Last week, I was complaining to my husband about how a particular machine at the gym never freed up while I was there. He let me continue my petty diatribe until he burst out laughing.
“Listen to you,” he said with a pleased grin. ”Can you believe you’re the same girl who swore she would never step foot in a gym, lift a weight, or drink a protein shake?”
I had to laugh because he was right. Only three years ago, I would have bet big money that I would never do any of those things. Now, the gym and weight lifting are a story for another day, but the protein shake…well, the protein shake was something I wish I had just tried years ago.
I used to think protein shakes and protein powders were only for big, muscle-bound guys. My brothers would always be chugging them after the gym, my husband knocked them down after a work out. So with those guys in mind, I didn’t really see myself taking 20+ grams of protein as a snack. Protein shakes help you add bulk, right? And adding bulk means gaining weight, and I’m a girl. I don’t want to gain weight.
Wow, was I wrong.
I understand how a lot of women feel. They see the men in their life trying to look like The Rock, and slamming down protein to help them get there. But protein isn’t just for a WWE physique. It plays a major role in a healthy lifestyle for women, and it has nothing to do with packing on the pounds (and can even have the opposite effect).
Protein, especially pure sources found in powders, fills us up and keeps our bodies satisfied longer. I found that making a protein smoothie was not only a delicious way to work that much-needed protein into my diet, but keep me from starving between breakfast and lunch as well. I could make one in the morning, pour it into my to-go coffee cup and sip throughout the morning to keep my blood sugar up. As a result, I wasn’t fading by 11:00AM (which was important, especially while I was in law school) and I was less inclined to eat a carb-rich lunch.
But to get over the initial hump, I needed to retrain myself out of this anti-protein shake mindset. I realized that there is something about making a “protein smoothie” and not just “taking protein” that makes it so more appetizing to me. And the secret is in the extras.
First, pick out your base. The easiest ways to start are with:
- Cow’s milk (obviously, dairy-free for me. I used Lactaid brand)
- Soy milk
- Almond milk
But milk doesn’t have to be your base. Sometimes I start with a smidge of orange juice, which especially helps my fruit-flavored smoothies taste authentic. I also love seltzer, as the touch of carbonation and flavor (if you use a flavored one) really adds so much. If you’re a protein first timer, don’t try it with just water! I can pretty much guarantee you’ll hate it.
Next, add your protein. There are a world of views out there on the pros and cons of protein powder, but for me, I do rely on the old fashioned powder. One scoop of your average protein powder can contain roughly 120 calories, 1g of fat, 3g of carbohydrates, and 24g of protein. Even better? There are a ton of options out there for those on a gluten-free or dairy-free diet. Some alternatives:
- Grain or pea-based protein powders
- Greek yogurt
These alternatives can easily be found at specialty stores (such as Whole Foods) or online suppliers. For me, I use ON Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein in Vanilla Ice Cream (my body can tolerate whey, but remember to do what works for you).
Be warned: If you’re using a powder, check the labels! Many ingredients vary, even within a single brand. For example, looking for some variety, my husband brought home a chocolate version of our protein brand to change up from our usual Vanilla Ice Cream flavor. Problem: the chocolate had wheat in it. Just because it’s powder, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security thinking that it must be gluten-free.
Now comes the fun part: deciding what kind of smoothie do you feel like today! Do you need a chocolate fix? Want to pretend you’re on a tropical island, strawberry daiquiri in your hand? The smoothie can do it all. Playing around with your flavor of protein powder is an easy way to change up your smoothies, but keep in mind, it can also be an expensive proposition. Having multiple variations of protein powder on hand is hard because you get the best value when you buy your protein in the largest tub.
How I like to spice it up is to play with my add-ins. I keep my freezer stocked with a bunch of frozen fruit and other fixings. Here are some options:
- Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries
- Frozen pineapple
Strawberries and raspberries are my favorite, but any kind of berry will work. The frozen pineapple (with a dash of coconut or orange) is amazing for a tropical taste. And maybe you want some extra nutrients? The spinach will do the trick. Don’t worry, this isn’t a scene out of Rocky. I promise you really don’t taste it!
So did I convince you? Here are some quick protein smoothie recipes to try on your own:
- Chocolate Decadence: one scoop, chocolate protein powder. ½ cup frozen strawberries, ¼ cup frozen cherries
- If You Like Pina Coladas: one scoop, vanilla protein powder. ½ cup frozen pineapple. ¼ cup coconut milk.
- Tropical Fizz: one scoop, vanilla protein powder. ½ glass orange-flavored seltzer. ¼ cup frozen strawberries. ¼ cup frozen raspberries. splash of orange juice.
Above, I used measurements for the fruit just as a loose guideline. I use “handfuls” instead of measured out cups, so feel free to tweak the amount of fruit to a level that leaves you happy and satisfied!
Already on the protein smoothie train? Tell me what combos you love in the comments!