I have a love/hate relationship with post-workout smoothies, shakes, drinks… whatever you’d like to call them. I’m sometimes into them, I’m sometimes not and my thoughts on them keep changing as I learn more and more. But I have to say: with the warmer weather, learning more about the potential benefits and the convenience of mix, shake and go… I am on more of the love side at the moment.
First, let’s talk protein powder. When I was eating a mainly plant-based diet, I supplemented with protein powder quite often. I used quite a few different protein powders (like these and these) and had a bit of a love affair with protein pancakes. You know how I feel about eating real food and well protein powder is not exactly food. But if it is of good quality and you are eating an overall nourishing diet, I think that it is a beneficial option.
There are plenty of junk protein powders out there, heavily processed, filled with sugar and other chemicals, so be sure to do your research and read your labels. My friend Gabby actually introduced me to a Canadian brand of protein powders and other goodies called North Coast Naturals – you can read my review of NCN here and check out Gabby’s post and her homemade vegan protein blend here. I totally love NCN’s products and have been enjoying them in my own protein blend in a smoothie post-workout.
I promise I’ll get to the recipes but let me geek out on nutrition a bit first.
We know that is is important to consume protein after a workout because it provides the necessary amino acids (the building blocks of protein) for our muscles to repair from our activity. The idea behind protein shakes is that it skips a digestive step because the nutrition is already in liquid form so our bodies do not have to work as hard to break down the nutrients, especially the amino acids.
When it comes to protein, there is debate over the issue of foods being a complete protein source. A complete protein source is a food that contains all of the essential amino acids – the 9 amino acids that our body can’t produce so we must obtain them from food. Animal protein are complete protein sources. Some plant proteins are complete sources (like hemp) but generally the idea with a plant based diet is to eat a variety of foods to obtain all of the essential amino acids.
Many studies show that the most important amino acid for muscle repair is leucine. Leucine is the most abundant branch chain amino acid (aka muscle protein) found in our muscles. So after a workout, leucine consumption is necessary for repair and recovery. 100% New Zealand whey protein is arguably the best protein powder source post-workout as it contains a lot of leucine – a 17g portion of whey protein powder contains approx. 2.8g of leucine. [source]
Sounds good right? It is. But whey protein is derived from dairy and that doesn’t always agree with my tummy (or others). Plant based protein is hypo-allergenic and often easier to digest. I genuinely love the idea of plant based principles so decided to research plant protein a bit further. My friend Deryn is also my contact at North Coast Naturals so I asked if she could send me the amino acid profiles for NCN’s brown rice protein and hemp protein.
Here’s what I discovered:
A 17g portion of brown rice protein contains approx. 1g of leucine, obviously less than whey. But it also contains other essential amino acids and 15% of the total amount of the amino acids are branch chain amino acids (muscle protein).
A 17g portion of hemp protein contains approx. 0.7g of leucine as well as other essential amino acids. 16% of the total amount of the amino acids are branch chain amino acids.
Overall, a pretty solid nutrition profile. There are several studies that indicate that brown rice protein yields the same benefits of recovery and muscle growth as whey protein yields. I do not think there is a “one size fits all” or perfect answer. I do know that there are many benefits of incorporating lots of plants into your diet. I love vegetables. But I also really like meat. Woah that’s weird to say.
So my thinking was this: combine all the awesome-ness of plant protein to yield a tasty, nourishing, satisfying, protein-packed and digestive friendly blend. Okay so I will stop rambling and actually give you the recipes. I combined the brown rice protein and hemp protein to create a more complete amino acid profile. I also added some of NCN’s ultimate daily cleanse for some healthy fiber and unsweetened cocoa powder for some flavor.
Remember that we also need to consume carbs after a workout (to replenish our glycogen storage) so I typically make my smoothie with a banana – but sweet potato or squash would be a great (arguably a better) option too. Starchy carbs after a workout are ideal because they replace our muscle glycogen storage. Many days I am on-the-go so I make the smoothie the night before and keep it in the fridge to take to the gym with me in the morning. The trick with pre-making this smoothie is to add about a teaspoon of lemon juice – it will stay fresh this way. It’s a satisfying, simple and super nutritious post-workout snack.
Also remember: your post-workout (whether it is a drink or food) does not replace a meal – it is a necessary source of additional nutrients.
Hope you enjoy: refuel your muscles and replenish your body.
My Plant Protein Blend
Ingredients (Makes approx. 3 cups = 24 2-tbsp servings)
- 1 cup brown rice protein – I use North Coast Naturals
- 1 cup hemp protein – I use North Coast Naturals
- 1/2 cup North Coast Naturals Ultimate Daily Cleanse (or flaxseed meal)
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1. Mix it all up and store in glass jar or airtight container.
2. Use 2 tbsp. (or more) in smoothies, shakes, drinks.
My Post-Workout Smoothie
Ingredients (Makes 1 smoothie)
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 banana (or approx. 1/3 cup of cooked sweet potato or squash or pumpkin)
- 2 tbsp. of The Little Honey Bee plant protein blend (see recipe above)
- optional: 1/2 tsp. of lemon juice if making in advance
1. Combine all ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth and enjoy after your workout!
Questions of the day…
Thoughts on protein powder? What have you been having post-workout?
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