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Bolster your post-run smoothies by tossing in a few unconventional ingredients
This article originally appeared in our July 2014 issue.
Whether it’s a quick breakfast or post-run fuel, nothing beats a smoothie—especially as the mercury outside creeps upward and you’re looking for tasty ways to beat the heat. In just minutes, you can whip up a perfect mix of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats to support your training. There is also seemingly no limit to the ingredients (well, maybe not salmon) you can take for a spin in a blender. For starters, the following oft-overlooked nutritional heavy hitters can turn any smoothie into an inspired drink.
1. Ricotta Cheese
Not just for lasagne, the creamy richness of ricotta is the perfect foil for sweet, watery items—like fruit—often added to smoothies. Those tubs of ricotta are also plush in whey protein, the gold-standard protein for building and repairing muscle after exercise. Some studies have suggested that whey protein may also bolster immune health. To trim some saturated fat, opt for light versions of ricotta.
Try it in: Coffee Cheesecake Smoothie
Blend 1 cup room-temperature coffee, 2/3 cup light ricotta cheese, 1 frozen chopped banana, 1/4 cup rolled oats, 2 tablespoons nut butter, 1 tablespoon raw or natural cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/8 teaspoon cardamom. Serves 2.
2. Frozen Spinach
Smoothies are a great opportunity to sneak more vegetables into your diet. Because water is removed during the freezing process for spinach, Popeye’s veg of choice is denser when frozen than fresh in a range of vital nutrients including fiber, vitamin K and vitamin A.
Try it in: Green Monster Smoothie
Blend 1 1/2 cups coconut water or tap water, 3/4 cup plain yogurt, 1 1/2 cups frozen spinach, 1 frozen chopped banana, 1/4 cup mint leaves, 1/4 cup cashews, juice of 1/2 lemon and 2 teaspoons honey. Serves 2.
Green tea isn’t just for sipping warm from a mug. Made from finely milled tea leaves, Japanese matcha green-tea powder is jam packed with unique antioxidants shown to help with everything from fending off coronary woes to reducing body fat. It has a vegetal flavor with lingering sweetness that works beautifully in smoothies with tropical ingredients. Find it in some health-food stores, tea shops or choose the café-grade matcha from matchasource.com.
Try it in: Tea Time Smoothie
Blend 1 1/2 cups coconut-milk beverage, 1/2 ripe avocado, 1 cup frozen mango cubes, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, juice of 1/2 lime,
2 tablespoons fresh basil, 2 teaspoons fresh ginger and 1 1/2 teaspoons matcha powder. Serves 2.
4. Cacao Nibs
Pound whole cacao beans into pieces and you end up with crunchy cacao nibs. These closer-to-nature chocolate chips are laced with antioxidants, magnesium and dietary fiber—a whopping 9 grams for a mere ounce serving. After all, they hail from a fruit! In smoothies, cacao nibs provide some textural contrast and hints of chocolaty flavor. Look for bags in natural-food shops or shop at navitasnaturals.com.
Try it in: Cherry Pie Smoothie
Blend 2 cups milk of choice, 1 cup pitted cherries, 1 frozen chopped banana, 2 tablespoons cacao nibs, 1 tablespoon coconut oil, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Serves 2.
5. Hemp Protein
If you’re looking to beef up protein levels in your smoothies, consider this groovy option. Made by grinding up salubrious hemp seeds, hemp protein powder is an easily digested plant-source protein. Unlike many other plant proteins, hemp provides a full arsenal of essential amino acids, making it especially useful for maintaining and building lean body mass. It’s also a stealth source of must-have omega fatty acids. For best results, blend hemp powder into a smoothie using a blender as opposed to a shaker cup. If you can’t source hemp protein powder from a local shop, you can order tubs at manitobaharvest.com.
Try it in: Orange Crush Smoothie
Blend 2 cups coconut water or tap water, 1 chopped carrot, 1 peeled orange, 1 frozen chopped banana, 1/3 cup hemp protein powder, 1 tablespoon tahini, 2 teaspoons fresh ginger and 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice. Serves 2.
6. Sweet Potato
You wouldn’t want to blend up a raw spud, but cooked sweet potato naturally sweetens smoothies and adds a healthy dose of beta-carotene, which has been shown to enhance immune, bone and eye health. Simply peel, dice and then steam sweet potatoes until very tender. You can then mash and keep the puree in the fridge for up to five days or divide among muffin cups and freeze so you have ready-to-go frozen puree cups.
Try it in: Sweet Chai Smoothie
Blend 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk, 2/3 cup peeled, cooked and mashed sweet potato (cooled), 1 frozen chopped banana,
1/2 cup silken (soft) tofu, 4 Medjool dates, 2 tablespoons almond butter, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder,
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves. Serves 2.
7. Wheat Germ
Grains are made up of three parts: endosperm, bran and germ. Wheat germ is simply the isolated germ of the wheat grain and is in fact the most nutritionally potent part of a whole grain. Among its many nutritional highlights are significant amounts of potassium, antioxidants selenium and vitamin E, and immune-boosting zinc. This nutritional overachiever is also a surprisingly good source of protein, with four grams per two-tablespoon serving. Kretschmer is a reliable brand.
Try it in: Peach Milkshake Smoothie
Blend 1 cup milk of choice, 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt or light ricotta cheese, 1 pitted peach, 1 frozen chopped banana, 1/4 cup unsalted almonds, 2 tablespoons wheat germ, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Serves 2.