My friend and I are having a post ride debate about which is better for a cyclist, a fruit smoothie w/ yogurt or, a pre-made “protein drink” like those now offered by Monster and others. Are there any ingredients that you think would complement a smoothie to aid cycling?

A common misconception is that cyclists need a recovery drink after every ride. Smoothies or protein drinks probably should not be consumed unless you have ridden more than 2 hours at a good pace. The goals of drinking something after riding should accomplish hydration, replenish carbohydrates, fats and protein, and taste good.

Smoothie vs Protein Drink

“Smoothie” derives from the smooth texture of blending fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients. Smoothies are often associated with wellness and weight loss. Protein drinks are associated with the fitness world. Athletes like to use protein for recovery, the ingestion of 20–25 g of protein during and after exercise increases recovery and muscle protein synthesis.

The Ingredients

Smoothies are water based and consist of a variety of fresh ingredients like fruits and vegetables. Many people will make smoothies and add protein powders. Protein drinks are made-out of dairy or other protein-based ingredients like protein powder. Most protein drinks are pre-flavored whereas most smoothies are not. Protein drinks are made with dairy, almond milk, or soy milk.

The Preparation

Blending smoothie ingredients only requires a press of a button but having fresh ingredients on hand can be challenging. Protein drinks are often pre-packaged in a container. Busy lifestyles often don’t have the time to buy the ingredients, clean, and prep them for use, making protein drink very practical.

Protein drinks are easier to prepare than smoothies and often come pre-packaged. Protein drinks can be made with protein powder, water in a shaker bottle. This makes it convenient, especially if you’re on the go. This is just not possible with smoothies and fresh ingredients.

The Taste

As smoothies are made with fresh produce, it follows that they are fresh tasting. People who prefer sweeter drinks can go with fruit-filled smoothies; however most fruit smoothies taste sweeter and contain a lot of sugar. Protein drinks typically have a milkshake taste and consistency. The most popular flavors of protein shake powders are chocolate and vanilla.

The Nutrients

Smoothies are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but it really depends on what you’re putting in your blend. If you’re using fruits with a higher sugar content like mango, banana or pineapple, the carbohydrate content will be higher. However, if your main ingredients are vegetables like cucumber, kale, and celery, then the sugar content will be lower.

Most protein drinks pack a lot of protein and fats, but nowadays, many protein drinks are manufactured with less sugar and fat. Unlike smoothies, you’re not getting the bountiful amount of other nutrients with most protein drinks unless the one you’re having is fortified with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

The trouble with buying grab-and-go protein drinks is that many are made with sub-par protein sources, are teeming with artificial additives, tablespoons of added sugar, and nasty chemicals. Monster Energy, the company behind the incredibly popular line of Monster energy drinks, has debuted a new version of Muscle Monster. Muscle Monster has 27 grams of protein per bottle and lowered its sugar down to 9 grams, resulting in a total of 190 calories. Which is pretty good when it comes to protein drinks. But one must consider what goes into those cans of Muscle Monster so they can stay on the shelf for weeks at a time. This is where the argument for making your own protein drink with yogurt, fruit, and a high-quality protein such as egg might be the best answer. If you are going to use a protein powder, source your own and use a high-quality collagen protein.

The best protein drinks contain no artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated oils. They contain high-quality proteins that deliver the right blend of amino acids required to build and repair muscle tissues. But you can get this protein from eating real food on a plate.

The Verdict

Smoothies and protein drinks play different roles in your recovery. What you choose depends on what your fitness goals are and personal preferences. If it doesn’t taste good, you will not drink it.

If you like a fresh burst in your drink and want to incorporate more fresh produce in your diet, go for smoothies. If your main goal, on the other hand, is to ramp up your protein intake (or you cannot simply bear the taste of a smoothie), then choosing a protein drink may be better for you.

Don’t be fooled by Ensure’s claims that this is “complete, balanced nutrition.” With more sugar than protein, this shake won’t be of much help when it comes to weight loss. That’s not even mentioning the fact that the product is full of artificial flavors, conventional nonfat milk, inflammatory vegetable oils, and carrageenan.