Details on Making a Power Smoothie

This page goes into substantial detail on the thinking behind the ingredients and logistics for Power Smoothies, so you can see why the recommended ingredients are what they are and how you might tweak the recipe for your own needs.

No need to read this page if you’re happy with the default recipes.

Ingredients:

Equipment/logistics:

Ingredients

Liquid base

The base serves as a source of calories and makes Power Smoothie easier to blend and consume. You can use pretty much whatever you want as long as it’s a liquid.

I generally use unsweetened soy milk since I think soy is pretty good for you, and it tastes good, and Power Smoothie has plenty of sweetness due to the fruit. I have also used almond milk. I am sure coconut milk or cow milk would be fine if you’re paleo. Whatever your dietary beliefs, you are probably fine with at least one of these options.

We recently experimented with using peanuts+water and felt like it came out tasting roughly equivalent. For people who are worried about the “industrial” nature of store-bought soy milk (or whatever), this seems like a good option. Almonds+water would be nearly as good from a micronutrient perspective as soy milk. (You can also, of course, make your own soy milk or almond milk – doesn’t look very hard).

I recommend about 2 cups, though it’s better to put in too much than too little, in order to make sure the thing is blendable and drinkable.

Protein powder

Protein, carbohydrates, and fat are the three essential macronutrients that should generally account for most of what you consume (I don’t really have a source for this handy, but you can Google it). The nutritional merits of carbohydrates and fat are debated, but nobody seems to think protein is bad for you, and I personally have a really hard time being satisfied by a meal that isn’t protein-rich. Therefore, I think it’s important that a Power Smoothie contain a lot of protein.

I’ve heard various accusations that plant proteins are “not balanced” or “don’t have enough of all the essential amino acids”; for example, here’s a LiveStrong page stating that animal proteins generally are balanced and plant proteins generally are not. I downloaded the World Health Organization recommendations for amino acids and compared them to the amino acid profile of whey powder, and found that whey powder does indeed contain enough of each amino acid; I then compared whey to several other protein powders, and found that most plant protein powders are “deficient” (by World Health Organization standards) in at least one. You can see my analysis here: PowerSmoothie analysis – amino acid profiles (XLS)

There was one plant-based protein powder that seemed to be “complete”: Sunwarrior Classic protein (from brown rice). It’s about 2x as expensive as whey protein powder. It has a more noticeable, grainy taste, and is harder to blend, but it still makes a perfectly good Power Smoothie.

I don’t know whether the World Health Organization recommendations are well-grounded, and think it’s quite possible that they’re based on almost nothing, so feel free to disregard my analysis of what makes a “balanced” protein. However, there seems to be little cost here, since the most common protein powder (whey) is “balanced” and there is a vegan option as well.

Assuming you aren’t going vegan, I recommend whey powder. It seems to be the most commonly used protein powder, I’m guessing the impact on animal welfare is minimal, and it blends easily and has essentially no taste (other than the flavoring). Many people seem to like Optimum Nutrition Double Rich Chocolate; myself, I prefer unflavored protein powder from NOW foods because I think Power Smoothie has plenty of sweetness and flavor as it is, so I see no need for the (tiny) presence of artificial sweetener. Both of the linked products are among the cheapest, purest, and highest-rated whey powders I’ve found on Amazon.

A standard scoop of the powder (using the scoop that comes with it, 28g) provides about 120 calories, 25g of protein. I often use a slightly larger scoop (about 30% larger) simply because I really crave protein. I’d hesitate to use much more than that because that starts getting outside the range of how much of this product people normally consume at once, and with a product this “manufactured” I take comfort in the fact that it’s commonly used by bodybuilders with no widely-talked-about negative effects. If you’re using vegan powder, I recommend throwing out the scoop that comes with it, which is small, and instead making sure you’re getting 28g of the stuff.

I generally am leery of heavily processed/manufactured foods, and protein powder is by far the “fakest” ingredient in Power Smoothie. I justify its presence by the following:

  • I think protein is important for health and satisfaction, and it’s hard to get a big dose of protein in a smoothie by other means, especially if you care about a “balanced” amino acid profile.
  • I have searched for complaints/warnings about whey powder specifically and have found nothing that looks remotely credible.
  • Unlike many heavily processed foods, whey powder isn’t designed to manipulate your taste buds or anything like that, and it doesn’t have a long ingredient list. I think the main argument against heavily processed foods is that they’re designed to fool your body in one way or another, and protein powder doesn’t have this issue. It’s just isolated protein and it’s designed for bodybuilders, not designed to be irresistible.
  • Protein powder is commonly used by bodybuilders, implying that it’s capable of delivering meaningful nourishment and being consistent with excellent physical fitness, and I’ve heard few accusations of negative effects.

But if you don’t trust protein powder and don’t need protein to be satisfied, by all means, skip it and put in more of something else (oil is the easiest ingredient to get extra calories from).

Fat

Fat is another essential macronutrient, and another potential source of calories and satisfaction. Putting fat in my Power Smoothie makes it more satisfying; this ingredient (due to its caloric density) is also the easiest to adjust up and down to get the desired # of calories.

There are many accusations out there about the ill health effects of certain fats. Conventional wisdom links saturated fats to heart disease. Less conventional, but fairly common, accusations link omega-6 fatty acids (of the kind common in corn oil and other vegetable seed oils) to heart disease and other problems. However, I’m not aware of anyone who seems to think that olive oil or flaxseed oil is bad for you, and I generally use one of those. Both are relatively high in omega-3 fatty acids; I’ve seen many claims that we ought to ingest more of such things and few claims that they are dangerous. A decent summary/representative of the research on omega-6’s and omega-3’s is here.

It seems to me that fish oil is  more likely to be beneficial than either olive oil or flaxseed oil (see above link). However, fish oil is much more expensive per-calorie, risks going rancid if you can’t keep it refrigerated (so don’t order it online), and – in my experience – seriously downgrades the taste of a Power Smoothie. If you want to take fish oil, I would take a teaspoon a day by itself, or just eat seafood. For Power Smoothie, I use olive oil or flaxseed oil. I most commonly use Jarrow Formulas Flaxseed Oil because it came up in an Amazon search and because it’s extremely tasty by itself (though probably doesn’t end up influencing the Power Smoothie taste much).

Coconut oil will also do the job, I’m sure.

Other options for fat:

  • Nuts – very tasty and equally convenient, but some might object on the grounds that they’re heavy in omega-6’s.
  • Yogurt – an animal product (with associated ethical issues), but nice taste and micronutrients.
  • Avocados – I haven’t found this to be particularly convenient or particularly tasty relative to using oil, but YMMV.

How much to put in? That’s completely up to you. Varying the amount of fat is a good way to hit the # of calories you want. I usually put in 100-200 calories worth, which is a tablespoon or two of oil or nut butter.

I initially got the idea of using olive oil for fat from Soylent.

Fruit

I believe nearly every major school of dietary thought says fruits are good for you, or at least not bad. Also, fruits are crucial to the taste of a Power Smoothie, as the primary source of sugar.

I generally use about 3/4 cup of frozen blueberries (enough for a “layer” in the blender – I generally eyeball it) plus 1 banana (I keep a bunch of bananas around and freeze them when they start going bad). There’s no magic to the quantities; it’s just about how much space the Power Smoothie takes up, how it tastes, and the fact that I consider fruit healthy and am happy to eat a lot of it.

Some of my friends skip blueberries to cut ~25% off the cost. If you do this, you’ll probably want to find another source of sweetness/flavor. Two easy things you can do are use flavored whey powder or put in 2 bananas. Or you can add honey or agave nectar or maple syrup or an ice cream sundae or whatever.

Of course, there are many fruits in the world. Apples, oranges, pears, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, mangoes, kiwis, and more things all seem like fine things to put in a Power Smoothie if that’s what you want to do. Limes and lemons are good as long as there’s enough other stuff (e.g. blueberries) to make the overall concoction sweet.

Vegetables

Nearly every school of dietary thought seems to think vegetables are good, especially green leafy vegetables.

When I did my analysis of micronutrients, I found that eating large amounts of spinach or kale seems about as good (from a micronutrient perspective) as eating a more balanced suite of vegetables (onions, carrots, tomatoes which aren’t technically vegetables but are similarly kind of unpleasant and virtuous, etc.) I’ve also found that spinach and kale can be ordered in large frozen packages and dumped directly into the blender, and that they go very well with the other ingredients to create a great taste.

I use large packages of frozen spinach (sorta like this – already broken into chunks rather than one solid square, which can be unwieldy) and generally put about 3/4 cup (again, eyeballing it – it’s about a serving) into the blender. I’ve also used fresh spinach, fresh kale, frozen kale, fresh swiss chard, fresh collard greens, and more. Really use whatever you want, and as much as you want. When combined with the other stuff, they taste good.

One of the major selling points of Power Smoothie for me is that it’s an easy way to ingest large amounts of leafy green vegetables. Other options are: managing an inventory of fresh vegetables, microwaving frozen vegetables (takes about as long as making a Power Smoothie by itself, and leaves me in the situation of needing to figure out what else to eat since vegetables provide zero satisfaction), buying meals from takeout restaurants that both contain a large amount of vegetables and a large amount of other, more satisfying food (this is extremely hard, especially if you’re trying to find non-gross vegetables and you’re on the East Coast or something).

Optional additions for flavor

If you put in all or most of the above, you can tell all your friends that you made a Power Smoothie. Here are some other things you might like to add as well. As a general rule, use natural ingredients with minimal sweetener; the fruit in Power Smoothie provides all the sweetness you need.

  • Nuts and nut butters. Peanut butter (especially unsweetened, chunky, natural-ish peanut butter) is delicious in a Power Smoothie. You can also just put in almonds, or cashews, or whatever, and they’ll get blended up and contribute nicely to the flavor, in addition to being another source of calories.
  • Lemons and limes (or lemon or lime juice). Mentioned above, but a small amount of this can go really well with the other flavors.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder or cinnamon. Again, there is already plenty of sugar due to the fruit. Cocoa powder + peanut butter is especially tasty.
  • Artificial flavoring. If you really want to go crazy with flavors, just buy some artificial flavorings on Amazon and put in a drop or two and boom, Power Smoothie tastes like whatever you want. I don’t do this, but I think it would be perfectly fine to.
  • Whatever else you want. This website is just trying to give you ideas.

Carbohydrates

Power Smoothie contains significant amounts of fat and protein, but by default does not contain significant amounts of carbohydrates (the 3rd essential macronutrient). As such, consuming it will often give you a carb craving.

My solution to this is to eat a couple of slices of whole wheat bread along with my Power Smoothie. Bread is simple to obtain, store and consume and I don’t see much point in putting it in a blender. All of the above ingredients are things that you would probably be reluctant to eat unless they’re blended with other things (e.g. frozen spinach, olive oil, protein powder), or things that actively make the smoothie better (fruit, liquid base, flavorings); bread really goes in neither category.

Sometimes, instead of eating bread, I just figure that I can snack on pita chips, or eat the rice that is sitting around, or have some cereal, or whatever. Eating carbs is fun and easy.

However, if you really want to put carbs in your Power Smoothie, it can be done. Two easy ingredients for accomplishing this are the ingredients used by Soylent: maltodextrin and oat powder. Of these, I would feel more comfortable with oat powder, since maltodextrin is a synthetic thing and I’m generally more comfortable with more natural-ish foods. YMMV. Doing this will increase the volume of your Power Smoothie further.

Logistics

Choosing a blender

At my office, people made a large number of Power Smoothies using this $25 blender, which was selected by typing “blender” into Amazon and purchasing the first result. Sometimes it jammed and people had to pause and stir; sometimes it made funny noises; but it never died. At my home, we made many Power Smoothies using an old cheap blender (not sure which brand) that eventually died, though I’d guess this is because it was on its way out anyway; Power Smoothie ingredients aren’t outside the range of what a typical blender should be able to handle.

Both locations ultimately decided that we were making enough Power Smoothies to invest in something more durable and powerful that would liquefy our Power Smoothies more quickly and completely. We chose the Vitamix Pro Series 300 based on the following:

When googling around for the best blender, the names that come up pretty consistently are Blendtec and Vitamix. After reading this comparison and Amazon reviews, I decided I preferred Vitamix, which has a longer track record and more raving fans (esp. w/r/t warranty), and had no complaints that bothered me on Amazon (re: Blendtec I saw a complaint about the seal that sounded pretty bad). I then read up on Vitamix types (useful links here and here) and decided that we should get a “next generation” Vitamix (quieter, shorter, wider) and that other distinctions didn’t matter. I then went looking around and found the Pro Series 300 to be the cheapest “next generation” blender. For both home and office I was able to get one new-in-box on eBay for around $500 (~$100 less than the new-on-Amazon price). Since then, the world may have changed. But that’s what I know about top-of-the-line blenders.

Bottom line: any blender is probably fine. Use whatever blender you have, or get the $25 blender, and if Power Smoothie becomes a big enough part of your life, you can think about an upgrade.

Blending tips

Not much here that you can’t learn from a blender manual, but …

  • Put in liquid first, followed by easy-to-blend stuff like protein powder and oil and bananas, and put the hardest-to-blend stuff (anything frozen, esp. the spinach) in last. If your blender is struggling, put in more liquid. If you put in plenty of liquid and put it in first, your blender should be able to handle a Power Smoothie easily.
  • Start the blender on its lowest setting. After it stops making as many big crunching noises from the frozen stuff, turn it up to its max speed and leave it running. On a Vitamix, 30 seconds at top speed will generally be enough for total liquefication. Longer may be required for a cheaper blender.
  • If your blender gets jammed, stop, stir and restart. With a Vitamix, the included tamper will get the job done 90% of the time without needing to stop the blender.
  • To clean the blender, put in a drop (not more) of dish soap and fill it a little less than halfway with warm water, then run it on high for 20-30 seconds and rinse.
  • If your Power Smoothie is too thick, put in more liquid (use water if necessary). If it’s not smooth enough, blend for longer (and make sure to use the highest speed).

Containers

Power Smoothie takes up a lot of volume. One approach is to use a normal-sized glass and keep re-pouring from the blender. Another is to get a separate pitcher so you can empty and clean the blender immediately, then use the pitcher to pour into your normal-sized glass.

A third approach is to get a ridiculous large cup.

  • This 48-oz Nalgene bottle will hold the largest of Power Smoothies. However, you may have trouble fitting it in your dishwasher.
  • This 40-oz camping mugwill hold most Power Smoothies, is dishwasher-friendly, and looks ridiculous. It’s my cup of choice.

More questions?

See the FAQ.

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