Nutrition: Top Tips for Choosing Smoothies
By Chris Rosenbloom//PhD, RD, CSSD
Smoothies are a great choice for swimmers because they provide nutrient-rich carbohydrates to fuel muscles before a workout and can rapidly replace lost muscle glycogen after a workout. However, with so many choices of smoothies found in specialty stores (Smoothie King, Freshens, Jamba Juice, etc.) to bottled smoothies in the grocery store, how do you choose? Here are some tips to help you choose the smoothie that will meet your energy needs and won’t sabotage your workouts.
Study the ingredient list to check for real fruit or vegetables and/or fruit or vegetable juice as the main ingredients. Don’t be fooled by pictures of whole fruit or vegetables in the advertising or on the package. The only way to know if a smoothie has real food is to look at the ingredient list. Some smoothies list “pear juice concentrate or apple juice concentrate” as the first ingredient, although they claim to be made from real fruit.
Smoothies can be healthy, but many are sugar traps. Fruit naturally contains sugar but many smoothies add sugar in the form of fruit puree blends or include sherbet or frozen yogurt which contributes to added sugar. And, just because the sugar is listed as “organic” doesn’t mean it is healthier. Sugar is sugar. Remember that “energy” is another word for calories. All food gives you energy because it is broken down to provide fuel. If smoothies were called “calorie drinks” no one would buy them, but when the word “energy” is on the label everyone wants it. Energy can also be a marketing code word for caffeine or other stimulants, like guarana or yerba mate, so be careful when choosing a smoothie that claims to boost your energy. Don’t add the “boosters” or “enhancers” when ordering a smoothie to avoid caffeine or even possibly a banned substance.
Check the serving size. Many smoothies come in 2 or 3 sizes and a 40-ounce peanut butter power smoothie can have 1400 calories. That might be OK for a really tall, elite swimmer who spends his life in the pool, but it is too much for a pre-teen female swimmer. Many smoothies sold in the grocery store fool you on portion size, too. For example, many smoothies come in a 16-ounce bottle but the serving size is 2 servings per bottle. So that 300 calorie smoothie really has 600 calories if you drink the whole bottle (and most of us drink the whole bottle).
Learn to make smoothies with simple ingredients. The best smoothie I ever had was at little smoothie stand in Florida. The only ingredients were banana, strawberries and orange sections blended with ice. Cool, refreshing, bursting with vitamins and minerals, and not too sweet. So, dig out the blender in mom or dad’s kitchen and experiment with your favorite flavors.
Smoothies can be a powerhouse snack for a swimmer by providing carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals and water, but they can also be calorie bombs that can sabotage your workouts, so choose wisely!
Chris Rosenbloom is the sports dietitian for Georgia State University Athletics and is the editor of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Sports Nutrition Manual, 5th edition, 2012. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents and coaches. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.