When the right ingredients are sent for a ride in a blender, what can transpire is a drink with the goods necessary to help an active body recover better and reach peak health. And whether you need breakfast, post-workout nutrition or a mid-day snack in the fast lane, a smoothie can be there when you need it most. But too often athletes fall into a smoothie rut by whirling together the same ingredients over and over again; a scenario that can lead to smoothie burnout and putting your blender on ice. Try blending up these unusual ingredients to take your smoothies up a gastronomic notch.
Tool of the Trade
If you’re going to regularly make smoothies, consider investing in a mighty machine that can blend them up (and much more!) with vigor for years to come. No, we aren’t talking about that Oster you picked up from a tag sale at the end of a driveway. You want a blender with serious horsepower such as the Vitamix Professional Series 750 ($599, Vitamix.com). With a crazy powerful motor and pre-programmed settings, it can make quick work of your smoothies, soups, creamy desserts and even DIY nut butters. A splurge never tasted so good.
Cold Brew Coffee
You don’t have to be a hipster to take advantage of the energizing power that cold brew coffee can infuse into smoothies. This nitro brew is made by simply soaking ground coffee beans in cold water for several hours. The result is a less acidic java (read: easier on your gut) that may pack a bigger caffeine punch to perk up your morning workouts. Recent data even suggests that compounds in coffee can help fend off certain diseases like diabetes—who knew? You can use a ready-to-go store-bought cold brew coffee such as High Brew or make your own by soaking 1 cup coarsely ground coffee beans in 4 cups water for 12 to 24 hours at room temperature. Use a French press or cheesecloth-lined sieve to strain the coffee.
Blend this: 1 cup cold brew coffee, 1/2 cup light ricotta cheese, 2 pitted medjool dates, 1 tablespoon almond butter, 2 teaspoons cocoa powder, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 small frozen banana
Think beyond the sauce from a can and add some pucker power to your blender drinks. Like other berries, cranberries are rich in potent antioxidants that can help keep your heart beating strong. They also supply a healthy dose of vitamin C, which a 2014 European Journal of Nutrition study found may improve exercise performance by lowering oxidative stress in the body. That’s because vitamin C can act like an antioxidant to help mop-up any damaging free-radicals generated during periods of intense training. Look for bags of fresh cranberries in the produce aisle of grocers or frozen ones in the freezer department.
Blend this: 3/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons walnuts, 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 cup ice
Blessed with a natural sweet, buttery flavor, this stalwart of the winter produce aisle can help you break out of any smoothie blahs. You’ll benefit from the huge amount of beta-carotene that butternut squash supplies. Beta-carotene can be converted to vitamin A in the human body to help improve bone, eye and immune health. You don’t want to blitz in raw squash, so steam or roast cubes of butternut until tender and kept it in the fridge or freezer to be used in smoothies at a whim.
Blend this: 1 cup kefir drink (such as Lifeway), 1 cup cooked butternut squash, 1 scoop plain or vanilla protein powder, 2 teaspoons cashew or almond butter, 2 teaspoons maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice and 1 small frozen banana
Granola isn’t just something you should dump milk on. If you spend any time on Instagram or Pinterest you know that smoothie bowls, which are essentially smoothies that are so deliciously thick they are served from a bowl with spoon in hand, are having their day. So blend one up for breakfast or post-workout nourishment and then sprinkle on some granola for delicious crunch. The correct granola such as the standout KIND Healthy Grains clusters or the protein packed crunch bunch from Barbara’s can provide a winning mix of items like whole grains and seeds that an active body needs.
Blend this: 1/4 cup milk, 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup baby spinach, 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed, 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon almond extract, ½ cup frozen blueberries, 1 small frozen banana. Pour into bowl and top with granola.
These are gleaned by simply smashing up the whole cacao beans that chocolate bars are made from into little crunchy nuggets. When blended into smoothies they can add some textural contrast and a hint of bitter chocolaty flavor. Nutritional highlights include laudable amounts of magnesium, antioxidants and fiber which most people should be eating more of. Find bags of cacao nibs (preferably unsweetened) in health food shops or add them to your virtual shopping cart at Navitasnaturals.com.
Blend this: 1 cup light coconut milk, 1/2 avocado, 1 scoop plain or vanilla protein powder, 1/4 cup fresh mint, 2 teaspoons honey, 2 tablespoons cacao nibs and 1 cup frozen mango cubes
These gluten-free flakes are made by passing the whole quinoa through a roller to flatten the seeds. With a similar texture as rolled oats, quinoa flakes make for a great breakfast porridge option, but can add a nutritional boost to smoothies as well. As with regular quinoa, the flakes supply high-quality plant protein as well as a range of vitamins and minerals. You can now find quinoa flakes in the cereal aisle of most health food stores and even larger supermarkets.
Blend this: 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup quinoa flakes, 1 chopped apple, 2 tablespoons hemp seeds (hemp hearts), 2 teaspoons maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/2 cup ice.