When you toss a bunch of ingredients into your blender or Nutribullet, you probably only think about how many calories you’re whirring up in there. To be fair, it’s probably smart to consider how liquifying fruits (like bananas and blueberries) and adding even healthy fats (like nut butters, avocado, and chia seeds) can seriously ratchet up the calorie count. Other less-healthy ingredients are more likely to cause you to inadvertently gain weight—and that’s if you’re making your smoothie at home! The average store-bought blender drink is much worse, thanks to the sugar content. (You really want to watch out for these unhealthy restaurant smoothies.)
But there is another thing to consider that you probably haven’t thought of: How, exactly, you’re going to drink your protein smoothie or shake. And more specifically, how quickly you’re going to consume it.
The wrong way? By sipping it. Bet you didn’t see that coming! In most cases, the nutrition golden rule is to eat or drink slowly in order to allow your digestive system to do its job and to give your brain time to receive the signal that it’s full.
But when it comes to taking in protein via a smoothie, you should do so as fast as you can, according to Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, a functional medicine physician who was recently interviewed by best-selling health author Max Lugavere on his podcast The Genius Life. Dr. Lyon, who specializes in what she calls “muscle-centric medicine,” explained that the value of muscle goes way beyond aesthetics (ie: helping us look good in a bikini or swim trunks). It is the broker of our metabolic currency and a powerful weapon in our healthy aging and disease prevention arsenal, and protein plays an integral role in muscle tissue.
So, getting back to how you drink your protein smoothie. “The goal for muscle health is to get the bolus amount of amino acids [the building blocks of protein] in the bloodstream at once. Anything less than that and you’re just getting calories,” says Dr. Lyon. “The body cares about maintaining muscle tissue and tissue turnover. If you don’t get enough protein, the body is just going to go for short-term survival.”