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Is My Gym’s Juice Bar Killing My Gains — And Wallet?

Compared to making a smoothie at home, it’s definitely putting the bank account through a strenuous workout

The first time I was ever a member of a gym with its own juice bar, it was one of Metro Detroit’s many Powerhouse Gyms. I felt downright spoiled simply from having the option to conclude a workout and then immediately fork over $5.95 for a protein-infused cocktail of my choosing. To the protein was added, ice, fruit and a host of tantalizing sweeteners, and I envisioned my muscles increasing in robustness and vascularity with every sweet sip.

It was after about three such visits to the Powerhouse juice bar that I performed some calculations. Even during my least ambitious years, I would work out at least 300 days. At roughly $6 a pop, it didn’t take a mathematical genius to calculate that Powerhouse would rake in $1,800 from me that year if I kept it up, which was far more than the $480 I was spending for annual access to their facilities. 

It was at that point that the business-focused sector of my brain took over, and projected me into an imagined board of directors meeting of the Powerhouse Gym intelligentsia. I envisioned a board member postulating a hypothetical sucker who was willing to spend four times the price of his gym membership on in-house supplements that cost the club only a single dollar’s worth of ingredients. Then I snapped back to reality, realized that I was the very same sucker at a high risk of being swindled, and vowed never to buy another drink from that juice bar.

What’s so bad about the juice bar? Isn’t the juice worth the squeeze?

That all depends on the juice being squeezed and what your alternatives are, doesn’t it?

As we all know, simply because something comes earmarked as possessing healthy qualities, like a Naked drink or a Jamba Juice smoothie, that doesn’t mean daily doses of those drinks won’t leave you wondering why your strength gains aren’t accompanied by weight loss, even if you’ve also been doing the required work on the cardio machines to match your efforts in the weight room. 

The fundamental notion behind the idea of paying for a smoothie is that you’d typically never have that combination of ingredients on hand, along with a blender to mix them all together, and therefore, you’re willing to pay a premium for all of them. But let’s take a quick look at what the ingredients contained in some of these smoothies would cost you if you paid for them yourself. 

I’ll pick on the Rascals Fitness smoothie list because their menu was among the most prominent to pop up when I performed a Google image search for “juice bar ingredients,” and select “Banilla” from the top of the Lifestyle Shakes list. For $7, you would receive a 20-ounce smoothie containing unsweetened almond milk, banana, vanilla and 30 grams of vanilla whey protein. Without having a precise breakdown of the ingredients, this is somewhat difficult to analyze, but I’ll do my level best. We know that half a gallon — or 64 ounces — of unsweetened vanilla almond milk costs just over $3, so even if this smoothie includes 10 ounces of Almond Milk, it would only set a normal person back by roughly 47 cents. Bananas are around 57 cents per pound, which typically amounts to three whole bananas. Therefore, if this smoothie contains half of a banana, it adds about 10 cents to the cost.

Now we get to the protein. There’s zero chance that the club is paying retail price for their protein powder. In fact, they’re undoubtedly cracking open the very same protein they sell at a markup from the display cabinet and dropping single-serving scoops of that into their smoothies. Let’s assume a 35 percent gross margin, which means that the gyms are buying the protein powder for 65 percent of what they’re selling it for. If they’re purchasing the best-selling vanilla protein powder in the world for around $37, then each serving of protein from this container costs the club only 50 cents. 

If we toss in a penny to cover the negligible cost of the tap water used to make the ice, you’re looking at a smoothie that would cost the club $1.07 to make — and that would probably only cost you about $1.60 to make, and which club members will spend $7 for. That nearly seven-fold markup is the cost of convenience, and if you did that 300 times a year, you’d be spending $2,100 on blended meals that would cost you $480 if you made them yourself.

That’s highway robbery!

More like grand larceny. But to top it off, if you were left to your own devices with your own bucket of protein, my hunch is that you’d drop a 120-calorie scoop of it into your water, stir it up and drink it down — i.e., you require the drink to have the bare minimum potability. Admittedly, the additional 100 calories provided by the almond milk and half of a banana aren’t making a tremendous difference in this particular smoothie, but any of the fully loaded options could easily propel this beverage to north of 400 calories, meaning the potential weight-loss benefits that might have been achievable through your workout are being immediately undone by the consumption of the drink.

Before you belly up to the juice bar, pony up your dough and allow another blended beverage to touch your lips, keep this aforementioned analysis in mind. Not only are you potentially turning something that should cost a buck into something that costs closer to 10 bucks — and therefore racking up annual gym expenses that are the equivalent of two season passes to Disney World — but you’re turning the 30 daily minutes you spend on the treadmill in the pursuit of improved fitness into an exercise in futility, and time spent chasing your own tail.