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Drink Your Greens

A health-based supplement is gaining popularity among serious fitness enthusiasts.

By Jenevieve Roper, PhD, CSCS, CISSN

Okay, let’s be honest: How many of you actually get the recommended dietary intake of vegetables each day? I mean, your focus is strictly on gains, which requires a lot of protein and moderate amounts of carbs and fat. Sometimes an overbearing focus on protein can end up harming you in the long run. Well, I’m happy to report that many of you are wising up to this fact and figuring out other means of getting in those key nutrients that you only get from a variety of fruits and vegetables. One method that is gaining popularity is utilizing a green powder.

So what exactly are green powders? They are exactly what they sound like. Manufacturers freeze-dry chlorella, spirulina, barley, kale, alfalfa, wheatgrass, spinach, broccoli, and other green-hued vegetables and herbs, and process them into a concentrated, albeit low-calorie, powder. But it doesn’t just end there. They’re actually one of the fastest-growing category of supplements, and it’s likely because they deliver a day’s worth of fruits and veggies in a scoop of powder without the additional calories. A green powder is fast, convenient, and not nearly as terrible tasting as you’d think. It’s are also a great supplement if you’re on a strict diet but still want your nutrients.

Nutritional Support

Well, something with the name “green powder” should provide some nutritional support, because they aren’t selling sex appeal. Green powders are full of great nutrients and phytochemicals that provide some great nutritional support. Well, it starts with their ingredients. Many green powders vary a bit in their ingredients, but there are some key ones that you should look for so you get the most bang for your buck:

  • Wheatgrass: If the superfoods were the Justice League, wheat grass is Superman. Why? Well, Batman isn’t really a superhero, and just two ounces of wheatgrass juice is equal to five pounds of raw vegetables. It has more vitamin A than carrots and more vitamin C than oranges. It also has the full spectrum of B vitamins and other important minerals. It’s also a complete source of protein, boasting eight grams per ounce, by some measurements. Wheatgrass juice can also help neutralize toxins, as its many antioxidants and phytochemicals kill bacteria. It also improves and facilitates digestion so that toxins can’t accumulate.
  • Alfalfa: A legume that is primarily found in Asia, alfalfa is sometimes considered a superfood because it contains many essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, D, E, K, and the full family of B vitamins, as well as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It even contains a fair amount of protein when dried. No wonder alfalfa literally translates from Arabic to “the king of all foods.”
  • Barley: Barley is another cereal grain that has numerous vitamins and minerals. It’s a good source of copper, chromium, magnesium, phosphorus, and fiber. In fact, fiber from barley is known to help give your GI tract a boost and keep you regular, which can be compromised with excessive protein consumption. It’s also known to help reduce cholesterol, an issue that stems from high-protein consumption, especially eggs and red meat.
  • Chlorella: Chlorella is a blue-green algae that stimulates the immune system by increasing white blood cells to help prevent certain infections that may keep you out of the gym. It’s also great for supporting a healthy digestive system, so you can flush out toxins that may be causing you to hang on to weight. It’s also high in vitamin D and provides all the essential amino acids.
  • Spirulina: Another type of algae, spirulina also helps combat toxins. It’s high in vitamin B12, which is normally found in meat, and numerous amino acids, including the eight essential aminos. While also being a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, spirulina is great for aiding digestion and enhancing vascular function. Also, because it’s so nutrient dense, it takes a bit more energy to metabolize and can help with weight loss. Superfood? You bet.

Young barley and chlorella spirulina. Detox superfood.

pH Balance

pH balance is something that is often overlooked by us gym-goers. But in fact, it’s extremely important. Our body is a finely tuned machine. It needs a fairly stable environment in order to function correctly. Think of your car engine: If it’s too hot, your engine might blow. If it’s too cold, it puts a lot of strain on the engine just to function properly. So it likes to run at a happy medium. Same with your body. It doesn’t like to be too acidic or be too alkaline. So having an optimal pH balance is important.

Now you may think you have an optimal pH balance, but in reality, you may be slightly off. If you consume a lot of protein and grains, and not enough fruits and vegetables, it can tip you to the acidic side of the scale. This could spell disaster for your gains, as many of your proteins and enzymes won’t be as efficient.

Enter green powders. The handy little powders can actually help your pH balance and get you back on track. Because they are made up almost entirely of fruits and vegetables, most of which are fairly alkaline, you are able to balance your pH consumption, and potentially the rest of your body. In fact, a study in the Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition in 2008 showed that a plant-based supplement increased pH to more optimal levels in 34 healthy men and women. This makes it a good case for adding these to your morning protein shake.

Fighting Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is known to be a killer—not only in life, but also in your gains. It can literally destroy everything you’ve worked so hard for. And the scary part? You probably don’t even know you have it. But before we get into how green powders work to fight inflammation, we need to understand good inflammation and bad inflammation.

Good inflammation is the inflammation that comes from exercise. As a result of numerous chemical reactions, your body develops a bit of low-grade inflammation. This helps start the signaling and cascade of events that leads to adaptations. Bad inflammation is typically the inflammation that sticks around long after you’ve stopped exercising. Basically, your body keeps producing free radicals that damage your cells and cause things like atherosclerosis and DNA damage that can potentially lead to disease.

The bad inflammation is the target of green powders. Specifically, your green powder should contain spinach, kale, spirulina, and chlorella, all of which are known to be full of antioxidants. This helps prevent many metabolic diseases and provides an optimal operating environment for your body to make those muscle and strength gains.


So you’re probably wondering why there are precautions when it comes to something so healthy. Well, as with most things, there are some facts you should know and be aware of before you hop on board the green powder train.

  1. You can consume these just about anytime, except immediately after your workout. As I indicated above, these work very well at fighting inflammation. But remember, there is a good kind of inflammation that comes from your workout. Consuming your green powder immediately post-workout may negate some of the benefits you receive from your workouts.
  2. Just because you’re taking a green powder doesn’t mean you’re getting in all the required vitamins and minerals you need as an active individual. Due to the higher metabolic demands, we actually need greater amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. Simply supplementing with a green powder may not actually meet those requirements. Especially since we don’t typically know the amounts of each substance in them due to “proprietary blends.” Remember, these are not replacements for fruits and vegetables or a good multivitamin.
  3. These are also somewhat expensive. At least the good ones are. Yes, you may be able to find one at a grocery store for under $20, but the likelihood of these containing everything you need for maximum benefit is low. And since they can contain algae, you may end up with detectable levels of arsenic and other harmful chemicals if they aren’t manufactured properly. So don’t be afraid to shell out some cash for a reputable brand if you plan on using a green powder.



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