I went to law school with a guy who kept a massive tub of whey protein in his library carrel. It sat there - an oversized, red, plastic, shiny thing, boasting it's high, fast-acting protein content - among sterile piles of papers and books. I never saw him consuming any of it in the library, but got a front row view of his increasing body fat percentage over the course of Con Law II. After graduation, when I would hit the local gym for a terrified pantomime on the treadmill of what it felt like to have the bar exam take over your life, I saw him on the elliptical, sweating and sipping from a shaker cup. In the same clothes he'd been wearing all week. Suddenly his increasingly bad B.O. every time finals came around started to make sense. I ran home to tell my best friend all about it.
My casual, deliberately superficial exposure to this classmate - there are many things I can forgive, but bad hygiene isn't one of them - turned me off protein shakes for the next few years. Ironically, after moving back to Tokyo, I've found myself gravitating towards the people that my law school classmate probably looked up to. The guys that lift heavy and hard, have massive biceps, and sometimes sip protein shakes during their workouts. The gym rat persona appealed to me, but chewing real food always sounded more...delicious. And besides, I'm lactose intolerant. Whey would blow my intestines apart.
But once I added squats to the miles I was putting on my legs, I started to consciously crave meat on my rides. At the same time, I noticed that by the time I got home, the last thing I really wanted to do was chew. Still wary of whey, and more than a little guilt-ridden by the animals I was enthusiastically consuming, I took a chance and invested in a tub of Vega Sport Performance Protein, a vegan, plant-based protein powder. In chocolate, of course.
A blend of pea, saviseed, alfalfa and brown rice protein, Vega mixes up easily in water and tastes like your run-of-the-mill protein shake; chocolate-y enough but you can definitely taste the Stevia. As much as I detest calories [or more accurately, my undying love for calories, preferably of the empty variety], I've never been a fan of sweeteners devoid of those kCals. Artificial sweeteners are, to me, kind of like having a fuck buddy; the concept is nice but the reality is a little disappointing. You try to like it, like a little something sweet is better than nothing at all, but your heart just knows that something not quite right is going on here. It doesn't even matter if you're a heartless jerk, either, because in the end, even your body starts resenting the deprivation of
unconditional caloric love.
Which is where I sigh, with a hand over my heart, look at my bike, and thank endurance sports. And bananas.
The addition of a half to a whole banana, a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, and the right amount of water and ice can turn Vega into the only protein shake I'll ever chug straight out of the blender. It's so good, I'll scrape the sides of the blender out with my finger while licking chocolate off my face. It becomes a dark chocolate sludge worth slurping after hitting the gym, or between a somewhat rushed intense ride and going into the office on the weekend. It can be an alternative to chicken or tofu, but the best part of protein powders, I've learned, is that they're convenient. I use it for those times I don't have time for a real meal [because are you really allowed to eat lunch at 11?], but I want something in my stomach so I don't start turning into a diva [I'm allergic to peanuts so the Snickers bar option is out]. It tastes like a total indulgence, is completely digestible for those with unpredictable stomaches that aren't capable of digesting anything, like mine, and I feel like I'm doing something good for the planet. And my muscles. Win, win, win, and win.
Like my law school classmate's tub of protein, mine usually lurks quietly in a corner of my kitchen. That guy still serves as a kind of cautionary tale against the myth that pounding protein shakes [or protein bars; Vega makes a pretty addictive one, as my thighs could probably tell you] three times a day will magically get you ripped. But when I pull or lift heavy enough to scrape some skin off my callouses, or when my hamstrings ache for three days straight, or when I consider blending my chicken so I can get it into my stomach faster, I reach for that big black tub, a banana, some cocoa, and a little water. I blend, sit back, and bliss out.