Believe it or not, many active individuals (even professional athletes!) struggle with how to make a great smoothie, recovery shake, or meal replacement shake! The standard methods used to make these drinks can sometimes lead one to feel sluggish, bloated, or even worse, the athlete does not ingest the necessary nutrients or calories they need for performance and recovery. Involuntary weight gain may also be the result.
Why? The macronutrient composition of the shake and the ingredients chosen are often out of balance.
Common errors that occur when trying to make a shake or smoothie.
1. Be Frugal with Fruit
Sure, fruit is an incredible food. It has a ton of antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals necessary for optimal health.
However, when you're looking to make the shake or smoothie of champions, adding an abundance of fruit, fruit juice, or fruit-based yogurt may not be your best option.
While fruit's naturally occurring load of antioxidants may lead you to feel energized, adding too many servings to your blender can be problematic due to fruit's higher sugar content. Sure, it's all-natural sugar, which is great, especially for active individuals, but it can still hinder your goals. Even more, blending fruit in a blender decreases your digestive tract workload, thus causing a massive spike in blood sugar.
Instead of adding three to four servings of fruit to your smoothie, stick with one to two and be sure to include a handful of green leafy vegetables. Choose frozen vegetables such as spinach or even riced cauliflower, this will allow for a more appetizing texture with a bonus surprise of added fiber and micronutrients.
2. Fat is Your Friend
While it was once believed makes us fat, we now know that healthy fats' consumption can improve our body composition and cognition. High-quality plant-based fat is a fuel that breaks down slowly, thus allowing us to have more stable blood sugar throughout the day. More stable blood sugar translates to feeling sharp for more extended periods and reduced sugar cravings. This ultimately prevents overeating.
Next time you make a shake or smoothie, consider adding 1/4-1/2 of a frozen avocado (our favorite superfood!) to thicken your shake for a more nutrient-dense, milkshake-like texture. MCT Oil, coconut oil, and walnut oil can also be great options.
3. Be Sure to Dose Appropriately
When making a protein shake, the recommended amount of protein varies from ~15-40g depending on goals, body size, and the intensity and duration of exercise.
So, next time you're scooping some protein into your shaker bottle or blender, pay attention to the amount of protein per serving. Some protein powders require 2 scoops to achieve 20-40g of protein while others require one.
It's also essential to make sure the entire scoop falls into your glass as many protein powders can be a bit clumpy. And, let's be honest, we are often rushing on to the next task or meeting.
Suppose you don't pay attention to the label or your scoop. In that case, you may only get 10-15g of protein after your intense workouts, which may leave you with an overall deficit for your needs leading to negative nitrogen balance, muscle catabolism, and impaired muscle recovery.
4. Fear Food Additives & Preservatives
Many of us don't realize why we cling to coffee or energy drinks each day. We chalk it up as just getting older, "that's life", or overtraining. While these things may certainly contribute to fatigue, several individuals rarely feel rested no matter how much sleep or relaxation they get.
One reason for frequent fatigue is the many unnecessary additives, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives in our food- especially our protein shakes and nutrition bars! Unfortunately, many "health foods" and powders full of junk to improve taste, texture, and shelf life. While navigating these obstacles is necessary, it often comes at a cost. If gut health is already compromised from junk food consumption, stress, poor sleep, medications, etc., then the chemicals, additives, and food dyes laced in your protein powder may serve as gasoline to the fire.
What does that cost us? Energy, focus, body composition, mood, and more. #nobueno
Consuming the many harmful and unnecessary chemicals in our sport-related powders can lead to stress on our bodies in various ways. Some of the ways these chemicals can affect us include:
- Modifying the gut microbiome due to decreasing the healthy bacteria in our gut
- Stressing the immune system due to difficulty with digestion
- Increasing the risk for preventable disease by consumption of possibly carcinogenic chemicals
The next time you turn over a label and see things that you wouldn't find in your grandmother's kitchen, i.e., high fructose corn syrup, sucralose, red dye 40, etc., then it may be best to put that product down and support a company who focuses on more pure ingredients.
5. Your Gut May Be in Need of a Rest
If you've been feeling sluggish, especially if you've noticed it more frequently and often without cause, then it may be time to start keeping a food and symptom journal. If you find that certain foods or their ingredients are causing you to feel poorly, a brief 3-6 week elimination diet can completely change the game regarding health and performance. In my practice, I have found that sometimes this is that 1% that the athlete needed to take things to the next level. It was the last touch needed to land that division one scholarship, go pro, or make the national team.
By eliminating the top foods most famous for wreaking havoc on your particular immune system, you may find yourself with restored energy, focus, and overall health. It's not possible to reach your athletic potential at the end of the day if you have not reached your ultimate health potential.
It's hard to believe but many of the "health foods", supplements, and protein shakes or bars can be part of the root cause of why we're fatigued.
The good news is that fatigue can be fixed. It's not aging or "life." Numerous things may be contributing to fatigue- from gut issues, food sensitivities, and beyond, so please do not accept "no" for an answer if your healthcare practitioner shrugs off your symptoms.
The first step to restoring energy is to eat whole foods and remember to read the food label of anything you consume. Ensure that only all-natural ingredients are used and little to no additives, chemicals, or preservatives.
After you make this change, if you're still having issues, consult a functional nutrition-trained dietitian to dig deeper into your symptoms' root cause. It's never too late to improve health or sports performance!
Kylene Bogden is the dietitian/nutritionist for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the co-founder of FWDfuel Sports Nutrition. For more information and support, connect with her @fwdfuel