Now that flip-flop season is in full swing, you might be giving your blender a stiff daily workout. Done right, smoothies will not only help you beat the heat, they will flood your body with the nutrients needed to bounce back quicker from hard training efforts. That’s why they have become sacrosanct for many fitness fanatics.
A smoothie seems like the simplest way to start your day off right or recover from a sweaty run — dump your favorite fruit and protein powder into a blender, add some ice and a splash of milk, and you’re good to go! But not so fast. A handful of simple mistakes can quickly upend what should be an ultra-nutritious and equally delicious drink. After all, you just put in the mileage, so why gulp down another standard-issue watery protein shake? Here are the common pitfalls to avoid so you can master the smoothie formula for whipping it good.
1. You dump everything in without much thought
The order you place your ingredients into the container matters for smoothie making perfection. Add liquids first to your container, then soft items like nut butters and yogurt, and finally harder ingredients such as raw vegetables and frozen fruit. This helps lubricate the blender blades so they’ll easily cut through the harder stuff for smoother results and reduce the risk of blender burnout. The liquid at the bottom will also absorb the pureed solids. This gives you perfectly blended ingredients instead of having tiny pieces of frozen banana and almonds floating around your drink. If your blender has a speed adjustment knob, begin at the lowest blender speed then work your way up to high before letting it rip.
2. You water down the results
Smoothies should have some body to them to make them more satisfying and satiating. A British study found that subjects perceived a drink with the thickness of a milkshake to be more filling than one that was more juice-like in consistency, even when they contained the same number of calories. So use ingredients that will thicken the mix and make it creamy. Too much ice gives you a watery drink and makes it harder for the fats from ingredients like seeds and peanut butter to incorporate properly into the drink. Frozen chopped banana makes a thicker smoothie than does other frozen fruit, so you might use a mix of frozen banana and frozen berries. Greek yogurt and nut butter also help, as does avocado, which lends a smoothie a fudgy consistency.
3. You add all the liquid at once
If you are not sure of the exact proportions, dumping in all of your milk, juice, or water right away could leave you with a really thin smoothie. Blend in half to three-quarters the liquid first, then add your solids and see if you like the consistency. Pour in more liquid as needed.
4. You under-blend
Let’s not gloss over this: Take. Your. Time. Smoothies are quick, but that doesn’t mean a lack of patience and blending everything up for a couple of seconds is going to cut it. You want to blend all the ingredients like crazy so that your smoothie is lump-free. Aim for at least 1 minute with a regular blender, or about 30 seconds if you’re using a machine like a Vitamix with serious horsepower.
5. You overlook subzero veggies
Frozen fruits aren’t the only game in town for smoothies. To help nail your daily veggie quota, consider also blending in deep-freeze vegetables. Items like frozen spinach, frozen broccoli and, yes, even frozen cauliflower florets can up the nutritional ante of blender drinks. And when paired with flavorful ingredients such as frozen berries and cocoa powder they won’t make your shake taste like a salad.
6. You make it too sweet
Fruit, honey, dates, juices and sugar-sweetened dairy-free milk can result in a blender drink that is not too far off of liquid candy. In general, aim to blend in no more than two sugary items. Truth is, fruit should provide nearly all the sweetness that is needed. If you’re blending in yogurt or non-dairy milk such as almond or soy make sure to use unsweetened kinds.
7. You’re drinks are unbalanced
A well-crafted smoothie, especially if serving as a meal replacement, should be macro-balanced and not just heavily skewed towards carbs or protein. That means you want to use ingredients that give you a healthy amount of all three of the macronutrients. So fruit and veggies for carbs, items like nut butters or flax for healthy fats and yogurt, protein powder or even carton pasteurized egg whites for muscle-building protein.
8. You forget the flavor boosters
There are easy ways to make your drink pop with an exciting flavor. A touch of spice like cinnamon or nutmeg can instantly transform a smoothie from meh to memorable. Herbs like mint or basil, citrus zest such as lemon, a touch of fresh ginger, and vanilla extract are also great ways to add calorie-free flavor to your shakes.
9. You’re a slave to milk and yogurt
Who said these are the only items from the dairy aisle that belong in a post-training smoothie? Everything from cottage cheese to ricotta cheese to kefir can breathe new life into your smoothie routine and offer a range of nutrition perks. For instance, inexpensive cottage cheese is packed with protein to help your muscles recover from a hard-charging workout and kefir is laced with probiotics, microorganisms that can bolster digestive and immune health.
10. You forget about the calories
Obviously, if you are putting in heavy amounts of training it’s perfectly acceptable to drink a few extra calories. But you should still be aware of how much energy your favorite smoothie is delivering, it may just surprise you. A couple of spoonfuls of almond butter, bananas and vanilla yogurt can add up. This is particularly important because liquid calories are less satiating than solid ones, so 300 calories from a smoothie won’t quell your appetite like 300 calories from solid food will. In general, a smoothie should be no more than 400 calories with a little more wiggle room if consuming as a meal substitute or immediately after a herculean workout or long run.
11. You don’t plan ahead
Collecting up all your smoothie ingredients every time you are craving a frosty drink can be a pain. A serious time-saving stealth move is to divide all your chopped solids among individual zip-top bags and stash them in the freezer. So when it’s time to whip up a smoothie all you need to do is dump the contents of a bag into a blender container along with your liquid of choice, protein powder (if using), and any soft ingredients like yogurt or nut butter and whiz away. Here’s a recipe that demonstrates this method.
2 medium-sized carrots, roughly chopped
2 oranges, peeled and quartered
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium-sized bananas, peeled and roughly chopped
6 cups water or coconut water
1 cup plain or vanilla protein powder
8 teaspoons tahini
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Divide carrots, oranges, ginger, and banana among 4 zip-top bags, press out as much air as possible and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready for a smoothie, place 1½ cups water, ¼ cup protein powder, 2 teaspoons tahini, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice, and the contents of 1 bag in a blender container and blend until smooth.
Here’s a list of the top smoothie boosters that you’re probably not using, but can ramp up the flavor and nutrition.
This South American fruit delivers deep berry flavor and a wallop of antioxidants.
This fruit and veggies powder infuses smoothies with a healthy dose of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
When paired with frozen strawberries, this defatted peanut butter powder can make your post-training smoothie taste like your favorite schoolyard sandwich of yesteryears.
It won’t make your smoothie taste like loamy soil, but this blend of four different medicinal mushrooms will certainly make it a drink for vitality.