Building a Better Protein Shake
Protein shakes have always seemed to be a necessary evil. They're a quick meal for people on the go, a muscle builder after a workout and a nutritional aid for the elderly or infirmed.
There are just a few little problems. They're often expensive. They rarely contain the specific nutritional mix you might require. Most only come in three flavors: chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. Oh, and the majority of them taste like crap.
To make protein shakes more tailored to my needs, several years ago I started experimenting with homemade versions. After making literally thousands of different recipes, I'd like to share a few of the shortcuts I've learned.
Start with the liquid ingredients first and stir them together. Then add the protein powder so it can dissolve before you put in anything else.
Consider using frozen fruit and vegetables instead of fresh. Frozen produce will keep for a longer period of time and when you mix it into the drink, it'll make everything cold without watering it down like an ice can.
If the shake is too thin, ice cubes can give it more body. You can also try a tablespoon of sugar-free pudding mix, just be aware that many pudding mixes are higher in sodium. Fruit and nuts can help, but be careful. A single banana can add almost 15 grams of sugar and a quarter cup of raw almonds has 200 calories and 18 grams of fat.
Fiber can often be added without affecting the taste. Try a fiber supplement or simply add a little wheat germ. Two tablespoons of wheat germ add two grams of fiber and only 50 calories.
Milk is the basis of many protein shakes, but it doesn't have to be. Add soy, rice or almond milk for a little more variety. I've even made shakes with diet soda, coffee, tea, coconut water and fat-free half & half. The key is making sure you avoid the most full fat ingredients.
Sneak some vegetables in for more balanced nutrition. Cucumber goes surprisingly well with caramel. I've even made a grape protein shake that includes a full cup of spinach without altering the sweet grape taste.
Remember that there are lots of ways to sweeten it without adding sugar. Most people are aware of Sweet'N Low, Equal and Splenda. But did you know there's stevia, sugar-free honey (from Honey Tree), sugar-free syrup from Smucker's and Cary's, sugar-free caramel, sugar-free pudding and sugar-free Jell-O mixes? Just a little of these ingredients can add a tremendous amount of flavor.
Cold is not your only option. On a chilly winter day, you can warm up with a hot café carnivale, a hot vanilla or a steamy Russian orange spice tea. Look at your favorite hot drink and experiment with a protein added version.
To make small adjustments, try flavor extracts. A drop of vanilla extract can really enhance the taste without adding any calories. I've also used orange, root beer, mint, and even almond for the perfect little kick.
For those drinks you blend, start slow for the first 20-25 seconds, then increase the speed until you've achieved the consistency you want. If it's clumping, turn the blender off, shake things up a little and turn it back on. Sometimes the blades create an air bubble that you need to move the ingredients back into before it'll blend.
When you're trying to lose weight, give yourself a little extra appetite suppression. Turn the blender on high and make more froth. In a study conducted at Pennsylvania State University in 2007, they found that subjects consumed 21% less weight and energy of a food that had been aerated. (In other words, whip it up and you'll think your eating more and be more satisfied.)
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