Vegan Protein Recovery Shake

I’ve had a few people ask me what I put into the recovery shake that I take post-workout. Especially since I’m vegan, the whole “where do you get your protein?” question is brought up frequently. And when talking about a protein recovery shake… it’s kind of an important question to answer.

I’ve got another article in the works on the various foods I eat, and how much protein they contain. While that’s cooking in the oven, let me give you the quick’n’dirty rundown on how I do post-workout recovery, and stay tied to my vegan roots.

I’ll start by briefly discussing the protein powders I use, and then top it off with how I get it to the point where one could drink it… and actually enjoy it.

Vegan Protein Powders

There are tons of them out there, so how do you choose which one is best? Well, that’s a loaded question. It depends on a few things:

  • why you are taking a protein supplement (benefit you are trying to achieve)
  • food allergies you might have
  • how much money you are willing to pay

Plant-based Protein Sources Include:

  • soy
  • rice
  • hemp
  • pea
  • chia
  • mushroom
  • pumpkin seed
  • …and many others. There are too many to list them all, but these are the most common.

For each type of plant-based protein powder, you will usually find:

  • a single-ingredient powder, with only the protein from that plant
  • a mixture of several plant-based proteins combined together
  • additional supplements added to the protein, like probiotics, vitamins, minerals, sweeteners, etc.

General Rule of Thumb

In my opinion, fewer ingredients is usually better. This applies to every food you eat, not just protein powder. It’s the best way to control exactly what’s going into your body. And at least half of the time, if not more often, you don’t need all the extras that are being added. If you’re already eating a well-balanced diet, you’re probably getting enough of them already.

A Note About Soy

Over the past few years, soy has become quite controversial for its potential side effects. Some people believe that consuming soy can throw your hormone levels off balance, particularly the hormone estrogen. There are studies on both sides (for & against this claim), so we won’t debate that here, but because there are so many other plant-based proteins readily available, I choose not to use soy protein powders.

My Preferred Plant-based Protein Powders

Brown Rice Protein Powder

Brown Rice Protein PowderWhen first searching for an alternative to whey & soy protein, I stumbled upon brown rice. The big appeal for this type of protein powder is that it’s easily absorbed and super-gentle on the stomach. Very few people have issues with digestion, and thus it’s known for being easy on the stomach.

I also like it because, unlike whey & several others, it contains a fair amount of carbohydrates in addition to protein. For any post-workout recovery shake, I think it’s important to ingest some carbohydrates alongside protein. Just like you need to help your muscles repair themselves with protein, you also need to help your body recover some of the energy it expended (which, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source).

Pea Protein Powder

Pea Protein PowderPea protein is fairly inexpensive, and it has a high protein-to-powder ratio. Where a similar-sized scoop of brown rice protein would yield 14g, pea protein yields 24g. It also contains a very smooth texture, and mixes well with other ingredients. I’ll dive into more details about the pros and cons in another article, but I recommend you give this one a try.

Proprietary Protein Blend

Proprietary Protein Powder BlendI most-often use a mixture of brown rice & pea protein, but I also buy a proprietary blend from a local market here in Richmond (Ellwood Thompson’s). This blend consists of:

  • rice, hemp, chia & mushroom protein powders
  • a probiotic blend with 4 different active cultures
  • an enzyme utilization blend with 5 different enzymes
  • Stevia
  • natural flavors

I like…

…the 4 different protein sources. I’m a big fan of variety, and think each one has something unique to help the body recover.

I’m indifferent about…

…the probiotic blend. I know some people swear by probiotics, but I’m not a huge believer. When dried out, grind up into a powder, packaged, shipped from here-to-there, and sitting on a shelf for X days… I’m not sure how anything is still “live” and “active.” But I also think they can’t hurt you at all, and maybe they do provide some benefit.

I’m unsure about…

…the enzyme utilization blend. My guess would be that these enzymes are supposed to help your body absorb the protein. However, to be honest, that’s just a hunch, and I really don’t know what this does.

I don’t like…

…the Stevia extract & “natural” flavors.

I suppose Stevia is likely not going to hurt anyone, but I’d much rather choose my own sweetener, if I’m going to choose one at all.

The natural flavors really strikes a nerve, though. If you don’t know by now, the word “natural” is so loosely regulated by the FDA that it’s almost a joke. Companies can say their products are “natural,” yet they can still contain GMOs. Not to mention we have no idea what a “natural flavor” actually is. But there is one thing we know for sure: it doesn’t naturally occur in nature. Not on this planet.

Time to Shake It Up!

So… what do I put into my post-workout recovery shake?

For protein…

I’ll do one of two things.

  • Create a 50/50 blend of brown rice protein & pea protein
  • Use the proprietary blend of rice, hemp, chia & mushroom

For the 50/50 blend: If each serving size of your protein powder recommends you add it to 8oz of liquid AND you are making an 8oz protein shake, you would use half-a-serving of each. Adjust accordingly so you’re using the proper ratio of liquid to powder.

For flavor…

I add 1 to 1.5 tbsp of baking cocoa per 8oz of liquid. You chocolate lovers out there might want to go heavy on the cocoa. Play around until you get the desired flavor.

For sweetness…

I add a splash of agave nectar. There are tons of sweeteners out on the market today, but I use agave because it’s relatively inexpensive, and it is one simple ingredient that was extracted from a plant. Plain & simple. No questions about its origin. No research/studies about potential negative side effects (that I’m aware of).

Agave nectar does have a lot of sugar (30+ grams per 2 tbsp) so only use a splash.

* Or just don’t use a sweetener at all. The choice is up to you. I don’t think 10-15g of natural sugar from the agave plant, taken post-workout, is really going to hurt you.

** If using a proprietary blend that contains Stevia, or another sweetener, than obviously you would leave this out.

For an anti-inflammatory effect…

…and just for bonus style points, you could add a splash of cinnamon.

Cinnamon is a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent. When you workout, a lot of things inside your body swell up. That’s natural, and in most cases (aside from injury), it’s a good thing. But after an especially grueling workout where you probably pushed your body beyond where it wanted to go, cinnamon could help reduce some of the unnecessary swelling.

 

I hope to elaborate more on this in the future, as I continue to learn more about plant-based proteins, their benefits, and how it all plays into muscle recovery. Until then…

What do you put in your vegan protein recovery shake?

GMOs in Larabar, Kashi & Silk?

A good friend of mine—who loves food, especially the healthy variety—attended a nutrition seminar recently. She was told that 3 of my favorites brands (Larabar, Kashi & Silk) oppose the labeling of GMOs in California (aka: Proposition 37).

Since I care about GMOs (and would rather not see them in my food), and those 3 brands comprise a large chunk of my diet… I decided to do some research. Here’s what I found.

  • All Larabar’s have always been Non-GMO
  • All Silk products are Non-GMO
  • 11 of Kashi’s cereals have been verified Non-GMO, but not all of their products are

The Non-GMO Project has a list of brands here that they have verified to have no GMOs. They are not the end-all-be-all of GMO regulation, but they appear to be the largest, most organized group with pretty strict guidelines (in the US).

In terms of Proposition 37, here’s a list of who’s donated money supporting/opposing the California Prop 37 for mandatory labeling of GMOs.

Silk & Larabar each have their own sections on their websites dedicated to Non-GMO ingredients.

Larabar is owned by Small Planet Foods, which is a branch of General Mills (GM), and GM has donated money opposing GMO labeling (12th most of all companies, in terms of total dollars). But all Larabar products are still Non-GMO.

General Mills has a great explanation on their website about GMOs. While I don’t agree with all of it, I do like how they talk about it. And their responsibility page makes me feel pretty good about them as a company. But you should read those pages & make your own judgements.

Silk used to be owned by Dean Foods (who donated money opposing Prop 37), but they are NOT owned by Dean Foods any longer. They are owned by White Wave Foods, who has not donated any money either supporting or opposing labeling. But they definitely support labeling (according to their website), and all their Silk products are Non-GMO.

White Wave Foods used to be a subsidiary of Dean Foods, but in 2012, White Wave Foods went public, and is now operated independently from Dean Foods.

Kashi does appear to be owned by Kellogg Company, however, they do not list Kashi in their brand portfolio on their website. And I could not find any info on GMOs on Kellogg’s website.

“Organic” vs. “Natural”

As a general note, any product that uses the word “Organic” on its packaging, it has to be Non-GMO. However, products can be “Natural” and still contain GMOs. That’s regulated by the FDA. Here’s a good starting point on the FDA’s website that addresses the regulation of “organic” vs. “natural”.

 

If you have any further information to add to this, please include it in the comments below. There are probably a lot more resources out there that I don’t know about, but I’d love to see them.

The Thing About Juicing

I’ve had a few friends ask me about juicing. While I’m still relatively new to juicing (started in January 2013), I can offer up some thoughts for those looking to get into juicing.

  • A decent juicer for beginners will run you between $80-$120.
  • Most juicers come with a recipe book to get you started. I find this book highly useful.
  • Pulp. The juice is extremely smooth. There is almost zero pulp in the juice output.
  • Waste. Because of the point above, if you don’t use the excess pulp/skin for anything, it can get pretty wasteful.
  • Fiber. Because the juicer separates all the skin/pulp, you lose a lot of fiber & nutrients that are found in the skin or outer parts of the fruits & vegetables.
  • Plan ahead. Read the recipe book. Choose one or two juices you are going to make. Write down exactly what you need. Then go buy it. More experienced juicers can probably get away with just salvaging whatever is left in their fridge, but as a beginner, who knows what kind of juice you’ll end up with.
  • Make 2-3 juices at a time. To reduce prep & cleanup time, I like to make 2 or 3 juices at one time. I only have to rinse a few pieces of the juicer, and not fully clean it each time. I’ll make one day a week my juicing day. Make 3 juices. And sip between the 3 all week.
  • Storing your juice. I’ve heard it’s better to store juice in a glass jar (as opposed to plastic). I’m not sure why, but that’s what I do.
  • Label your juice. If you store your juice in an empty jar, get in the habit of labeling it. I bought some masking tape & a Sharpie, and will write the type of juice on the container. This especially comes in handy when making 2-3 juices at once.

Don’t Waste The Pulp

Use the pulp for other things. Don’t let it go to waste. You can use it to make vegetable stock for soup, or just as an additive for your soup to give it texture. You can also use the pulp for baking. Ginger, apple & carrot pulp would be great with cookies or cake of the same flavor.

Fruits & Vegetables Great For Juicing

  • Apples & carrots are my two go-to ingredients. They go great together, as is, but also serve as a good starting point when adding other ingredients to them. They both yield a lot of juice.
  • Pears, oranges & grapefruit also yield a lot of juice, but I have yet to make any killer juices with them.
  • Lemon is great to add to many juices because it helps your body absorb the nutrients.
  • Ginger can be added to many juices to add a little spice. Only small amounts are needed.

Juicer Cleanup

Before I bought a juicer, I heard about the notorious cleanup. I was expecting it would be lengthy, difficult & an overall pain in the ___.

I’m not going to say it’s a walk in the park, but… it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. There are 4-5 components that all need washed separately, so it takes some time to take the juicer apart, and wash each one. I do believe they are all dishwasher-safe (check your specific make/model), but since I don’t use a dishwasher, I can’t speak to that.

The mesh strainer is the most difficult to clean, and you have to be careful not to cut yourself on the tiny blades. But it’s still not all that bad, in my opinion.

Overall, cleaning takes me about 10 minutes. And I just leave the 5 parts out separate to air dry (lots of counter space comes in handy here).

My advice: Clean it right away. If you wait, the food will get hard, crusty & stick to the plastic parts. It’ll be much harder to remove.

Is Juicing Expensive?

In my opinion, yes.

I noticed my grocery bill go up when I started juicing. You need to buy a lot of fruits vegetables to get a significant amount of juice. And if you like to buy fresh, local and/or organic fruits & veggies, you’ll definitely notice a spike in your bill.

I still buy fruits & vegetables that I eat raw, cook with dinner, etc. So when adding additional ingredients that are solely for juicing, it can get expensive.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I’m definitely still a novice, so I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. What did I miss? What are some other great things for juicing beginners to know?

Going Vegan: The Cows Are Watching

During my short holiday break in Jersey, a great friend of mine lent a book to me about going vegan. I’ve considered it before, but wanted to spend some time researching it before I made the decision to try it for real.

I read The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone (yes, the actress). Alicia breaks her decision to go vegan down into 3 main areas:

  • Be kind to your body
  • Be kind to animals
  • Be kind to the planet

I already thought I was pretty kind to my body. I eat well. Exercise. Yada yada. So I wasn’t looking to be persuaded on this front.

I am more kind to the planet than the average Joe. But then I heard this book would flip my world upside down in terms of how eating meat/dairy has such a negative impact on the environment. Say no more. If I can help this Earth, I’m all ears. This is where I expected to gain the most insight—and be the most persuaded—by the book.

I’m all for treating animals well, but never really thought I’d find myself fighting for animal rights. I love animals, especially dogs. But I never made the correlation to animals that I put in my mouth.

Fast-forward a few days

Tonight I found myself over a friend’s for dinner. They didn’t know I had recently made the decision to go vegan, nor would I have expected them to cook any differently. What was on the menu? Steak. And cheesy potatoes.

I told them I was still in the midst of my transition, and that I would have some steak. No big deal. And the potatoes… yeah, they’re loaded with dairy, but I’d already made up my mind that wasn’t a big deal for tonight.

I cleaned my plate of veggies, and potatoes, quickly. And even had one small piece of steak. But there were 2 pieces still sitting on my plate.

The cows are watching

With every bite of that steak, I thought about cows. Unbelievable how one book read over the course of a few days could completely change my mindset… but it did. And here I am, staring at a plate full of delicious, juicy flank steak, and all I see is a sad cow’s face staring back at me.

I was struggling to take any more bites, mainly because I felt bad for animals all over the world. Animals that we unnecessarily kill for our enjoyment. I also thought about the negative impact it would have on my body, but I couldn’t get over how bad I felt for animals.

Guilty as charged

I felt guilty. Not only with every bite, but every chew. I suddenly found the texture of meat rather disgusting. Chewing on another animal’s flesh (we are animals too, ya know?).

I’m sure it didn’t help that they have the sweetest, softest, cutest golden retriever who I love so much. Or the fact that I’d just watched a video about 2 guys who raised a lion cub, then released him into the wild in Africa, and went back for him a year later. Their reunion is my reminder that they are capable of many of the same feelings we are.