I used to be a smoothie guy.
Every morning, I would wake up, grab a variety of fruits, veggies, fats, and protein, throw ’em all in a blender, and then chug ‘em down.
I did this for months – perhaps even over a year – especially during my vegan days.
They were a convenient way for me to get a crap-ton of plant matter down in a short period of time.
After all, what’s quicker – eating an orange, a pound of kale, and a cup of Greek yogurt in their whole forms, or blending them all up and drinking them?
The thing is, I’m actually not a big fan of smoothies anymore (we’ll get to this) and don’t recall the last time I drank one.
However, they are still a popular option for health-minded men and women, especially those who are drawn to more of a “whole food” approach.
In this article, we’re going to discuss whether you might consider incorporating smoothies into your routine and, if so, how you might go about building the perfect one for your needs.
What’s a smoothie?
If you’re not familiar with smoothies, basically they’re a bunch of different foods – typically lots of fruits and vegetables – blended together with ice and/or some form of liquid to make for a quick and convenient meal.
Picture, if you will, the center of Venn diagram with three circles – a salad, a milk shake, and a big cup of juice.
Smoothies would probably fit somewhere in the middle area the shared by all three circles.
Should I start drinking smoothies?
Smoothies are often made with primarily fruits and easily digestible liquid calories like almond milk, which, after blending, are much quicker to digest and assimilate.
This blending negates some of the advantages of including fruit in your diet in the first place – the filling effect of fiber, water, and indigestible plant material.
On a related note, when you drink your food you miss out on the pleasure of chewing – which has been shown to prevent overeating – and the pleasure of taking your time, enjoying your food, and letting your satiety hormones kick in.
Finally, smoothies are typically consumed for breakfast, a meal that, when comprised primarily of protein and fat, can minimize hunger and cravings for the rest of the day.
In a nutshell, blending a meal is typically less satiating, less sating, and can lead to increased overall consumption over the course of the day, compared to its minimally processed, whole food equivalent.
So, if your goal is to gain or maintain weight, or fuel performance, then have at it – rock a smoothie (many athletes turn to this strategy).
However, if fat loss is your goal, my first suggestion would be stick to minimally processed, whole foods – with a foundation of protein, veggies, and healthy fats and carbs.
Of course, I’m not just here to tell you not to drink smoothies and peace out – although that would be a pretty badass bait-and-switch, considering the title of this article.
While that approach may have been my intent when I first started thinking this article out, I don’t think doing so would serve those of you who depend on smoothies to get a nutritious meal taken care of in a time crunch.
So, below I’ll be offering some steps you can take to ensure that your smoothies are working for you and not against you.
The perfect smoothie
You might find some of these steps familiar – they’re pretty much exactly what I suggest for solid meal prepping, sans blender – but I’ll provide a bit more smoothie-specific guidance for you.
1. Assess your motivations
The first step is to assess your motivations for making this smoothie.
Is this smoothie actually serving as a meal, providing you with energy and nutrients so that you can function at your best for the next several hours?
Or are you making this smoothie because you’re bored, thirsty, or just want to treat yourself to something sweet?
There is no right or wrong answer here, so be honest, but consider how the answer to these questions aligns with your health and fitness goals.
If you’re seeking out this smoothie for reasons other than nourishment, that’s fine, but be aware that might not be moving you closer to any fat loss goals.
2. Start with protein
If you’ve determined that you do, in fact, need some food, then the first question to ask yourself should be “where’s my protein?”
Our bodies need protein for maintaining our muscles, skin, hair, organs, hormones, immune systems, and neurotransmitters.
Additionally, protein is the most satiating macronutrient – meaning that it will fill you up quick – and also helps ensure that you hold onto lean mass as you lose fat, helping get that defined, “toned” look.
Getting more protein than you need likely isn’t an issue, but getting less certainly can be, so don’t skip this step.
Aiming for one or two palm-sized servings (20 – 60 grams) is a good place to start.
While some power lifters and strongman competitors make smoothies with animal protein like burger and chicken breast, I can understand if you’re not entirely open to this idea.
Instead, you might consider eggs, Greek yogurt, or a high-quality protein powder.
This may take some experimentation, and you might find that rotating through different protein sources regularly and assessing how you feel after each one to be a worthy effort.
3. Fortify with veggies
Once you’ve got your protein source figured out, the next thing you’re going to want to look for is veggies – colorful, fibrous veggies.
What we’re looking for are leafy, colorful, crunchy veggies that pack a high water, fiber, and micronutrient punch.
Similar to protein, fiber will help fill you up,.
Fiber also helps feed beneficial gut bacteria that are no understood to play a role in everything from weight control to mental health.
A hefty whack of veggies also provides a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that support our health in a variety of ways.
Some of the most popular options for smoothie veggies are spinach, kale, celery, and carrots, although I’ll admit that – back in my own smoothie days – I experimented with quite a few more.
On that note, mustard greens, arugula, and Swiss chard suck, so you might stick with spinach, kale, celery, and carrots.
As far as how much to include in your smoothies goes, you’ll want to figure this out on your own – some folks feel best with a ton of veggies in their smoothies, whereas others will feel best with no veggies at all.
Get out there, play around with different amounts, and see what works for you.
4. Fuel up with healthy fats
So far we’ve built a strong base of protein and veggies, putting a big dent in our requirements for essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
The next dietary essential we’re going to make sure we’re covering is fat – a minimum amount of which we also require from our diets.
Fat plays a vital role in cellular, hormonal, and mental health, and serves as a slow burning source of energy.
Fat is also the most sating nutrient, so including a bit with your smoothie will help keep you full longer than a smoothie with only protein and veggies.
You can bring some fat in along with your protein (e.g. full-fat Greek yogurt), or you can look to other options like avocado, whole nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters, coconut oil, or even pastured butter, ghee, or rendered animal fats (although I’ve never tried these in a smoothie).
1-2 thumb-sized portions (15 – 30 grams) is a good starting point, although you might need more depending on your activity and hunger levels, and what the rest of your diet looks like.
We’ll touch on dialing up and down fats in a bit.
5. Support activity with carbs (or more fat)
You might find that you’re set with the protein, veggie, and fat recipe included above.
However, if you find that you need something a bit more substantial to satisfy your energy needs, you might dial up the fat intake a bit or bring in some healthy carbs.
If blood sugar isn’t a concern of yours or you’re looking to support intense activity, then you might want to throw in some minimally processed, nutrient-dense carbs.
Most folks go with sweeter options like fruit and berries in their smoothies, although I guess if you’re feeling frisky you might try something like sweet potato (might actually be pretty good!).
Similar to how we approached veggies, you’ll probably benefit from prioritizing color as a reflection of nutrient density.
If you’re looking for more nutrient density and less energy, you might lean more towards berries like blueberries, raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries.
If you’re looking for a bit more energy, you might try fruit like apples, bananas, oranges, pears, or mangoes.
If you’re really looking to dial up the energy density, you might look at options like dried fruit.
As far as other sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, agave, or other sugars are concerned, you’re probably better off with out them.
While these options may be marginally better than refined white cane sugar, your liver will hardly tell the difference, and you’ll probably be better off in the long run sweetening with whole fruit and berries.
If you don’t do a whole lot of physical activity or are looking to manage blood sugar levels, then you might have better luck by adding more fat (or just sticking to protein and veggies).
As with all of the steps we’ve covered so far, you’ll probably want to experiment a bit to find a carb/fat ratio that you find helps you look, feel, and perform your best (and that tastes good, if that’s a priority).
6. Top off with water and ice
Now that we’ve got our protein, veggies, fats, and/or carbs taken care of, it’s time to make “a smoothie” by adding liquid.
Water is probably your best bet here – especially if your goal is fat loss
Including things like almond milk, coconut milk, or juice will only serve to add unnecessary calories to your smoothie, without all the benefits of their whole food source that you might have included in one of the preceding steps.
That said, if your goal is to gain weight or to support activity levels, have at it, but if you’re looking for nutrient-density and satiety, then you might want to pump the brakes on anything other than water.
Oh, and this might be a good place to include a bit of ice as well 🙂
7. Observe and adjust
Finally, pay attention to your observations as you drink your smoothie and how you feel afterwards.
Did it keep you full?
Did you have enough energy?
Did it give you a sugar rush?
Did it taste good?
Pay attention to these questions and experiment with different ratios of protein, veggies, fats, and carbs, and see how you feel.
If you’re looking primarily to get some nutrients while managing hunger, then protein, veggies, and fat might be your best bet.
If you’re looking primarily to fuel performance, then protein and carbs might be your best bet.
If you’re looking to gain weight, then you might dial up the fats and carbs.
If you’re looking to lose weight, then you might dial down the fats and carbs.
There is no one-size fits-all approach to smoothies, but the steps above should help you get started figuring out what works best for you.
- Assess your motivations
- Start with protein
- Fortify with veggies
- Fuel up with healthy fats
- Support activity with carbs (or more fat)
- Top of with water and ice
- Observe and adjust
Keep in mind that calories count – even if you’re not counting them – and loading your smoothie up with either option can make a signification contribution to your overall energy intake.
If fat loss is your primary goal, you might use a bit more discretion – or, as mentioned above, bench the smoothie idea all together and stick to whole foods.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to gain weight or support performance goals, then you may want to load your smoothie up with tons of carbs and fats.
One smoothie won’t make or break your health, body composition, or performance efforts, but one every day will end up playing a significant role over time.
Do the best you can, and don’t be afraid to try something new when what you’re doing isn’t working.
There you have it – seven steps to the perfect smoothie.
Until next time, have a most excellent week!