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

Smoothie vs Shake Difference

A common question we see about smoothies is how are they different than milkshakes and can protein shakes be the same as a smoothie ?

Since we specialize in blenders on this site, we thought it would be a good idea to explain each of the above three drink types (smoothies, shakes, protein shakes) and their respective pros and cons.

In comparing a smoothie vs shake, we will also be addressing questions like:

  • Which is the best as far as your health is concerned?
  • Are milkshakes and shakes the same thing ?
  • Which option has the most variety when it comes to recipes?
  • Which option is the best overall ?

Let’s get started by understanding smoothies.


Green Smoothie vs shake

A smoothie is typically a thick, blended drink containing fresh fruits and vegetables along with some sort of healthy liquid base like water, rice milk, or almond milk. Some people also like to add ice and different types of natural sweeteners to their smoothies for flavor.

The reason for their thickness is that once you blend fruits and veggies, unlike using a juicing machine, the resulting liquid still contains all of the pulp, along with the many nutrients found within it.

Depending on the ingredients that you choose to add to your smoothie, they can range from being incredibly beneficial for your health to borderline unhealthy due to an abundance of sugar content.

Excess sugar can come from adding too many fruits to your smoothie, as well as from added ingredients such as sweetened yogurt and honey. In addition, when you add things like sweetened yogurt and sweeteners then you greatly increase the amount of fat and calories in your smoothie.

As a general rule of thumb, the greener your smoothie is, the healthier it tends to be. For this reason, the bulk of the ingredients added to your smoothies should be leafy green vegetables, along with other types of greens with a high water content, like cucumbers. After adding your vegetable content, gradually add a bit of fruit in for sweetening.

TIP – New to smoothies ? Read our Guide How to Make Smoothies which details everything you need to know.

One of the main benefits of making smoothies is the sheer amount of recipes available. There is an endless amount of possible combinations of ingredients that can produce a wide variety of colorful flavors and important nutrients.

Even for individuals who are lactose intolerant or cannot consume dairy products for other reasons, there is still a way to enjoy smoothies. There is definitely a smoothie option for everyone. Related article: Dairy Free Smoothie recipes

Smoothies are also a great way to get more fruits and veggies into the diets of picky kids. Many children absolutely hate eating vegetables; however, if they are blended and easy to drink quickly, they will not mind. Smoothies are perfect for keeping your kids healthy!


Traditional milkshakes are based on an ice cream base and usually include things like milk and chocolate syrup and fruit. Obviously traditional milkshakes are loaded with calories and fat so they aren’t really a proper comparison to smoothies .

A healthier version of “shakes” are protein shakes when I discuss below where you remove the ice creams and use healthier alternative thickening ingredients like avocado, frozen bananas, and coconut. The liquid base of shakes is typically milk.

As for flavors of milkshakes, they are generally only limited by whatever flavors of ice cream you have available. As you can imagine, this can result in some pretty interesting milkshake flavors.

As yummy as milkshakes are, since they generally contain next to no nutritional value, we cannot recommend them over smoothies or over the next option we will be covering which are protein shakes.

Protein Shakes

Protein Shake ExamplesA definite step up over milkshakes as far as making shakes goes, healthy protein shakes are similar to smoothies in that they can range from being pretty healthy to sugary junk food just as easily. Generally protein shakes are designed for specific purposes like gaining muscle or cutting carbs. Some shakes are designed specifically as meal replacement shakes as part of a weight loss program.(1)

Just like milkshakes, protein shakes tend to have a thick texture. This is due to the many different types of bases and ingredients that can be used when making a protein shake.

Things like frozen bananas, coconut milk, raw eggs, avocado, and raw milk are not uncommon ingredients to find in a protein shake. In addition to this, while it is possible to make a protein shake using nothing but whole food ingredients, many shakes also add protein powder into the mix to really raise the protein content.

As you can imagine from looking at the list of possible ingredients, protein shakes can be very high in calories. This makes them an ideal choice for anyone looking to gain mass and indeed they are a common post-workout meal option.

A couple of downsides when it comes to protein shakes is the fact that there are many people who are either lactose intolerant or do not eat dairy byproducts for lifestyle reasons (for example, vegans) so they are unable to add eggs, milk, or whey powder to their shakes. There are ways around this however, such as using almond milk and vegan protein powder instead.

TIP – Did you know that natural plant-based Hemp protein is loaded with important amino acids and is the most digestible source of protein? Also whey protein products are highly processed and can contain a lot of sweeteners and fillers. Hemp protein is a cleaner, easily digestible source of protein. Here is the Hemp Protein I use.

The other downside is that protein shakes are not as nutritious as smoothies and most people don’t need all the protein that protein shakes provide.

The Final Verdict – Smoothies vs Shakes

Now that we have gone over the basics of all three drink varieties, it is time to settle on a winner.

First things first, we can safely rule out milkshakes. When compared to smoothies and protein shakes, milkshakes are extremely high in calories and loaded with sugar. While they make a delicious treat, milkshakes simply cannot compete on the health scale.

When it comes to smoothies or protein shakes, they both have their pros. Smoothies are a great way to add fruits and vegetables to your diet. Protein shakes, on the other hand, are an incredibly convenient way to add more calories and large protein doses to one’s daily diet, which makes them perfect for those trying to gain weight.

TIP – You can easily add protein to healthy smoothies by using nut butters, raw oats, seeds, and various nuts so you get the benefits of both healthy proteins and vegetables.

In the end though, smoothies take the edge for two main reasons:

  1. The first reason is that vegan style diets have incredible proven health benefits, so anything that adds more fruits and veggies to anyone’s diet is a good thing. The health benefits are simply too numerous to ignore.
  2. Secondly, it is entirely possible to add natural high protein foods and protein powder to your smoothies as well. By doing this you are able to gain all of the incredible health benefits of a smoothie while increasing your protein intake too. This type of beverage can even safely replace the traditional post-workout protein shake.

Thanks to these two main reasons, smoothies edge out protein shakes as being the better option when it comes to improving your overall health.

Have you ever tried a green smoothie ? Share you thoughts below !

Anna Powell

Anna is a blending expert that for years has researched, tested, and written about 100's of blenders and smoothie recipes.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below


I read your article with great interest. I will suggest another take on the protein drinks is that they may also be for people who want to lose weight. My personal experience is that being retired, eating just two meals a day, being dairy intolerant, and following a paleo food plan, I was not getting enough calories in my day and upping my workouts to lose weight, I also needed to up my daily protein intake. In addition to the organic dairy free protein powder, I add coconut milk, spinach/kale mix, almond butter, banana, and chia/flax mix. While I’m not taking weight off as quickly as I would like, I am taking off the weight a safe 4-6 lb per month.

Leave a Reply: