Your Nutritional Swiss Army Knife
Shakes, blender bombs, power shakes, smoothies, whatever you want to call them, are a great tool in your nutritional arsenal. When made correctly, they allow you incredible flexibility and convenience with your nutrition. You might not have the time to sit down 3-4 times a day and eat a nutritious meal with lean proteins, fruits/vegetables, and a blend of fats. Maybe you have been making an effort to eat breakfast with more protein but you can’t find the time to squeeze eggs and chicken sausage into your morning schedule – a smoothie can be your nutritional Swiss army knife if you know how to wield it correctly.
The Perfect Time-Effective Afternoon Snack
Need a mid-afternoon snack with protein and fiber that you can have on the go? Smoothies can make this possible. You can get all the nutrition you need in a well planned blender bomb that can be prepared ahead of time, taken with you during the day, and consumed rather quickly. The perfect solution for a busy person looking to improve their body and health. In my early twenties, I managed a biochemistry lab at the University of Vermont. The afternoons were a very busy time and a pre-blended smoothie was my saving grace. I would pull it out of the fridge, shake it once or twice, drink, and get back to the assay I was running.
Calorie Controlled Perfection for Simple Fat Loss
Meal replacement shakes have long been a very effective strategy for simple weight loss in both commercial (think EAS Body for Life) and medical/scientific settings. Unfortunately, most commercially available meal replacement shakes follow the same antiquated nutrition formula:
- 40g protein
- 1-2g fat
- 20-25g carbohydrates
- minimal fiber
- fortified with 25-50% of RDA for essential vitamins/minerals
This is an okay nutritional profile but the carbohydrates used in most MRPs are cheap sugars arranged in a form that allows them to be called complex carbohydrates, despite the fact that they are digested essentially as fast as table sugar. Fat and fiber play supporting roles to protein in satiety (i.e. the sustained feeling of fullness following a meal) and MPRs are formulated to take advantage of this important biochemistry.
You can quickly make your own fat loss smoothie, delivering a calorie-controlled nutrient rich beverage that maximizes satiety, helping you stick to the calorie-controlled plan that you need in order to lose the weight you want (I’ll show you how below).
The downside of using smoothies for weight loss is highlighted in one study from University of Kansas Medical Center that showed the satiety effects of a liquid protein drink to be far inferior to the effects of an actual meal. This isn’t surprising as eating food will generally make you feel fuller than drinking. However, other research from Penn State University shows that taking steps to increase the volume of your smoothie can make it more satiating. You can do this by blending it longer and using a protein powder that contains casein or casein and whey, instead of just whey.
I have found that a properly constructed smoothie can provide clients with an optimal combination of time savings, nutrition, and satiety – making it an effective fat loss tool.
The Simplest Way to Gain Muscle
Adding a calorie and protein packed smoothie is one of my go to strategies for clients who are looking to gain muscle and get stronger. Often times, the limiting factor in these situations is not eating enough food. When you are working to build muscle, yes you need to train hard, but you also need to consume an excess of calories for your body to use to build more muscle.
Liquid calories, like smoothies, are easy to consume. If you don’t believe me, look at soft drinks. It is really easy to sit down and drink a can of Coke, right? Those are liquid calories (just the bad kind). You may not be able to stomach endless plates of steak, chicken, fish, rice, potatoes, and pasta, but most people always have room for liquid calories. In addition, it is very easy to add a 600 calorie smoothie to your daily diet – and then you don’t need to change anything else about your diet or day in order to kickstart muscle building – that is muscle mass made simple!
This is why smoothies are an important part of any muscle building program.
To make a great smoothie that is going to get you healthier, leaner, and more muscular, you need to make sure it contains certain ingredients. The world is full of smoothie recipes where people just chuck a ton of fruit in a blender and call it ‘healthy’. Not so fast. The rules of nutrition don’t change because you decided to pulverize your food into a liquid slurry. You wouldn’t sit down and eat 1 banana, 1 apple, 2 cups of spinach, 1 cup of blueberries, and 1 cup of strawberries and call it a complete meal so why drink it and think you are doing yourself any favors (aside from coaxing your body into a pre-diabetic state with a 320 calorie bolus containing +50g of sugar).
Here are the key categories for making great smoothies. Make sure to check off at least one from each category when making your blender creation (Note: You aren’t limited to the examples I’m providing):
If it doesn’t have protein, it isn’t a good smoothie. I see many juice bars at fitness facilities with menus full of exotic sounding blended drinks all devoid of protein. If you don’t have protein in your smoothie you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Protein powder is the default for most people (myself included) but don’t limit yourself to one protein source. Mixing protein powder with Greek yogurt or kefir or cottage cheese changes the texture and mouth feel of your smoothie – get creative!
- whey protein (check out CorPerformance Whey from Cellucor, lots of great flavors)
- casein protein
- whey/casein protein blends (Metabolic Drive from Biotest is my #1 go-to)
- cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- plant based protein powders (check out Raw Meal by Garden of Life)
- ultra-filtered milk (Fairlife)
The carbohydrate choices can differ depending on if you are having your smoothie after your workout, or as a meal during the day, and if your goal is fat loss or more muscle. Whole fruits (and even vegetables) should make up the main carbohydrate sources, while fruit juices and grains, such as oats, should be used during the post-workout period or when extra calories are needed to boost muscle growth.
- tropical fruits
- blueberries (my #1 go-to)
- beets (yup..beets, you should try it)
Fats are a key component of an optimal smoothie, which is missing from almost all commercial preparations. Fat plays a key role in satiety and calorie foundation for your smoothie. Most of the time when making smoothies I opt to use nuts as the source of fats. Nuts have a great nutrient package. In addition to the fats they provide, they also bring fiber, vitamins/minerals, and antioxidants. There is a slew of research to support the benefits of having a variety of nuts in your diet.
My favorite nuts to use in smoothies are walnuts. Walnuts are great because they contain a blend of omega-6, omega-3, and monounsaturated fats. They also have a very neutral (but slightly nutty) taste. They get chopped up and dissolved into a shake very easily. Almonds are notorious for settling at the bottom of the blender (if you have a high powered blender like a Blendtec this isn’t an issue). If you are looking for a more buttery flavor to be added to your smoothie, then adding pecans is a great choice.
Oils can be used too but they often make the smoothie taste too…well…oily. Oils like olive oil, while good for you, have very distinctive tastes that can dominate the flavor of the smoothie. When following a ketogenic diet protocol (very high fat, very low carbohydrate) I will combine heavy cream and olive oil in a 1:1 ratio. The cream neutralizes the flavor and oily texture of olive oil.
- walnuts (my #1 go-to as they blend up really well and have neutral taste)
- olive oil
- coconut milk
- coconut oil
- heavy cream
- macadamia nuts
- ground flax seeds (my #1 goto)
- chia seeds (too many chia seeds can make your smoothie too thick, especially if you let it sit. If you are making your smoothie but not drinking it for a couple hours I don’t recommend using chia seeds)
- hemp seeds (these also provide protein and fats)
- fiber supplements (eg. psyllium husk powder, but not glucomannan as it makes it too thick)
Upgrades are the one optional part of a great smoothie. These are nutrient dense (generally low or calorie free) add-ons that you can use to kick your smoothie up a notch.
- cold green tea (use instead of water)
- cold brewed coffee
- instant coffee
- unsweetened cocoa powder
- Matcha/green tea powder
- Greens powder (my favorite is superfood)
- raw spinach
- micronized creatine
- vitamin/mineral powder
- pre/probiotic powder
- liquid fish oil
Making a Smoothie like a Professional
When making a killer smoothie, there are three main factors to consider – Nutrition, Taste, and Texture. People generally only think about nutrition and make something that is full of nutrients but tastes like slop, or they go for taste and end up with a smoothie that contains so much sugar they might as well have had a piece of cake.
I make smoothies for my kids all the time. When doing this, nutrition is important to me, but taste and texture are the two most important factors in getting them to gobble the smoothie down. Texture is the most overlooked component of a smoothie but how a food or drink feels in our mouth (often called mouthfeel) significantly impacts our level of enjoyment. I challenge you to step up your smoothie game and optimize your smoothies for texture and mouth feel as well. Here are 5 ways to manipulate the texture and thickness of your smoothies based on your liking.
Some people like a really thick smoothie, while others like a thinner consistency. Let’s look at how you can manipulate a smoothie’s thickness to suit your preference.
1. Temperature – The colder your smoothie is, the thicker it will be. Adding more ice cubes will instantly make your smoothie thicker. The same is true of frozen fruit. Frozen mango cubes can make your smoothie thick like ice cream. Frozen strawberries have a high ice/water content and will make a thicker shake than if you used blueberries. If you are using frozen fruit to your smoothie than you don’t need to add ice as well. Blend your smoothie with the frozen fruit first and then if you want a thicker shake add ice and blend again.
2. Protein Powder – Most people will use milk proteins (whey and/or casein) in their smoothie, as these are the most popular types of protein powders sold. The type of protein that you use can also affect the thickness of the smoothie. Using whey protein will make a thinner smoothie, while casein will make a thicker smoothie. Some protein powders are whey and casein blends (also called “Milk Protein blends”). The casein in these blends will make your smoothie thicker. My oldest son doesn’t like thick smoothies, as he likes to drink them through a twisty straw, so I always use whey protein isolate as the protein powder in his smoothies.
3. Cottage Cheese – Cottage cheese contains significant amounts of casein protein and thus can help make your smoothie thicker. Cottage cheese also adds a creamier almost ice cream-like quality that will make you feel like you are enjoying a genuine milkshake.
4. Water/Liquid – More water will make your smoothie thinner and less will make it thicker – pretty simple. I generally start with 1.5 cups of water and adjust from there.
5. Blending Time – Blending a smoothie longer will increase the amount of air that is introduced to your drink. Greater air, means greater volume (and generally thickness). This is a great way to make your smoothie more satiating. However, if you blend your smoothie too long the friction from the blending will warm your smoothie and you will lose thickness in your smoothie.
Awesome Smoothie Recipes to try – Enjoy!
Mike’s Basic Super Shake
Notes/Instructions: Strawberry flavored protein powder is a good choice here as it aids in masking the Greens “grassy” taste. This shake is high in fiber, essential fatty acids, protein, and nutrients. Go ahead…drink it right out of the blender!
Emily’s Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
Notes/Instructions: This shake is a favorite around our house and was invented by my wife. Canned pumpkin is loaded with fiber, nutrients, and is available all year round.
Almond Mocha Blast Shake
Notes/Instructions: This morning mocha drink will give you a nice dose of caffeine and fast digesting protein. The perfect combination to halt protein breakdown and wake you up, plus it isn’t full of empty calories you usually get courtesy of your local barista. Just make sure the coffee isn’t too hot as it can make the protein powder clump up.
Banana Pudding Smoothie
Notes/Instructions: This shake is so thick and delicious you might even eat it with a spoon.
Tasty Tropics Shake
Notes/Instructions: This shake tastes so good that it is hard to avoid adding a little umbrella to it and enjoying it a hammock. If you decide to go the umbrella and hammock route that’s fine, just don’t replace the protein powder with rum!
Berry Berry Berry Smoothie
Notes/Instructions: This is another shake that packs a HUGE antioxidant punch. If you use frozen strawberries then you can omit the added ice cubes.
Key Lime Smoothie
Notes/Instructions: This shake is another one of my wife’s favorites. Make sure to pick up the “lite” yogurt as it won’t have any added sugars (just some artificial sweeteners). As usual, throw all the ingredients in together and blend until smooth.
Almond Joy Smoothie
Notes/Instructions: This is one of my favorite shakes. It is a spin off of the ever popular Almond Joy candy bar…and hey if you don’t “feel like a nut” just leave out the almonds!
PWO Antioxidant Punch Smoothie
Notes/Instructions: This great antioxidant loaded shake will refuel your muscles and quench all the free radicals that were stirred up during your workout.
Raspberry Mint Burst Shake
Notes/Instructions: This is an extremely refreshing lower calorie shake perfect for a summer day snack (or if you want to pretend it is summer out).
This summer, the people at Men’s Heath and Pure Protein had me come to the Rodale Farms, in Emmaus, PA for the day to shoot videos of three of my favorite shakes for helping people get quick, quality, and nutrient-packed meals at breakfast, post workout, and for a snack. Here are the videos. The Strawberry/Banana was the favorite among the Men’s Health crew. My personal favorite is the Blueberry breakfast smoothie. I made my kids a variation of it this morning.
Blueberry Breakfast Smoothie
Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie
Post Workout Strawberry/Banana Smoothie
Ketogenic Smoothie Recipes (Update)
Below are three smoothie recipes that you will find valuable if you are following a very low carbohydrate/high fat or ketogenic diet. Each of these smoothies contains less than 10g of net carbs (total carb – fiber content). The recipes were completed using BiPro Whey protein, but you can substitute for any very low carbohydrate protein that you like.
Makes 1 serving
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (like So Delicious)
1/3 cup unsweetened full fat coconut milk (canned)
1/3 cup raspberries
3 tablespoons walnuts
1 1/2 scoops vanilla or berry BiPro
Ice and 1 packet stevia
Fat: 35 g
Carbohydrate: 14 g
Fiber: 5 g
Protein: 38 g
Green Cocoa Smoothie
Makes 1 serving
1/4 cup unsweetened full fat coconut milk (canned)
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup avocado
1/2 cup spinach
1/4 cup walnuts
1 scoop BiPro chocolate protein powder
Ice and 1 packet stevia
Fat: 37 g
Carbohydrate: 15 g
Fiber: 6 g
Protein: 31 g
Raspberry Lemon Cream
Makes 1 serving
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/3 cup raspberries
1 2/3 tablespoons walnut oil
1 2/3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 scoops BiPro vanilla or berry
Ice and 1 packet stevia
Fat: 35 g
Carbohydrate: 11 g
Fiber: 4 g
Protein: 32 g
Use these awesome smoothies to ensure that not having enough time is never an excuse for poor eating.