccharin

Besides having a terrible taste, artificial sweeteners may also cause health problems. For example, some studies have linked aspartame with cancer [1].

With that in mind, switching to a natural sweetener might be a better idea than looking for an artificial one that tastes better. That way, you’ll ensure your protein shake is both tasty and healthy.

Zero Natural Ingredients

wooden bowl of white substance

Maybe your protein shake tastes bad because the powder doesn’t contain natural ingredients.

You already know that artificial flavors can taste bad in general because they’re made in a lab.

But there’s another thing to keep in mind. Natural flavors may taste bad, too, depending on whether they’re derived from an organic or non-organic origin.

Organic foods aren’t treated with pesticides, so they’ll have higher antioxidant levels than their non-organic counterparts [2].

Besides antioxidants being generally good for you, they also affect the taste, aroma, and mouthfeel.

The solution? Choose a powder that contains natural and organic ingredients.

Low Mesh Count

Mesh count is another factor that can make your protein shakes taste bad.

It’s a measure for the texture of your protein shake:

  • Higher mesh count = smoother texture
  • Lower mesh count = chalky texture

While this may influence how a protein shake rolls off your tongue, you’re probably wondering if it’s really got anything to do with the flavor.

The answer is yes. The texture of the food you eat—or protein shakes you drink—does influence taste. For example, we experience flavors more strongly when food is in its liquid form [3].

When it comes to protein shakes, shoot for a smooth texture. This may mean you want to use milk protein powders as your base instead of plant powders. This small change could dramatically improve the taste of your protein shake.

An Inadequate Blender

woman in the kitchen with a blender

If you’re still not getting a uniform texture even after using ingredients that are easier to blend, the problem could be in your blender.

You should use a blender that has sharp blades and can mix at high speed. That’s the only way your protein shakes will get a smooth texture.

If your blender isn’t up to the task, consider investing in a slightly more expensive one.

You’ll be shocked by how much difference it can make.

Related post: Best Ways to Mix Your Protein Powder

You’re Not Following the Directions for Use

Every protein powder is different. Yours might call for specific ingredients and ratios. You should be able to find this out by reading your powder’s label.

Make sure you follow the directions to a T because incorrect mixing may be the reason why your protein shakes taste so bad. Use measuring cups and the ingredients recommended on the label.

How to Improve the Taste of Your Protein Shake

slices of banana and a drink

We’ll give you five ideas on how you can improve a bad-tasting protein powder and finally start enjoying your protein shakes [4].

Choose A Different Protein Powder

If you want to improve the taste of your protein shake at home, we recommend you start with an unflavored protein powder.

That way, you’ll be able to add the flavors you want without worrying about how well they mesh with the pre-existing aromas.

But you can also choose flavored protein powders that simply taste better. For example, I prefer vanilla whey protein over plant protein. You might, too - don’t be afraid to experiment.

Use Natural Sweeteners

honey in a spoon

We’ve already said that an average natural sweetener tastes much better than an average artificial sweetener.

So, the first step towards a better-tasting protein shake is buying a powder that contains no artificial sweeteners. The next step is to replace them with natural ones.

Try using these natural ingredients to sweeten your protein shakes: 

  • Maple syrup
  • Honey
  • Agave
  • Fruit juice

If you’re going to use fruit juice, I recommend choosing a cherry, pomegranate, or orange juice.

Instead of juice, you might want to add fruit directly to your protein shake. Here are a few good choices:

  • Mashed berries
  • Bananas
  • Mangos
  • Strawberries

Add Flavor Enhancers

Flavor extracts can also make your protein shake taste better. Plus, they’re sugar-free. Peppermint, vanilla, and almond extracts are all excellent choices.

Alternatively, you can use cinnamon or cocoa powder.

Cool Down Your Protein Shake

Protein shakes taste better when they’re cold. If you don’t have enough time to cool your protein shake in the fridge, add a couple of ice cubes to it before drinking it.

Make a Milkshake

strawberry milkshake in a glass

You can instantly turn your blah protein shake into a tasty, creamy milkshake by using milk instead of water.

If you prefer yogurt, feel free to use it instead of milk. Just make sure you mix it with some water.

If you’re lactose intolerant, use orange juice or a milk substitute for this purpose. Almond, coconut, and soy milk are all fantastic options.

You can also check our article about the tastiest protein powders with water.

Related article:

FAQs

How Do You Take Protein Powder if You Hate the Taste?

If you hate the taste of protein powder, mix it with other ingredients you like. Adding almond milk, natural sweeteners, and flavor extracts can help make your protein shakes taste much better.

Do You Know What Makes Your Protein Powder Taste Bad?

Now you know all the factors that can affect the taste of the powders and protein shakes. You just need to determine which ones are to blame in your case.

But also consider that perhaps you’re not a protein-powder person, and you still won’t like the flavor.

In that case, you can switch to a high-protein diet or sweeten an unflavored powder yourself.

If I were you, I’d give option two a go. Follow these instructions, and your taste buds won’t even notice the powder in a protein shake. And I guarantee you’ll enjoy the flavor.


References:

  1. https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-021-00725-y
  2. https://csanr.wsu.edu/significant-benefits-organic-plant-based-foods/
  3. https://www.ceenta.com/news-blog/how-texture-affects-taste
  4. https://totalshape.com/supplements/how-to-make-protein-powder-taste-better/
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