Protein smoothies are amazing. They’re like real food, but take no time to make. They taste good, but you can be unbelievably nimble in making them meet your nutritional needs. They satisfy the sweet tooth, but when done right don’t throw your calories, glycemic load, or whatever measure you put your faith in.
The 2-2-1 Base
To use French cuisine terms, this is my Mother Shake that all of my shakes are founded on:
- 2 cups liquid
- 2 scoops of protein powder
- 1 cup frozen fruit
Bam. Toss these in a blender and you have a basic smoothie. Volume-wise, it’s a decent sized meal that fits in most on-the-go drink bottles favored by athletic populations. It’s also easy as heck to remember or to explain to that special someone who might make you one.
For liquids, I’m a milk guy. Milk is awesome. It makes things taste better and it has protein. I go with skim because my wife doesn’t like the higher octane. I don’t mind. I’m also not worried about the problems cited with skim versus other kinds. (I should be worried about my pizza and fried chicken habits, but I can’t say that I really am, either, so why worry about the milk?) I also use water, juices, and faux milks, too.
For protein powder, just about any kind works; whey is cheap and easy to find, so I use it. I switch between brands (BOGO is better than brand loyalty), but always try to get one that has a fairly mild, even bland flavor. For my money, protein powders are like cheap beer: the less flavor they have, the better they are. I’d rather taste the good stuff I’m throwing in.
The best all-around fruits for smoothies are berries. Berries are easy to handle, nutritionally robust, similar in calorie profile across different varieties, and don’t have enzyme problems that can foul up your shake flavor. Honestly, I stick almost exclusively with frozen berries supplemented by bananas (generally peeled and frozen for easy use.) Other fruits can work great, but have limitations. Peaches, pears, and cherries have a very mild flavor that has a hard time competing even with weak protein powders. Pineapple tastes great, but if used fresh its enzymes can turn a shake into a brown sludge in no time (bananas can do the same, but not as rapidly.) Citrus fruits can be too pulpy to use whole (hence my mention of juices.)
And don’t worry if you’d rather not have fun with fructose—I’ll get into low-carb scheming, too.
My 2-2-1 usually looks like this (all measurements approximate):
In terms of calories and protein, that’s roughly a roasted chicken breast and possibly a side dish, depending on whether you go the milk route or not.
Fiber: This is my top addition to the 2-2-1. A teaspoon or so of powdered fiber can do remarkable things for one’s bowels. I prefer plain psyllium husk—the flavored stuff will overpower natural flavorings, and inulin seems to turn most people into gas bags since gut bacteria gorge on the stuff. Plain husk is practically undetectable in a shake, except as a thickener if it’s had time to settle in.
Nuts: I don’t often add nut butters to my shakes, but I do regularly add chopped pecans and walnuts. The likely nutritional benefits are hard to ignore, and they’re an easy way to bring up the calories.
Yogurt/Kefir: First, these are great for adding texture and balancing the sweetness of a fruit-flavored smoothie. Second, they bring extra nutrients to the table. Third, they likely have a host of targeted abilities that can help with various conditions for different populations. So even if these fermented items aren’t daily additions, they can still be situational. Kefir’s my usual choice since it keeps longer and because it has a little more kick than yogurt (so I don’t have to use as much), though yogurt has more impact on the texture of a shake and makes for a nice change-up.
Oats: I’ve gotten away from these, but I think they can still be a viable option for people looking to add some bulk/calories/fiber to their smoothie. They’ll taste slightly grainy immediately after blending,
Extracts/Flavorings: I haven’t had much luck with the flavorings you find in a grocer’s baking goods aisle. Many have a strong chemical taste, and your shake is relatively small enough so that tiny differences in how much you add can lead to big changes in flavor. Look for products meant for use in beverages to make dosing less of an issue and to lessen any potential bad tastes. The safest bets for flavors are those that come from naturally oily foods, like citrus peels, aromatic plant leaves, and nuts, or from easily powdered substances like chocolate and spices.
Vegetables: Yep, you can throw a piece of broccoli or a carrot in there. I’m pretty good about eating my veggies, so I don’t do this, but you’re free to if you’d like. Canned pumpkin and canned sweet potatoes can be a fruit substitute.
Sensory Enhancers: Salt and alcohol (in very small amounts) can make just about anything taste better, without being tasted themselves. This probably seems like the most uppity thing you can do to a shake, but it really opens up Flavor Country. Don’t knock it until you try it.
Cottage Cheese: Not my thing, but it might be yours.
Desserts and Beer: Ice cream makes everything better. Chocolate ice cream and a dose of decent porter or stout equals bliss.
If you have problems keeping regular or want to bounce back from a round of antibiotics, give this a try.
I’ve seen people use anywhere from a tablespoon of PB to half a bottle for shakes. It’s infrequent on my menu, and when I do add some, I usually just glop it in gradually to taste.
This is my shake of choice—it covers all the nutritional bases, has enough calories to be a meal, and enough substance to keep me full.
I could’ve used this in high school.
So I had some tangerines lying around I didn’t really want to eat on their own. Feeling creative, I sliced and juiced them, mixed in some protein, and found myself liking the result. Then I busted out the bitters and things got real.
Try these out ad let me know if you've got other good recipes!