Protein smoothies a great recipe for greater work/life balance


What should I eat before yoga?” I am often asked this vexing question by new students. As a classical yogi, I feel compelled to advise students doing a morning practice to do so on an empty stomach, so they get the full benefits of digestion offered by the poses without discomfort. However, as a 6-footer with blood pressure on the low side and a metabolism on the high side, I myself don’t fare well sans food.The middle path: protein shakes and smoothies. You get all your nutrients without skipping a meal, and most importantly, you give your digestive tract a much-needed reprieve.  Think about it:  is stuffing ourselves full of carbs, gluten, and meats three times per day really a good longevity strategy? No wonder 40% of Americans are constipated while obesity and diabetes are on a sharp rise.

Maybe you’ve already figured it out.  You’ve read The China Study, eliminated meat and gluten from your diet, and get all your food from plants. Or, maybe you’re an  “Intermittent Faster.”  There has been much in the news (Frontline with Michael Mosley)  about the benefit of fasting one or two days per week.  For many of us though, these just aren’t sustainable options.In my case, missing meals makes me cranky and lightheaded –not good qualities in a Mom or a yoga teacher. Additionally, I would be delighted to consume a “100% plant-based diet” as recommended in the China Study, if I had all the meals prepped for me as was the case at Kripalu.Protein shakes and smoothies however, are where I can embrace the idea of a “digestive rest”  and being a “part-time vegan.”  Yes, sometimes I do fast for a day (often after a holiday weekend) and only consume a couple of protein shakes. But my usual m.o. is the liquid breakfast.  This makes particular sense if you eat late, have heavier meals, are married to Jose Gourmet.As I’m on breakfast detail, my family has been doing shakes and smoothies for years.  Here are some tips if you’re just getting started:
  1. Get a good vegan protein powder. This means non-dairy (lactose gunks things up, just like gluten), no added real sugars, no fake sugars (worse). Yes, Arbonne has an outstanding option, which I sell to support my own habit.
  2. Get a good blender. I hope to be the proud recipient of a “ninja” with the 3 blades for my next birthday.
  3. Easy on the fruits–sugar is sugar.
  4. Consider greening it up w/ kale, avocado (loads of fiber and b-12).
  5. If you mess it up, half a banana fixes almost anything–the trade off sugar
  6. Mix fresh and frozen.  In my freezer you will find blueberries and mangos, almost always. Squeeze an orange to add liquid that’s not processed juice.
  7. Use a PLAIN probiotic yogurt if you decide a little dairy is ok for you –just know vanilla flavor adds sugar. I buy mine at Costco, cheapest in town. BTW, if you like vanilla, just add the extract.
  8. Use coconut milk to keep juice to a minimum. I buy mine at Trader Joe’s in a 1/2 gallon milk carton.
  9. Fill the blender about 1/2 up w/ fruits and veg: then a cup of yogurt (remember it’s still dairy, and you don’t want to overdo it), then add the coconut milk and a splash of fresh squeezed juice if desired.
  10. Have a vegan protein powder that’s tasty and easy enough to consume on-the-go, w/o bells and whistles, because there will be times when you don’t have time for a major production in the kitchen.
  11. GET THE BLENDER IN THE DISHWASHER ASAP, SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO CLEAN IT BY HAND THE NEXT MORNING–if this is the only tip you remember, I think I can say I’ve done a public service here!
Perhaps you have heard me say in class that yoga is about “relaxed exertion,” that is, exercising without tripping the nervous system wires and setting off the “fight or flight” response.  Instead, we want the antithesis of “fight or flight” known as “rest and digest.” Grab a protein shake or smoothie before class and you’ll be all set.  Remember, if you’re stomach rumbles, it’s OK, show-off!

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Shaila Cunningham

Shaila Cunningham