The Summer Smoothie Spectacular!

The Summer Smoothie Spectacular!

It’s all fresh in the summer.

I know.  I know.  I know.  When I talk about smoothies your brain switches off.  I sound like some sort of California new-age nutrition wonk.  But, bear with me.  This is a fantastic time of year to learn the art of the smoothie and apply it to your endurance sports routine.

Many of you are in the big part of your training leading up to a fall race.  You have monster long runs or hard training efforts. You need to fuel these – smoothies are a super effective and convenient way to do this.

As your training peaks, you also tend to run out of time.  You are tired and you may let your nutrition slip because you don’t have the energy or time to eat cleanly.  You know you should, but you don’t have the time.  It’s the perfect storm.  Just when you need your nutrition the most, you run out of time to manage it.

Smoothies are a quick and convenient way to wedge some quality nutrition into your busy life.

The good news is that summer is the best time of year to make smoothies, (at least in the northern hemisphere).  Fruits and vegetables are maturing in abundance.  Fresh peaches and berries hanging in the trees.  Beets, kale and spinach popping from the ground.  Nature’s bounty is surfeit.

It’s the perfect storm to get your smoothie on.

What’s a smoothie?

It’s a liquid concoction you blend up in a blender and drink.

What’s in it?

Simply put, whatever you want to put in the blender.  In practice, a smoothie consists of some fluid, some fruits, some berries, some vegetables and maybe some other good stuff.

Part One – The base fluid

First thing you need is some fluid to make the smoothie drinkable. This can be as simple as water.  Typically the base fluid will be some combination of the following:

  • Nut milk: I love chocolate almond milk personally, but you can use soy milk or any other nut milk. Nut milks will make your smoothie more filling and satisfying in terms of staving off hunger – especially that hunger you get after a big workout.  Nut milks have some protein and good fats that your body may need.
  • Juice: You can use fruit juice, but I typically shy away from fruit juice because of the sugar content. Be especially wary of any mass-produced juice drinks – they are typically full of sugar and nutritionally poor.  If you like to use juice stick to organic and read the label.
  • Natural & Berry juices. There are some great Juices that are filled with muscle-saving antioxidants.  Pomegranate, blueberry, and tart cherry juices are all great for helping the body repair.
  • Coconut water. Coconut water is a great base fluid in a smoothie.  It tastes good and has natural electrolytes and other good nutritional content.
  • Beet juice. Beet juice has been shown to improve the way the body processes oxygen in endurance athletes. You can either buy beet juice or make your own.  This time of year beets are in season and readily available.

Fill a sauce pan with water and boil your beets (and even the beet greens) slowly on the stove.  Eat the beets for dinner, but don’t toss out the water.  Save that wonderful purple beet water and use it in your smoothies.

Feel free to combine any of the above in whatever ratios you feel appropriate in your smoothie.  I usually add the fluid last, on top of the solid stuff.  Fill the blender up to about an inch below the top.  You have to play with the fluid ratios to get a drinkable consistency that you’re happy with.  You can always add water afterwards if your concoction comes out too thick.

The Veggies

The next ingredient for your smoothie is some veggies. You can, if you want to, make an entirely veggie smoothie, but personally I don’t like the taste of vegetable juice.  My preferred method is to sneak some green, leafy vegetables in there as a sort of nutritional Trojan horse.

Don’t let me hold you back.  If you dig a leek, tomato and carrot flavored smoothie, by all means, let your freak flag fly.

I take a less aggressive stance on the veggies. I will put in a handful of spinach, kale or chard.  These are growing in abundance this time of year and you might be able to get a few leaves out of your garden.

These leafy, green veggies will give you a power punch of iron and other nutrients to help your body grow strong.

The Fruits and the Berries

This is my favorite part.  I love berries and I love fruit.  It is good for you and nutritionally dense.

  • Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries – all fruit in abundance this time of year. Pick them fresh off the bush. Buy them up at reasonable prices at the farm stands.  Freeze the berries you don’t use.
  • Bananas are another core building block of the smoothie.  Bananas give the smoothie that thick and creamy texture that makes it feel like you’re having desert!

Here’s the secret to smoothie bananas, you want them to be over-ripe.  That’s right.  Those gross brown bananas that no one will eat?  Those are smoothie bananas.  Which means in practice you should be able to get as many of these as you want and you may not even have to pay for them.

You can make a deal with your local market or Starbucks to take away any over-ripe, unsaleable bananas at the end of the day.  All you do is peel them and toss them in the freezer.  Then you break one off and toss it in the blender for your smoothie.  Win-win-win.

  • You can add any fruit to your smoothie.  Peaches, pears cherries, apples, papaya, nectarines, plums, dragon fruit – anything.  The same holds for these fruits as for the bananas – the riper the better.  Grab those droopy peaches off the sale rack, pick those dropped apples up off the ground, slice ‘em up, remove the pits and toss them in the freezer for smoothies.

The Additives

You can stop with the above base + fruits + veggies and have an excellent, nutritious drink.  However, you can also throw in supplemental nutritional elements or flavor elements.

  • Protein powder. I usually throw in a scoop of protein powder.  The base smoothie is very nutritious but carb heavy.  Since I’m using it as part of my workout and recovery regime I like to boost up the good protein.

Here is my warning.  We are endurance athletes not weight lifters.  Stay away from the common, commercially available protein powders.  These are whey based.  Whey is a byproduct of cheese making. You are welcome to your opinion, but I’m not putting that in my body.

Instead I use a Vegan protein powder made by a company called SunWarrior.

  • Chocolate powder. I sometimes will throw a scoop of good quality unsweetened chocolate powder in for flavoring. If you like the taste of chocolate this will give it that kick and good quality chocolate powder has some nutritional benefits.
  • Spices and herbs. You can always throw in the spice of your choice, whether it’s cinnamon or nutmeg. This time of year there is also a bounty of fresh herbs. Basil, parsley, sage, spearmint, lemon grass – play with it and see what you like.
  • That’s right.  If you have a cup of left over coffee or tea or espresso you can toss that in for a morning caffeine boost smoothie.
  • Some folks like to add avocados to their smoothies.  This is perfectly fine but it adds 200-300 calories and makes the smoothie quite thick in consistency.

Bug parts and bird poop!

One of the weird advantages of using fresh, local or wild ingredients out of the garden is that they carry with them a bunch of biome.

Soil microbes, bits of insects and other flotsam and jetsam of the garden may sound a bit nausea inducing, but they are full of essential vitamins and really good for your gut. You don’t have to think about it while you’re enjoying that cold smoothie but it’s an extra benefit of fresh and local.

Basic Smoothie Construction

  1. Get a blender. I have a old Oster blender from the dark ages of American consumer manufacturing that holds 1.5 liters.
  2. Toss in 1-2 cups of green leafy – dice it up a bit for easier blending if you want.
  3. Toss in 1 cup or more favorite berries
  4. Toss in on frozen banana – you make want to break it up into smaller pieces.
  5. Toss if two sliced up fruits (peaches, pears, apples…)
  6. One scoop protein powder
  7. Cup of juice or coconut water
  8. Fill up to 1.25-liter mark with nut milk
  9. Blend that puppy on high for a good long time to make sure all the hard bits are well masticated.
  10. Pour out into individual containers (I use standard 24 oz water bottles)
  11. Put them in the fridge for grab and go
  12. Wash out your blender you lazy slob

Supporting your workouts with smoothies

You can mass produce these smoothies and have several bottles in the fridge ready to go.  You can drink them before or during your workouts for energy – just make sure the consistency and ingredients digest well.  For active workout smoothies you can dilute them with water to make them a bit easier to digest.  They are healthier than sports drink and full of actual nutrients as well as the carbs you need.

The best time for a smoothie is right after that long or hard session.  When your body is crying out for help and is Hangry.  Have that cold smoothie in your bag and wolf it right down after your track workout or your hill repeats or your long run. Your body will love you for it.

It’s also a great meal replacement alternative.  If you’re out of time, instead of skipping a meal or reaching for something bad you can have that smoothie with you and it will keep the daemons at bay.

This basic smoothie recipe will have 500-700 calories for the whole blender full.  It is low in calories and high in nutrition and filling.  Let’s get crazy and round up to 900 calories to make the math easy.  I usually make 3 servings in 3 separate bottles with my 1.5 liter blender.  Even if we assume a bloated 900 calories per blender that’s still only 300 good calories per bottle.

One last warning.  If you do use beet juice or berries you want to be careful because it will stain.

Staining aside, there is a lot to love about the summer endurance smoothie.

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