Millions of people drink protein shakes every day. They're the ideal health food: delicious, convenient, portable, and (usually) highly nutritious. Whether you're trying to lose weight, build muscle, or just improve your health, protein shakes can be an incredibly effective way to reach your goals.
A good protein shake can help you:
- increase your energy levels
- boost your metabolism to burn fat quickly (and safely)
- increase your lean muscle mass
- enhance your immune system
- reduce/eliminate your appetite and food cravings
- increase your heart health
- lower cholesterol and blood pressure
- promote healing and recovery
Unfortunately the tasty, often expensive, concoctions you get at your local "smoothie" shop probably aren't your best options. The recipes used at these places are geared much more toward taste than nutrition. Simply put, they're loaded with sugar -- often 30 grams or more -- and frequently have no more than 10 or 15 grams of protein. That nutritional profile is much closer to a milk shake than a protein shake!
If you really want to enjoy all the great health and fitness benefits of a protein shake, it's best to make your own. You can control exactly what goes into it and "optimize" it for your own goals: less calories/fat for weight loss, more protein for muscle building, etc. But maybe the biggest benefit of making your own shakes is that you can load them up with ultra-healthy ingredients that you may not eat otherwise (eg. flax seeds, coconut oil, fresh/frozen berries, etc.)
Here's my personal recipe for what I call "The Perfect $1 Protein Shake" -- an extremely healthy, energy-boosting, muscle-building shake you can make in about 3 minutes. If you buy the ingredients in bulk like I do, the total cost-per-shake should be about a dollar. Not a bad price for something much healthier than your average fast-food meal and just as convenient...
(Note: The following recipe actually makes enough for about 2 medium-sized shakes... or 1 really big shake! Feel free to add more or less of each ingredient to suit your own tastes and needs.)
Put all of the following ingredients into a large, heavy-duty blender and blend until liquefied:
16 oz. Low-Fat, Organic Milk -- A very tasty "base" for the shake with slow-digesting casein protein, calcium, and several vitamins/minerals. If you don't drink milk you can substitute soy milk or filtered water.
2 - 3 Scoops Whey Protein Powder (Generally 30 - 50 grams of protein, depending on the brand) -- If you haven't already heard, whey protein is an incredibly healthy substance that isn't just for bodybuilders. No other protein feeds your muscles or boosts your immune system like whey. Just about anyone can benefit from this amazing food! (Note: Try to avoid protein powders sweetened with the artificial-sweetener aspartame.)
1 Cup Frozen Berries -- Packed with fiber and antioxidants -- with a very low glycemic impact -- berries are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. Unsweetened frozen berries can be purchased year-around and are a great substitute for ice in any protein shake recipe.
1 Tbsp. Virgin Coconut Oil -- A "good" saturated fat with a variety of health benefits that is full of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a great source of energy.
1 Tbsp. Natural Peanut Butter -- A great-tasting, highly filling nut butter with healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Recent studies have shown that peanut butter is great for dieters because it reduces hunger and food cravings more than almost any other food.
1 Tbsp. Ground Flax Seeds -- Flax seeds contain all-important omega-3 fatty acids, a vital component to good health. They also contain lignans (powerful antioxidants) as well as healthy dietary fiber. Many people prefer the nutty flavor of ground flax seeds over the "fishy" flavor of flax seed oil.
1 Medium Ripe Banana -- A good source of potassium, fiber, and healthy carbs, a ripe banana is a great way to sweeten any protein shake.
Optional sweeteners -- If you want to sweeten this (or any) protein shake, two good low-calorie sugar-alternatives are stevia and xylitol, both of which can usually be found in health food stores.
As you can probably tell, my "Perfect $1 Protein Shake" isn't exactly low-calorie. In fact it has quite a bit of healthy fat and a decent amount of carbohydrates. But keep in mind that you don't have to, and probably shouldn't, drink the whole thing at once -- unless your primary goal is to pack on muscle (in which case you might want to drink 2 or more a day!). What I like to do is make a blender-full in the morning, drink a glass for breakfast, take some with me to have as a "pick-me-up" in the afternoon, and then drink the rest at night.
Remember, there are literally thousands of ways to make a protein shake. Find some recipes you really like and don't be afraid to experiment. As long as you base it around whey protein, just about any shake you make should have plenty of health benefits!
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Jamie Clark is a long-time health researcher/writer who is a co-editor of FreshHealthyUseful.com. To learn more about the best protein shakes, be sure to visit: www.freshhealthyuseful.com/main/protein-shakes/
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