Acai (aka Açaí aka “ah-sah-EE”)

There are two types of people in this world: people who love acai and people who haven’t tried acai. If you don’t like acai, you need to reevaluate your life!

Acai is my favorite fruit. Hailing from the Amazon, where it grows on palm trees, acai is a unique combination of delicious and nutritious. It tastes like a hybrid between blueberries and cacao – in its unsweetened form, it is subtly sweet and a tad bitter. When it is mixed with sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and stevia, the flavor really comes out and the 10,000 taste buds that lie on your tongue can’t get enough.

You have all heard by now that acai is absolutely packed with antioxidants, which are known for fighting aging. This is not an urban myth – acai has 10x the antioxidants of grapes and double that of blueberries. Furthermore, when compared to other fruit, acai in its pure form is mostly composed of healthy fats such as omegas and has a negligible amount of net carbohydrates (carbohydrates – fiber, the true way to calculate the number of carbs you are consuming). In addition to this, acai has been linked to helping digestion, aiding in weight loss and promoting better skin, which may be why you find it as an ingredient in many creams and lotions.

Acai is rarely served in its raw berry form. This is because, in addition to going bad quickly, the seed makes up the majority of the berry so it is tough to eat. Thus, it is often sold as a juice, a freeze dried powder or as a frozen puree (what I buy!) that can be blended to make a smoothie or acai na tigela (“acai bowl” in English). The acai bowl, as it is served in Brazil, has a base of acai puree or powder, a juice or a milk and a sweetener such as guarana syrup or honey. This base is then topped with bananas, granola and / or other fruits.

acai na tigela1.jpg

The World Famous Rio Acai Bowl

Although this traditional Brazilian recipe is packed with nutrition, it is also packed with A LOT of sugar. I’ll admit the standard Brazilian acai bowl is absurdly delicious, but I don’t eat it unless I’m on vacation in Brazil. Rather, I’ve developed my own practical Acai smoothie / bowl recipes for everyday use.

The recipe I follow depends on whether I am preparing acai for myself post-workout or under normal conditions.

If I make an acai smoothie for myself post-workout, I mix a high amount of protein with a reasonable amount of carbs (namely sugar) to replenish the glycogen burned in my workout and to repair my muscles. The ingredients I throw in the blender (I use a Vitamix) in this scenario are:

  • 1 Sambazon Original Blend acai puree packet
  • 1 banana
  • 2 scoops of whey protein (or however much to get 25 g of whey)
  • 1 tbsp of non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp of coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp of flaxseed
  • 1 tbsp of maple syrup (or honey)
  • ¾ cup of cold water
  • 2-3 ice cubes

This adds up to roughly 450 calories with roughly 35g of protein and 55 g of net carbohydrates – at least for me, this macronutrient profile + the minerals and antioxidants (too many to list!) + the good fats (such as omega-3’s and MCTs) make this smoothie a potent and delicious breakfast that refuels me after my morning cardio and holds me over until lunch.

On mornings which I haven’t trained, I prepare the following acai bowl:

  • 2 Sambazon Unsweetened Blend acai puree packets
  • 1 banana
  • 2 scoops of whey protein (or however much to get 25 g of whey)
  • 1 tbsp of non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp of flaxseed
  • 1 tsp of coconut oil
  • 1 packet of stevia
  • < 1 cup of water (the less, the thicker the texture will be)
  • 2-3 ice cubes

This recipe is about 450 calories as well but low on carbs – the banana is your only true source of carbs – and high on protein and good fats. Every now and then, I may top my bowl with a little bit of granola but I don’t see the need to add extra bananas or fruit. I love this recipe, not because it is my own (!), but because it tastes great and keeps me full for hours.

A quick note is that if you are not a fan of protein powders, you could substitute another form of protein such as a larger dose of Greek yogurt or nuts and seeds – almonds, hemp seeds and chia seeds are solid options. You could also choose not to include more protein-driven food sources.

Like most food preparation projects, the hard part is getting a hold of the ingredients, in this case acai. There are a few brands that sell the puree packs, such as Sambazon, Nativo and Amafruits. Sambazon is the most mainstream of these brands and can be found at Whole Foods and Wegmans. All three sell online as well, using dry ice to keep the puree packs frozen when they ship to you. You can find Sambazon and Amafruits packs on Amazon:

Amafruits Acai Traditional Mix with Guarana Smoothie Packs

Pure Acai Berry Puree Smoothie Packs

Sambazon does also sell a freeze dried powder, which you can buy on Amazon as well (I’ve never tried the powder but it does have a 4 star rating).

Sambazon Organic Freeze-Dried Acai Powder, 3.17 Ounce

Zola is a popular acai juice brand, which can be found on Amazon as well.

Zola Acai Juice Original, 12 Ounce (Pack of 12)

If you guys are already making yourselves acai shakes and/or acai bowls, I would love to hear your recipes!

 

Disclosure: Bargaineering may be compensated in exchange for featured placement of certain sponsored products and services, or your clicking on links posted on this website.

4 Caffeine Alternatives to Amplify Your Day

In my last post, I wrote about my tale of picking up and subsequently dumping the coffee habit. A reasonable follow-up question would be what I substitute for caffeine to optimize my energy throughout the day.

Here are a few of my natural caffeine alternatives:

1) Take a cold shower – This is something I started to do regularly last year when I was feeling exceedingly sore after jiu jitsu training sessions. Yes, stepping into a stream of ice cold water will feel like hell for the first minute but your body will adjust quicker than you’d think. When I started taking these cold showers, I noticed not only reduced soreness but also greater alertness and mental sharpness that would last several hours. When I dug into why I felt so good, I discovered that the deep breathing and increased heart rate that came from the shock of cold water also boosted oxygen and blood circulation, respectively. Oxygen and blood are two of the key ingredients that get your brain going!

For reference, although the experts say 8-10 minutes in cold water is optimal for complete recovery, I’ve found even 2-3 minutes will make a difference. Side benefits: cold showers have also been shown to boost testosterone (what guy doesn’t want to maximize his T levels?) and fat metabolism (which 99% of the Western world is after)1.

2) Get a standup desk – We have all heard that sitting is the new smoking. Long-term, sitting for extended periods leads to a bad back, heart problems and all types of musculoskeletal issues. Short-term, sitting can lead to a foggy brain as sitting for hours has been shown to lead to a slowdown in brain function2. At the New York headquarters of MediaMath where I work, all employees have standup desks. So when it is 3 PM and I hit a mental rut, working on my feet for 20 minutes will usually get me back to working a productive level. If you don’t have a standup desk, considering taking a short walk, especially outside in the cold, to get blood, oxygen and the right neurotransmitters flowing into your brain again.

3) Take a nap – Yes, I do realize that most of the working world is not able to do this after lunch on weekdays and, no, I do not advocate passing out on a toilet (unless you are a sleep-deprived IBanker). However, if you are considering a scoop of Jack3d or a cup of coffee at 5 PM before your evening workout, I strongly suggest taking a 20 minute nap as soon as you get home from work. Why 20 minutes and not an hour or two? Although hitting REM cycles in your core nightly sleep are essential for making new connections in the brain (and thus facilitating learning), waking up in the middle of a REM cycle will leave you back at square one, feeling groggy. Even if you don’t hit a REM cycle, sleeping over 30 minutes may still leave you out of it when you wake up3. The 20 minute power nap is ideal for alertness and motor skills and will thus better prepare you for getting out of your mental and/or physical funk and tackling whatever is ahead of you. One of napping’s several advantages over coffee is that it is more likely to keep your memory intact as caffeine has been shown to decrease memory performance.

4) Eat a lot of veggies – I eat salads almost every day during the workweek, not only because it helps keep unneeded pounds off, but also because I feel an energy boost after binging on veggies. I don’t intend to be Captain Obvious here but the key is to eat the right veggies (i.e. iceberg lettuce probably won’t do much for you). Kale and beets are two examples of vegetables that will make a difference for optimizing your performance. Talking about kale, all around Renaissance man Joe Rogan eloquently stated, “You’ll feel fantastic, have a big boost of energy and later on your poop will fly out of your body as if it was late to catch a plane.”

beets

Beets by Dre…sorry

Beets, especially the roots, are well-known natural performance enhancers used by athletes to promote greater blood flow, thus fueling the body and brain. Also, make sure to eat your veggies with fats! Fats are not only essential for brain function but also vital for allowing the nutrients from veggies to absorb into your body. I use either coconut oil (high in medium chain triglycerides or MCTs, which have been linked to elevated fat burning) or avocados (which are packed with nutrients).

Now that you are fueled by this new knowledge, tomorrow, I implore you to duck that morning cup of coffee or caffeinated drink of choice and try at least one of these four techniques. If you want to report on your results or learn more, email me.

Much thanks to Krutika Gupta, Ankur Sisodia, Dan “The Man” Suzuki and Marcos Rivas for aiding me in publishing this piece!

1)      Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body

2)      The Health Hazards of Sitting

3)      The Secret (and Surprising) Power of Naps