Portable and packed with nutrients in every sip, a protein smoothie can be a great vehicle for getting in your macronutrients, whether it's for breakfast, to fuel up for — or recover from — a workout, or as a between-meal energy boost.
If you go easy on the sugar, amp up the protein, and include nutritional powerhouses, you'll be golden. But because of its liquid nature, it can be all too easy to craft up a calorie-laden, milkshake-like smoothie that won’t really bring you any gains. Here are five mistakes you've likely made while preparing your smoothies, plus how to fix them so that your smoothie keeps you satisfied without excess crap.
Are You Making These Protein Smoothie Mistakes?
1. You're Failing to Determine Its Purpose: Is It a Meal, a Snack, or Post-Workout Fuel?
Before throwing in ingredients and blending, consider your goal. Do you want your smoothie to serve as a meal replacement, an addition to your breakfast, or just as a snack? Your answer will guide what you add to your blender, and in what amounts.
“You’ll want to include more protein and slightly more fat if your smoothie is meant to be a meal, and smaller portions if you’re having it in addition to a meal,” Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, says.
For a post-workout smoothie, pack in more protein in the form of Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, nut butters, and protein powder. Also, remember to watch the fat content, she says.
2. You Might Be Using the Wrong Liquid.
Do you find yourself feeling hungry directly after finishing a protein smoothie? Almond milk and coconut milk are favorites for smoothies, but they don’t supply a lot protein to keep you satisfied, Jones says.
“If you don’t drink dairy, choose soy milk for a plant-based option to get this essential nutrient," she explains. "Or, add yogurt or a whole-food plant protein powder, like pea or hemp protein."
As an athlete, you need the muscle-building benefit of protein to power you.
3. You're Forgetting the Veggies.
Greens like Swiss chard and spinach introduce minerals and other nutrients (like magnesium, potassium, protein, and iron) to replenish lost electrolytes and soothe your muscles after a tough effort. And compared to fruit, these vegetables are lower in calories and sugar.
Frozen diced cauliflower, cucumbers, and carrots all add nutrients without screaming, “There’s veggies in here!” You can still toss in a fruit, but add veggies as well as protein and good fats, and you’re set.
4. You're Unknowingly Consuming Added Sugar.
If you choose a prepared, packaged smoothie or hit up your local juice store, there's definitely added sugar in your glass. Honey, flavored yogurt, and fruit juices all jack up the sugar count, so if you must purchase a pre-packaged or store-made smoothie, specifically ask for it without these ingredients. Substitutes like vanilla extract and maca root powder add sweetness without sugar.
5. You're Trying too Hard to Be a "Meal-Replacement" Person.
You drink a 400-calorie smoothie for breakfast, only to feel hungry and unsatisfied an hour later, reaching for more calories. If that sounds familiar, you're probably just not satisfied by liquid calories.
“For some people, liquid calories — even with the right balance of nutrients — just aren’t satisfying," Jones says. "You may be someone who psychologically needs to be putting a fork or spoon to your mouth and chew to be satisfied from a meal."
In that case, try a thicker smoothie bowl topped with seeds and fresh fruit that you’ll have to chew. And if you're still hungry after that, regard smoothies as snacks rather than meals and size them down accordingly.