MUSCLE MOUSSE

Chocolate peanut butter coconut mousse isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about healthy eating, right?  Well, fortunately for all of us, there are a few intelligent and creative individuals out there who did something about it.  I got the idea for a healthy, protein-filled mousse from Nate Green, but he borrowed it from Dr. Berardi of Precision Nutrition.  (Anyone know what comes after sloppy seconds?)

mousse

not quite what mine looks like…

In Nate’s blog post, he didn’t use any measurements and more or less just combined seemingly random amounts of the ingredients in a bowl.  There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but my analytical mind just can’t handle that level of uncertainty and inconsistency.  I wanted to know exactly how much of each item should go in there, but not so much for the calorie count or the macronutrient breakdown…I just wanted the recipe to be repeatable (and taste the same every time).  If I just measure, pour, and blend, then I can make this concoction in about 3 minutes.  If I’m eyeballing the amounts, it only adds time and brain power, and I won’t necessarily get the same end-product every time.  Unacceptable.

I’ve posted twice now on post-workout nutrition (HERE and HERE), but unlike my protein shakes, this mousse is not intended for the post-workout window.  As I discussed in those previous posts, the post-workout window is an optimal time for large quantities of protein and carbs to aid in recovery from your training.  This Muscle Mousse formula is virtually carb-free, but it contains significant amounts of protein and healthy fats…not ideal for the post-workout period.

So when should you eat it?  Pretty much any other time is fine.  I’m always up early in the morning either coaching or training, so every time I open my fridge to find my pre-made muscle mousse, it’s like taking a present out from under the tree on Christmas morning.  If I’m prepping for my training session, I don’t have to spend a lot of time (or any time at all) getting my pre-workout nutrition in order.  If you’re always on-the-go, simply grab the cup and a spoon.

This concept of nutrient timing (protein and carbs post-workout, protein and fats at all other times) is based on the body’s carbohydrate tolerance.  The level of carbohydrate tolerance will vary from person to person, but there are definitely some commonalities.  Once again I fall back on Precision Nutrition and their article titled “All About Nutrient Timing”:

The body can better handle carbohydrates during and after physical activity, as well as when levels of fitness are high and body fat levels are lower (15% or less for men and 20% or less for women).

Perhaps the primary benefit of nutrient timing is its effect on nutrient partitioning, or in other words, getting the nutrients to go where you need them to go.  For example, a high carbohydrate meal will result in elevated blood sugar and your body will then release insulin to bring your blood glucose levels back down to baseline.  Insulin, which regulates nutrient entry into cells, will store these nutrients wherever they are needed.  If you are in the post-workout period, then the glycogen stores within your muscles have been depleted and this high carbohydrate meal will replenish them (this is good).  If you are not in the post-workout period, then insulin will shuttle these nutrients towards your long-term energy stores, or bodyfat (this is bad).  And yes, this was an extremely simplified version.

The take-away message is simply to limit non-vegetable carbohydrates except for during the post-workout window (the 2 hours following your workout).  The meals outside of this window, such as Muscle Mousse, should focus on protein and healthy fats, whereas post-workout meals should focus on protein and healthy carbs.

Enough science talk…on to the mousse!

Recipe (or Formula, as I like to call it)

  • Plain Greek Yogurt (1 cup)
  • Protein Powder (one heaping scoop)
  • 100% Cacao Nibs (2 tbsp)
  • Shredded Coconut (2 tbsp)
  • Nuts (any variety; small handful)
  • Natural Peanut Butter (2 tbsp)

mousse ingredients

Directions

Making a delicious pre-workout meal or anytime snack doesn’t get much easier than this.  Are you ready? OK, here’s what you do:

  1. Add all of the ingredients into the blender
  2. Blend until smooth and creamy (very small amounts of water may be needed to help blend)
  3. Refrigerate overnight so that it thickens up and becomes mousse-like (you can actually hold it upside-down and it won’t even budge, but try it at your own risk)

Yep, that’s it.  For efficiency’s sake, I make 4 servings at one time because one large container of Greek yogurt has 4 cups.  That’s not working harder – that’s working smarter!

mousse finished

Muscle Mousse Components

I touched on protein powder, cacao nibs, and shredded coconut in previous posts, so I will only focus on the remaining components below.

Greek Yogurt

If you are a strict disciple of the Paleo diet, this first ingredient will disqualify Muscle Mousse as a meal for you.  That’s too bad because it’s really freakin’ good.

As Dr. Jonny Bowden puts it, “all health begins in the gut.”  This simply means that digestion and absorption of nutrients is paramount when it comes to having a healthy body.  Yogurt, and Greek yogurt in particular, is a valuable source of probiotics, otherwise known as good bacteria.  These good bacteria can thrive in the gut and aid in the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Additionally, probiotics help control chronic inflammation, which is now known to be one of the prime causes of degenerative diseases.

Even if you are lactose intolerant, you may still be able to consume Greek yogurt.  The live cultures in Greek yogurt can actually break down lactose, therefore your body won’t have to suffer the consequences related to the inability to metabolize lactose.

greek yogurt

Nuts

Although many types of nuts share similar nutritional profiles, I’ll specifically discuss walnuts here since those are the nuts I used in my recipe.  For starters, walnuts contain higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut.  Omega-3 fatty acids, along with omega-6 fatty acids, are classified as essential fatty acids.  This simply means that they cannot be manufactured by the body and therefore must be consumed in the diet.

Regarding the value of omega-3 fats, Precision Nutrition says the following:

These essential fats play a role in many factors of overall health, including cardiovascular function, nervous system function, and immune health.  Research shows that low DHA consumption (and blood levels) is associated with memory loss, difficulty concentrating, Alzheimer’s disease and other mood problems.

Cells in the human body have a fatty layer.  Essential fats have an integral role in promoting cell health.  Cells require these fats for repair and regeneration.  If the fatty membranes surrounding brain cells are relatively fluid, messages from neurochemicals such as serotonin can be transmitted more easily.  Another benefit of omega-3 fats is the increase of insulin sensitivity in muscle cells with a concurrent decrease in fat cells.  With this, more nutrients may be diverted to muscle tissue.

Finally, DHA and EPA can increase metabolism.  With adequate consumption leading to increased levels of enzymes that boost calorie-burning ability.

It’s true that various types of fish contain far greater levels of omega-3 fats, but there’s absolutely no way I’m blending fish in my muscle mousse formula.  Good luck with that.

Walnuts aren’t just a good source of fats – they are also nutrient dense and provide protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and manganese.  They’re practically a chewable multivitamin, but don’t use that as an excuse to just eat the Flintstone’s variety instead.

walnuts

Natural Peanut Butter

Peanuts are technically legumes, but their nutritional profile resembles that of nuts which is why they are often lumped together.  Regardless of their classification, they are delicious and have many positive benefits.  For instance, peanuts possess a surprisingly high amount of antioxidants…almost as high as some berries.  In particular, they contain a high concentration of the polyphenol p-coumaric acid which has been shown to be both a powerful antioxidant and an anticancer compound.

Don’t be fooled by jars of peanut butter that slap the “Natural” label on there.  The only surefire way to know that you’re getting true natural peanut butter is to look at the ingredients.  There should be ONE ingredient, which, as you might have guessed, is peanuts.  Occasionally salt is added to natural peanut butter, and I personally don’t mind this addition (although salt can exacerbate some issues with hypertension).  If the ingredients list includes sugar or any form of partially hydrogenated oils, just put the jar back on the shelf and step away slowly.

pb

peanut butter comprised roughly 80% of my diet as a growing boy

CONCLUSION

Muscle Mousse is certainly a delicious and healthy meal, but you could potentially run into a few problems if you’re not careful:

  • Since it consists primarily of protein and fats, this stuff is very calorically dense.  You can absolutely overeat this stuff, and it is definitely possible to gain bodyfat while only eating healthy foods.
  • Muscle Mousse is rich stuff.  Calories aside, if you eat too much you will make yourself sick (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience).

These potential risks are far outweighed by the benefits, so give it a shot and experiment with other ingredients.  Just be sure to tell me if you find a better formula.

References

Bowden, J., Ph.D. (2007). The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.

MY PROTEIN SHAKES STILL BRING ALL THE GIRLS TO THE SHOP

My blog on post-workout nutrition, My Protein Shakes Bring All the Girls to the SHOP, turned out to be pretty popular and I’m hearing about more and more people drinking shakes out of the blender following their workouts.  I love it!

In that post I detailed the what and the why behind my famous post-workout shakes as well as providing my specific recipe.  As I mentioned in that post, I am continually experimenting with ingredients and different proportions of the same ingredients in order to optimize taste and, more importantly, to recover from my training.

Since that post was written, there have been four changes…some started out as little experiments that turned out well while others were merely out of necessity.  Regardless of the reason, those changes all proved to be worthy of the SHOP Shake:

  1. Spinach – added a lot
  2. Cacao Nibs (100% cacao) – added 2 tbsp
  3. Shredded Coconut – replaced Flax Seeds with 2 tbsp
  4. Oatmeal (gluten-free) – removed

UPDATED RECIPE

  • Water / Ice (a lot…depends on desired thickness)
  • Protein Powder (one heaping scoop)
  • Cinnamon (a lot…about 30 shakes)
  • Green SuperFood (1 scoop)
  • Cacao Nibs (2 tbsp)
  • Shredded Coconut (2 tbsp)
  • Spinach (a lot…1 massive handful)
  • Berries (frozen) (1 cup)
  • Banana (frozen) (1 whole banana)

New Super Shake Components
Cacao Nibs (100% cacao)

cacao nibs 2
Cacao nibs are made from partially ground cacao beans, which are the natural source of all chocolate products.  By itself, 100% pure cacao has a bitter taste…that’s why makers of candy bars add sugar, milk, and a whole host of other crap into the mix.  While those things certainly improve the taste, they do more harm than good.  Fortunately, the SHOP Shake includes a few components that will counteract the bitterness without the negative consequences (frozen berries and a frozen banana).  The natural sweetness of these fruits fully mask the bitterness, leaving just a hint of rich, chocolatey goodness behind.

Now you might be wondering why you should consider adding these to your own shakes.  The answer is simple: cacao contains compounds called flavanoids (the type specific to cacao is called flavanols).  These flavanols are pretty powerful.  According to Dr. Jonny Bowden, flavanols “prevent fatlike substances in the bloodstream from clogging the arteries.  When you reduce the blood’s ability to clot, you also reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.”  Reduced risk of heart attacks and stroke?  Yes please.  The benefits don’t stop there.  Dr. Bowden also mentions that cacao can decrease blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity.

Regarding insulin sensitivity, Precision Nutrition says the following:

You need insulin, but the trick is to learn how to balance the anabolic effects in muscle tissue against the fat storage effects. This can be done by increasing insulin sensitivity in the muscle while decreasing insulin sensitivity in the fat cells. Controlling insulin release during the day is important for long-term sensitivity.

WARNING:  a Hershey’s dark chocolate bar does not count.  This is nothing more than a sneaky (but effective) way for the food industry to fool consumers into buying candy bars.  A true dark chocolate bar will advertise right there on the front of the package what percentage of cacao is in the bar.  I recommend a minimum of 90% cacao.  100% would be even better.

darkchocolate2

Umm, no.  Not real chocolate.

realdarkchocolate

That’s more like it.

Spinach

spinach
I used to avoid putting spinach or other green leafy vegetables in my shakes because I was concerned that it would end up tasting like a salad.  I love salads, but I don’t love drinking them.  Luckily I decided to try it, and as it turns out it doesn’t alter the taste of the shake at all.  That was the only potential downside.  The upside, on the other hand, is worthy of its own post, but for the sake of brevity I’ll just give you the highlights…

Once again I turn to Dr. Bowden for the answers:

  • Spinach provides more nutrients than any other food on the planet on a calorie for calorie basis.
  • Spinach is one of the best sources of vitamin K, which is essential for bone strength and health (vitamin K activates a compound called osteocalcin that anchors calcium molecules inside the bone).  Contrary to popular belief, simply consuming calcium (as in drinking milk) isn’t enough.  Your body has to be able to use and absorb that calcium.  Plus, if you’re still drinking conventional milk instead of raw milk, read THIS.
  • Remember those flavanoids found in cacao?  Spinach has at least 13 different kinds that act as antioxidants and anticancer compounds.
  • Spinach is a rich source of both vitamin C and vitamin A, two antioxidants that help with everything from reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease to improving eye health.

I could go on for a lot longer about spinach, but if those reasons aren’t enough for you then I don’t think more bullet points will persuade you.  It’s pretty easy to add large quantities of spinach to your shakes without taking up a bunch of space in your blender.  When the spinach gets liquefied, it actually takes up surprisingly little space.

Interesting tidbit:  the spinach industry was actually on its way out in the 1930’s until Popeye came along.  A simple cartoon actually created a resurgence in this green leafy vegetable.  If spinach is good enough to make Popeye strong and huge, then it’s good enough for me.  Unlike Popeye, though, I recommend fresh spinach leaves over the canned variety (save the canned spinach for dinner guests and special occasions).

Another interesting tidbit:  you would literally have to eat a freakin’ barrel of spinach to equal the calories contained in one small serving of french fries.

Shredded Coconut
shredded coconut

Even just inhaling the aroma inside the bag is good.

I’ll be honest, the only reason I decided to add shredded coconut to my shakes is because I ran out of flax seeds.  Don’t get me wrong, I love coconut and I have used shredded coconut and coconut milk in plenty of meals.  I just never considered it as a potential component of my post-workout shakes.

Coconut, whether it’s shredded coconut, coconut oil, or coconut milk, was considered a bad food for a long time due to its high saturated fat content.  While it is true that most of the fat in coconut is saturated, this isn’t a bad thing.  The saturated fat found in coconut is classified as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s).  Research has shown that MCT’s are preferentially metabolized rather than stored in the body.  This means they are a potent source of energy for our bodies.  Also, most of the MCT’s in coconut are a specific type known as lauric acid, which is both antiviral and antimicrobial, making it valuable to improving our immunity.

If that wasn’t enough, coconut just tastes delicious.

ON DECK

I’m currently experimenting with a Muscle Mousse formula that is proving to be incredible.  Once I have perfected the recipe, I’ll post the details.  I have been eating this first thing in the morning either pre-workout or as my first breakfast.  Right before bed, I even think about how good it’s going to taste the next morning.  Given my history of over-doing things (pumpkin comes to mind here), this could become problematic…

References
Bowden, J., Ph.D. (2007). The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Beverly, MA: Fair
Winds Press.