Should You Really be Drinking Shakes?
Green smoothies. Juice cleanses. Protein shakes: post-workout, before the workout, during the workout. Or should you even use a shake? Get your answers below.
1. When are shakes good and who should use them?
For most people trying to maintain or lose weight, eating solid, normal food is usually best. But when life gets in the way, a well-made shake can be a great option - if you do it right. Otherwise you might think what you're doing is healthy, but you'll be eating way too much sugar.
Shakes can be useful in three main situations, and what goes into the shake should change depending on it's purpose.
- As a meal replacement when you're in a rush, have no convenient options, or as an extra meal if you're trying to gain weight and need an easy way to get extra, quality calories.
- As a way to get more vegetables if you struggle with that.
- As an easy to digest post-workout recovery meal.
In this post we're going to talk about the first two scenarios. (You can learn about the third in my FREE E-BOOK ALL ABOUT SHAKES.) A lot has already been written about post-workout recovery. In general, the idea is to have some protein intake and relatively high carb consumption right after a workout to help replenish muscle energy stores.
The only thing I'll say about that topic is that it really only applies to you if you're already relatively lean, 80% of your meals are already solid, and athletic performance is your main goal. Post-workout nutrition can help recovery, but what will help a lot more is good basic eating. Having pizza all day and then having a sugary drink after your training isn't going to get your healthier or leaner.
2. The problem with most commercial juices/shakes
Tons of stores sell juice/smoothies/shakes. Unfortunately they usually don’t have much nutrition, contain a heavy dose of sugar, lack protein (or use a poor quality source), and are missing many nutrients found in whole foods.
This doesn’t have to be the case.
It’s actually easy to build an excellent shake with high quality protein, tons of nutrients, fibre and healthy fats.
3. Start with a good blender
The magic bullet is a great less-expensive option. A Vitamix or Blendtec are more expensive, but they are super powerful and have a great warranty. They also sound like a jet-engine when you put them on full blast, so get ready to re-live Top Gun every time you crank your shake game to the max! "Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby."
HOW TO MAKE A HIGH QUALITY SHAKE
STEP 1: PICK A LIQUID
OPTIONS: water, milk, unsweetened almond/soy/hemp milk, iced green tea.
HOW MUCH: depends how thick you want. 4-8oz is a good starting point.
NOTES: we usually don’t recommend soy or cows milk for most people for general health reasons, and definitely no dairy if fat loss is a goal.
STEP 2: PICK A PROTEIN POWDER
OPTIONS: whey, casein, pea, rice, egg, or hemp protein. Make sure they have no additives, sugar and zero or minimal sweeteners - especially if fat loss is a goal.
HOW MUCH: 1-2 scoops, or 25-50g.
NOTES: Biosteel (which my gym, Quantum CrossFit, carries) or New Zealand Whey are good bets.
STEP 3: PICK A VEGGIE
OPTIONS: leafy greens (spinach/kale/chard), canned pumpkin, cucumber/celery, beets (peeled and roasted/boiled).
HOW MUCH: 1-2 hand fulls.
NOTES: Spinach is pretty flavourless and is a great, not-gross starting point. Canned pumpkin goes well with vanilla & cinnamon. Cucumber & celery require less liquid to be added to the shake.
STEP 4: PICK A FRUIT
OPTIONS: apples, bananas, berries, cherries, dates, pineapple, mango.
HOW MUCH: 1-2 cupped hand fulls.
NOTES: Use less fruit or fruits with less sugar (usually less dense fruits like berries, apples, pears, etc) if fat loss is a primary goal. If that's the case we want to limit sugar intake and fruit contains lots of natural sugars. Use fresh fruit or frozen - whatever is most convenient. Dates are very sweet so just use a small amount if you do use them & remove the pit first.
STEP 5: ADD A HEALTHY FAT
OPTIONS: olive oil, coconut oil, nut or seed butter, chia, flax, any nuts/seed.
HOW MUCH: 1-2 “thumbs” worth.
NOTES: Olive oil works well. It sounds gross, but you can’t taste it and it is a very healthy fat. You can add 3-4 table spoons to most smoothies and still not taste it.
STEP 6: (OPTIONAL) ADD A TOPPER(s) FOR FLAVOUR
OPTIONS: coconut, coco, nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, mint, parsley, dill, yogurt, oats (if you need extra carbs).
HOW MUCH: To taste, but a little goes a long way with these.
CUSTOMIsE YOUR SHAKE TO YOUR PURPOSE
1. My shake is a meal replacement
Don't have time for a full breakfast or lunch but want to get some quality nutrition in?
When I don't have time to prep food or just have a busy day where I won't have a long enough break to eat properly, I use the following method - especially for a day that demands my maximum level of concentration and focus. These adjustments keep my energy levels and mental acuity high even during long, busy days.
The Quick Version:
- go light on the fruit and anything with sugar
- double or triple (or more) the fat over the "basic recipe"
- be on the higher end for protein 30-50 grams
The Why behind it:
Too much sugar can cause problems with blood sugar management. We've all been there when we've had a heavy lunch - inevitably with high carbohydrate foods like bread, pasta, pizza or sweets - and then we crash in the afternoon and can barely keep our eyes open. We're basically incapacitated and unproductive for an hour or two until it wears off. I don't know about you, but when I'm working with a client or have something important to do, that's not acceptable.
I'll go into managing your energy levels throughout the day in more detail in another post (there's plenty that you can control with simple modifications), but for now, know that a high carbohydrate or high sugar meal tends to give you lots of energy in the very short term, but then causes a drop in your energy levels after that. You'll feel tired, your mental focus will drop, and you won't be at your best.
We add extra fat into the shake because it will make you feel more full. One of the downsides of a liquid meal is that it tends not be as satiating as a normal meal. The extra fat solves this problem. Fat decreases the speed of digestion so it gives us a more even, slower release of energy. The healthy fats will also give you enough fuel for your busy day without the negative effects of sugar on your energy levels. Because fat has virtually no impact on blood sugar, it's a very safe, predictable way to add calories to a meal while avoiding spikes and crashes in energy levels.
Finally, we want to be on the higher end with your protein to help round out the meal, and make it more satiating so you feel full and content.
If your goal is to gain weight, you can add a shake or two into your day as a simple, easy to digest method of increasing total calorie intake without resorting to stuffing tons of processed food into your face. For weight gain, you can increase the carbs a little more, by adding 1-2 scoops of something starchy, like oats, pumpkin puree or sweet potato puree.
2. My shake is a way to get more vegetable intake
Once in a while I use a shake as a way to increase my vegetable intake. I try to eat at least a fist worth of vegetables in two of my daily meals every day, no matter what - usually lunch and dinner. If I'm stuck and don't have any good options on hand, I'll whip up a shake.
In this case I made some modifications to the basic template.
- put in just enough fruit or sweet stuff to make it not disgusting. I'm not trying to eat a lot of fruit or carbs here, I just want the vegetables in this case.
- add a moderate amount or zero fat - if it isn't a meal replacement and I just want the vegetables, I don't really need this.
- I usually skip the protein since, again, I'm really just looking for increased veggie consumption
Most smoothie recipes on the internet will look like this: 2 cups of milk, 2 scoops of peanut butter, 1 tablespoon of honey, and 1-2 scoops of chocolate brownie flavour protein power. It'll taste delicious - like a Reese Peanut Butter Cup - but it's missing the healthy fats, fibre, vegetables and other nutritious ingredients in our template. Plus shakes like this are way too high in sugar and sweeteners.
Modify any recipes you use to fit my basic template, and then modify further to fit your purpose and needs.
- PRECISION NUTRITION CLASSIC
½ cup Greek yogurt, 1-2 “thumbs” mixed nuts, 1 handful frozen berries, 1-2 handfuls spinach, 2 scoops vanilla protein, 4 ounces water.
- A BUCKET OF BLUBIES
0.5-1 cup blueberries, 1 cup spinach, 2 scoops protein, 1 cup almond milk (unsweetened), 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 pinch cinnamon
- PUMPKIN SHAKE
12 oz water/milk, 2 scoops vanilla protein, ¾ cup canned pumpkin, 1 tbsp walnuts, 1 tbsp ground flax, cinnamon and vanilla extract to taste
- TROPICAL SHAKE
200-300ml of water, 1-2 large handfuls of spinach, 8-12 fresh mint leaves, small handful of frozen pineapple, 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. If you want, add the juice of one lime, a 1/4 piece of ginger and plain, vanilla, or chocolate protein. All work relatively well.
WANT MORE ADVANCED NUTRITIONAL INFO... AND MORE GREAT SHAKE RECIPES?
NEED MORE HELP?
Hit me up for a free online consult to see how you can up your nutrition game with a straight forward action plan that is 100% customised to your unique goals, needs and circumstances.
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