We’ve made it to the end of the month! Which means, many of us are on our final days of our New Year’s detoxes, cleanses, dry January, etc.
How exciting is that?
I am very much an advocate for doing diet based resets throughout the year. They allow you to give your body a break, as well as yourself! Because technically, when you limit your diet, you also want to focus on slowing down a bit and giving yourself some love.
I just finished a 15 day liver detox myself that included 2 shakes per day. The focus over the course of this detox was lifting the burden off of my liver so that it can rest and re-energize. (If you want to learn more about my particular program, you can click here to shoot me an email).
The shakes, which were used as meal replacements, were packed full of nutrients! This allowed me to eat minimally while still getting in the appropriate nutrients to support my body’s natural detoxifying capabilities.
Now here’s the truth: by day 15, I was completely sick of the flavor of these shakes and so glad to be moving on to more dynamic real food meals!
But what I found was that it didn't take long before I was missing the ease of a so-called “meal in a bottle”!
I know I'm not the only one who is busy and needs a quick meal in liquid form from time to time, so I wanted to talk a little bit about making meal replacement shakes/smoothies that you can use in the long term. Not just during a detox or reset!
Meal replacement shakes certainly have their place, but in certain circumstances, they shouldn't be used. I want to make sure we’re clear on when that is!
On the flip side, they are incredibly convenient and can be a great way to get a ton of nutrients into a small, easy to drink meal.
REAL FOOD SHAKES OVER STORE BOUGHT SHAKES
I’m sure most of you are thinking “oh, I just buy X brand!”. Yes, there are so many brands of pre-packaged meal replacement shakes available on the market. But have you looked at the ingredients?
If I am going to be relying on these more often, I want to know that the ingredients in the shake are just as high quality as the food I put on my plate.
So since I have yet to find the perfect pre-packaged meal replacement drink (maybe it exists? If you found it, please let me know!) I am going to continue buying clean ingredients and making my own.
Yes, I hear you over there shouting “but you can just buy a smoothie at a smoothie shop!”
Of course I can, but again...have you ever looked at the nutrition facts of a fruit smoothie from somewhere like Jamba Juice (or really any place similar to it)?
I agree, they're super tasty! You know why? Because they are overloaded with SUGAR!
For example let's look at their Whirl'd Famous Mango-a-go-go Smoothie: a small (16oz) has 73g of carbohydrate, which includes 63g of sugar!!!!
OMG! That one small drink has over 3x more sugar than the FDA recommends a woman get in an entire day!!!!
And in liquid form which means it's going to hit the bloodstream FAST!
Talk about cutting the entire line and jumping on the blood sugar roller coaster! And just as fast as your blood sugar goes up, it will come shooting down leading you to experience excessive hunger and reaching for MORE SUGAR!
That's not the type of meal replacement smoothie I'm talking about here.
MAKING YOUR OWN NUTRIENT DENSE
Let's explore how to make a balanced smoothie that can act as a meal replacement that is low sugar and perfectly suitable during a REAL FOOD RESET… and beyond!
TIME SAVING TIP
Use small mason jars to pre-measure all of your dry ingredients at the start of the week. If that sounds annoying to you or like it isn’t going to save THAT much time, just try it!
You will be glad you did that prep when throwing your smoothie together at the last minute! Every minute counts when we are trying to get out the door.
THE PROS AND CONS
As with anything in the nutrition world, meal replacement shakes are NOT for everyone!
So let’s go through a few scenarios where meal replacements could be a great idea and then talk about when they might be a bad idea!
If you aren’t sure and want more guidance, let’s get on the phone!
WHEN MEAL REPLACEMENT SHAKES MIGHT BE A GOOD IDEA
When you have poor digestion. Blending real food into liquid form is a little bit like thoroughly chewing your food, which is always great for digestion!
Especially since so many of us shovel food into our mouths! Smoothies can act like a shortcut for you!
When you are in a hurry. Consuming your meal in 5 minutes is awesome when you don't have time to chew an entire meal like a salad.
That being said, try not to guzzle your smoothie! Drink it slowly so that you don’t overburden your system.
Sure it’s pre-chewed due to blending but can you imagine what your body would feel like if you just ate an avocado, spinach and a banana all at the same time? Yeah, not great!
So don’t slurp it down all in one shot. Take your time with it as much as you can!
When you need to get a lot of nutrients into a small meal. If made properly, you can pack a serious nutrient punch into a smoothie.
Even more exciting, for those of you who aren’t fans of leafy greens, smoothies can be the perfect place to hide them and reap their benefits without having to actually “eat” them!
When you need to get a lot of calories in. This is great for people who need to gain weight.
By adding full fat nut milks, MCT and other healthy fats, along with raw nut butters, you can make a seriously caloric dense meal replacement!
WHEN MEAL REPLACEMENT SHAKES AREN'T SUCH
A GOOD IDEA
When you have poor digestion. I know, I just said it was great for that. But the problem with DRINKING your meal is that you aren't chewing your food!
Chewing is a signal to our brain and digestive organs to release digestive enzymes and juices like hydrochloric acid into our stomach to help break the food down.
Without chewing, we get less enzyme release which is problematic for digestion. If you have poor digestion and want to use meal replacement smoothies, consider taking a digestive enzyme complete with your smoothie.
When you are in a hurry. Your body can only properly digest food when your parasympathetic nervous system (aka - rest and digest system) is active!
So just as I mentioned above, while shakes are quick and easy to put together, you still want to drag out the time it takes to drink them so that you don’t hit your system with too much too quickly!
This will allow your digestive system to actually work through the contents of your smoothie.
When you forget that a complete meal includes fiber and fat. Fiber and fat are the 2 most commonly forgotten nutrients in a meal replacement shake.
A complete meal is NOT just carbs and protein (that’s more of a post workout shake, which I will get to below).
If you are going to be making meal replacement shakes, you absolutely have to replace the nutrients you’d normally get in a real food meal so that you do not end up malnourished!
When you are trying to be mindful about eating too much. You can pack A LOT of calories into a smoothie if you aren't careful, so if you are trying to be mindful about caloric intake, pay attention to your ingredients and their quantities.
This is especially important with things like nut butters, avocados, bananas, and even seeds!
When the bulk of your meal replacement shake is mostly processed foods. The idea behind a meal replacement shake is to, well, replace your ACTUAL meal.
This means REAL foods need to make up the bulk of your ingredients. If you do choose to use powdered mixes, pay attention to the ingredients.
My suggestion is to only use those powders that are made from real foods that have been processed into powders.
While this is still technically a “processed food”, it is still okay! If you think of it on a “good-better-best scale”, drinking quality nutrients, even if it includes some not ideal ingredients is GOOD; clean (chemical free) powdered real food is BETTER; and REAL food is BEST!
MEAL REPLACEMENT SHAKES VS POST WORKOUT
There is a difference between a meal replacement smoothie and post workout shake to get necessary recovery nutrients in.
Again, if we are truly going to be replacing a meal, we must consider all of the nutrients we would be getting from food and translate those into our smoothie!
However, a post workout refuel shake is different. This is when we typically focus on replenishing lost glycogen and utilizing protein to help build and recover our muscles.
From time to time, I will mix together a post workout shake that is very basic:
30g whole food carbs
I hardly call that a meal replacement because it's lacking a lot of healthy meal necessities like vegetables, fiber and fat.
And that is okay because post workout recovery shakes are considered “snacks” that can be used to provide the appropriate recovery nutrients while knowing you are a few hours away from a real food meal!
MY FAVORITE SMOOTHIE RECIPE (of the moment!)
I wouldn't dare leave you with at least one recipe for inspiration so I am sharing with you my current favorite recipe for meal replacement shakes:
1/2 cup Native Forest Coconut Milk Simple (or another whole fat coconut milk free of guar gum)
1 scoop Designs for Health PurePaleo Protein Unflavored (or another clean protein powder)
1 handful organic greens (spinach, or chard)
2 tbsp raw cocoa powder
1/2 green tipped banana
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp organic Dr. Formulated Brain Health MCT oil (or other organic MCT oil that is mostly C8)
1 tsp beet root powder (or 1/2 cup roasted beets)
Water and ice to desired consistency
Still unsure about this whole approach?
Let’s chat - we can get on a free discovery call to discuss what your goals are and if meal replacement drinks are appropriate for you!
1/29/2020 10:17:02 am
This was so helpful, thank you! As someone who is both fairly full-scheduled AND rebuilding the strength of my digestive system, the clarification of the pros and cons of liquid meals in this article are much appreciated.
2/4/2020 03:09:49 pm
I'm so glad you found this helpful!
1/30/2020 08:54:35 am
I loved this post, especially the breakdown of how to build a good smoothie. In fact, I tried adding cauliflower to my smoothie this morning and I loved it. I usually have to have a smoothie as a meal replacement and love the ease. Pre-made smoothie jars with all the dry stuff are essential for my meal prep too! Going to try out having sweet potato and beets cooked and ready to use too. I could be better about adding the 2-3 veggies to my smoothie to make it even more nutrient dense. If I'm using the smoothie as a meal replacement, but also as a post workout recovery drink, in the evening after CrossFit, should I keep the fat in (usually avo oil or half an avocado) or take the fat out to help my body take up the carbs and protein faster?
2/4/2020 03:14:23 pm
Sara- I'm so glad you were already batching your smoothie powders. I thought it was silly when I first started doing it, but it really does save a lot of time! Re: your question about adding fat post workout. If you have another workout in less than 12 hours, especially if that next workout is also going to be hard, I would skip the fat so that you drive the nutrients into the tissues with less delay. Still make sure you are getting your fats in other meals, and maybe even consider a handful of macadamia nuts about an hour after your drink your post-workout smoothie. However, if you have more than 12 hours before your next workout, or your next workout is a recovery workout, you can add the fat to your smoothie. It will slow down the protein and carbs from getting to your muscles as quickly, but it's not as critical for recovery since you have time on your side in that situation. I hope that helps!
1/30/2020 11:01:14 am
I have been LOVING your blogs! I just read the one about smoothies, and have a question or two. I supplement with creatine and have read/heard that it absorbs better when taken with carbs...true? I take it in capsule form at night or after lunch. Also, is it true that we only absorb 2.5 grams at a time?
2/4/2020 03:17:35 pm
Kirsten- thanks for reading (and loving) my blog posts! I'm glad you are finding the info helpful! Re: your questions...there is a lot to say about this, but in "short," here are my thoughts: I personally haven't seen evidence (doesn't mean it doesn't exist, I just haven't seen it) that proves that our body will uptake creatine better with carbs or at a certain dose or time of day. The old though of pairing up aminos, creatine, protein, etc with a carb post workout is that the carb is going to elicit an insulin response. That insulin is going to take the carb (if it is mostly glucose) to the muscles to be stored away. The idea behind eating carbs with these other nutrients is assuming that they will also get shuttled to the muscles with the glucose. Since creatine is something we use when we do any type of HIIT or strength training, it makes sense to me that you would want to replace it right after a workout. And since eating the appropriate amount of carb post workout is good for faster muscle recovery, it make sense to also take your creatine at that time too since the muscles have much less of it at that time. Re: dosage, a lot of people (including me) don't do that well digestively with large doses of creatine. I especially can't use creatine monohydrate and do much better with Kre-Alkalyn. I think the most important thing is that you get enough creatine into the system to aid your muscles in recovery and your workouts so you can lift more and go faster for longer. I personal think there is an argument to take a small dose BEFORE your workout so you have creatine available when you need it, then take another small dose AFTER your workout to replace what has been lost. Just my 2 cents. I hope this helps.
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Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!