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The quick assembly and portability of shakes and smoothies make them a convenient choice for fast-paced days. They can serve as a nutritious meal replacement and make healthy eating easier, yet it’s key to include specific types and amounts of nutrients so you don’t miss out on any of the major components provided by a typical meal.

Anika Christ, RD, LD, and director of digital programming at Life Time, has long been developing shake recipes for use by her clients and in programming. She suggests using shakes as a replacement for the meal you have the hardest time eating healthy at — or fitting in altogether.

“A lot of people, myself included, struggle with breakfast because we’re so focused on getting out the door,” says Christ. “A shake is convenient to sip on while I pack lunches and get other things on my to-do list done.”

Perhaps lunch is more of a struggle because you have trouble getting away from your desk. Or maybe you work late into the evening and don’t have much time between work and bed so something light on your stomach, like a shake, could be beneficial.

To make it as easy as possible, Christ is sharing her formula for building a nutrient-balanced, satiating shake, as well as a few of her own shake recipes. “Once you get the hang of incorporating the right nutrients, the possibilities are endless for different flavors you can enjoy,” she says.

Base Ingredients

These are the essential building blocks for your shake. Include something from each category, mixing and matching as you wish to reach the total suggested measurement.

Liquid

This serves as the base for your shake. “I often use unsweetened nut milks as they add a little flavor, hydration, and healthy fat without a ton of added sugar,” says Christ. “But I also advise using water as much as possible, especially for those trying to keep their calories in check.”

Amount: 6–8 ounces

Suggested choices: Water; unsweetened nut milks, such as almond, coconut, or cashew; hemp milk; organic, whole-fat cow’s milk; or unsweetened coconut water

Protein

Many of us have a hard time getting in an optimal amount of protein, whether in individual meals or total grams per day. “In my opinion, it’s the No. 1 reason to consume a shake, as it makes getting in ample protein easy,” says Christ.

Protein is the most satiating nutrient and helps keep you feeling full and energized. It’s also imperative for maintaining and building muscle.

Amount: 20 grams or 1–2 scoops

Suggested choices: Grass-fed whey, collagen, rice, pea, or vegan protein powders

Healthy Fats

Quality fats support satiation and energy balance, in addition to feeding every cell in your body and helping to nourish your hair, skin, nails, and brain. “Due to the prevalence of packaged foods, most of us get too many processed, unhealthy fats and oils in our diet,” says Christ. “That’s why I encourage including whole, unprocessed sources in shakes.”

Amount: 5 grams or 1 tablespoon

Suggested choices: Raw nuts, such as walnuts or almonds; nut butter, such as almond, cashew, or sun; flax seeds; chia seeds; avocado; coconut oil or MCT oil

Fiber

“Fiber is a nutrient many of us miss out on because we don’t get enough servings of vegetables in our day,” says Christ. Fiber helps to regulate detoxification and elimination. It’s also a critical nutrient for blood-sugar management, which is essential for controlling your energy and hunger hormones.

Amount: 10 grams or 2 tablespoons

Suggested choices: Flax seeds, chia seeds, acacia fiber, or fiber powder supplement

Greens

Plants contain the most vitamins and minerals of any food group yet the majority of us don’t eat enough of them. “Shakes are a really easy place to insert greens and up the nutrient quota,” says Christ.

Worried about the flavor? Christ notes that “dark, leafy greens like spinach or kale won’t impact the taste of the shake.” A greens supplement is another convenient option that can also add some good flavor.

Amount: 1 handful or 1 serving of powdered greens

Suggested choices: Spinach, kale, spirulina, or powdered greens

Bonus Ingredients

To add additional flavor or nutrients to your shake, consider also including some of the following ingredients.

Fruit

Fruit offers beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, stick to just one serving — for example, 1/3 banana or 1 cup berries — or less per shake to ensure you’re not consuming an elevated amount of sugar and carbohydrates.

“Berries give you the most bang for your buck, in terms of packing the most antioxidants and phytonutrients into the serving size,” says Christ. Other options include mango, pineapple, cherries, banana, lemon, or lime.

Extracts

“My clients know me for my extract collection,” says Christ. “I’m famous for adding them to boost the flavor of my shakes.” Almond extract can make your shake taste like a cookie, vanilla extract can act as a sweetener, and peppermint extract tastes indulgent when mixed with chocolate-flavored protein powder.

Spices

Pumpkin spice can add a seasonal flavor, while cinnamon adds some sweetness while supporting balanced blood sugar. You could also consider turmeric, a potent, anti-inflammatory spice, or ginger, another anti-inflammatory powerhouse that can aid in digestion.

Garnishes

Try topping your shake with cacao nibs, an unprocessed, healthier alternative to chocolate chips, or coconut flakes, a source of healthy fat, manganese and other minerals.

More Veggies

“Look for opportunities for veggie bonuses to increase the nutrient density without compromising the flavor profile,” says Christ. Cauliflower and zucchini — either fresh or frozen — blend well into shakes, while cucumber, celery, and carrots can add some brightness.

Other Considerations

There are some specific health and fitness goals where you may want to adjust the amounts and macronutrients included in your shake. If your goal is to build muscle, for instance, you may want to consider adding in some additional carbohydrates, such as oats, to increase the calories and nutrition. If you’re looking to lose weight, Christ often suggests prioritizing protein, healthy fat, and fiber to help manage your blood sugar and hunger.

3 Go-To, Dietitian-Approved Shakes

Try these three balanced-for-you shake recipes created by Christ. Simply add all ingredients to a blender and mix until smooth. (Want even more shake recipes? You can find more here.)

Blueberry Vanilla Shake
8 oz. unsweetened coconut milk
1 serving vanilla collagen protein powder
1 tbs. almond or sunflower seed butter
1 cup blueberries
1.5 tbs. chia seeds
1 handful baby spinach
2 drops almond extract

Coco-Cherry Shake
8 oz. unsweetened almond milk
1 serving chocolate protein powder
3/4 cup cherries
1 handful baby spinach
1 tbsp. chia seeds
1–2 drops chocolate extract

Morning Mint Shake
8 oz. unsweetened coconut milk
1 serving vanilla protein powder
1 serving fiber powder
1 handful baby spinach
1/4 avocado
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
3 or 4 mint leaves (optional)

Molly
Molly Schelper

Molly Schelper is a content manager at Life Time.

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