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In the Kitchen

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As a kid, I thought coffee was disgusting. As an adult, I learned that drip coffee made from ground beans so old they’ve been in the metal can longer than most wine is aged, that’s disgusting. Good coffee? Mmmm, I love coffee.

This month, I’m giving a jolt of caffeine to the But First Coffee blogger linkup: every month, we start with coffee. No April foolin’, just posts about coffee. (If you’re a blogger and want to join, just reach out.)

53x11 direct to me!
53×11 direct to me!

Last year, while I was researching the impact of caffeine consumption on distance athletes, I learned that Hammer Nutrition has their own line of USDA certified organic and Fair Trade coffee, called 53×11. (Based on the graphics, I assume 53×11 is some super-secret cycling reference intended to taunt me into doing a triathlon. Nice try, but still NO.) According to Hammer, “Originally created by cyclists, for cyclists, 53×11 Coffee today is dedicated purely to delivering the best cup of organic, fair-trade coffee in the world. We utilize only sustainable organic, pesticide-free farms, and support trade wages and direct purchasing to give more to those growing the beans.” That, plus if you join the coffee club (2 bags/month on autoship) you get some freebies and perks (pun intended).

There are four blends in the Hammer coffee line-up: Chain Breaker, Big Ring, Early Break, and Downshift (which is decaff, so why would I bother??). All blends come in the standard 12 oz. bag–word to the wise, nobody seems to sell coffee by the pound anymore–and in whole bean or ground. Personally, I think the money I invested in my coffee grinder has paid dividends in better-tasting brews, and I recommend doing the same. (I bought mine at Target for about $15; Hammer sells a fancier model for just under $30.)  I ordered the obvious three and here are my thoughts.

IMG_3171Chain Breaker: Our signature espresso blend is the perfect choice for those who favor a darker roast. This rich, nutty blend is equally extraordinary for espresso or drip use. The Chain Breaker consists of beans from Africa, Indonesia, and the Americas which results in a complex, yet smooth cup. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

Much to my surprise, this is the coffee I liked the least out of the three–and I expected it to be my favorite! I usually make dark roast coffee like an espresso blend, quite strong, and then add some form of milk and a little cocoa to it. (Exceptions for exceptionally smooth, low-acid coffee, like the Jamaican coffee I had while actually in Jamaica.) Generally speaking, the darker the better. This is definitely DARK coffee. It isn’t as acidic as most of the dark roasts I like, and I suspect that threw off the flavor profile at least as far as my taste buds were concerned. Don’t misinterpret that–this coffee was just fine. If you like strong coffee before a run (or ride or whatever) but the acidity messes with your stomach, this is a great choice.

IMG_3169

Big Ring: Our 100% organic Sumatra single origin coffee, medium roasted and shade grown under a canopy of diverse species of trees that provide a viable habitat for migratory birds. The Big Ring represents the classic Sumatran flavor profile with low acidity and full body. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

This coffee is delicious! It is definitely my favorite of the three…so much so that when I switch to two bags a month, I might make them both The Big Ring. If I made this coffee at Midwestern strength, I could probably drink it without anything added. Life on the Left Coast has led me to prefer my coffee made just strong enough to start to dissolve the spoon (kidding!), so that’s unlikely.

What I liked most about The Big Ring is that it delivered exactly what it promised: a full-bodied flavor with low acidity. If you’re only going to try one of Hammer’s coffees, THIS is the one.

IMG_3170Early Break: A morning staple at the 53×11 office. This medium-roasted blend of Central, South American, and Sumatran beans represents a well-rounded, mildly acidic cup with a clean finish. The Early Break is a great “everyday” coffee. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean.

Again, this one promised what it delivered: balanced body, rich flavor. (That’s on the label, but if you’re a Runner of a Certain Age like I am, you might not be able to read it.) It’s also low in acidity. When I brew this one I up the amount of coffee in the coffee-to-milk ratio. I like this one with some Califia almond milk and a small splash of quality vanilla extract. (Feeling daring? Try a dash of cinnamon too.) I like this one for the weekends, when I want to sit down and get to work while drinking more than one giant mug of coffee. (That would be a a BAD idea with the Chain Breaker, at least for me…I might get more done, but I’m pretty sure the typo level would increase dramatically!)

As I mentioned previously, I didn’t try the decaff blend. Seriously, what is the point of unleaded coffee? In case you’re curious, here’s how Hammer describes it: Down Shift: A decaffeinated version of our beloved Chain Breaker signature espresso blend. No shortcuts were taken here. This blend represents the four major coffee growing regions as well, resulting in a remarkable decaf. Available in 12 oz. bags of ground or whole bean. Based on the other three, I’m sure it is lovely, but I don’t see the point.

In addition to the four coffees, Hammer can also hook you up with an electric kettle (great for making drip coffee at the office), a refillable Keurig cup (because seriously K-cups are the most wasteful, non-recyclable, non-compostable thing on the planet), a french press pot, and pretty much anything else you might need to partake of the coffees. Join the coffee club for a free mug, coffee filters, and drip-into-that-mug maker, plus lower prices.

By the way, Hammer makes all manner of other nutrition products for athletes. I’m working my way through the ones that are appropriate for me–and they have actual, real, live people to talk on the phone or chat online if you need help deciding what is best for your personal goals. So far, customer service has been GREAT. Before every coffee club shipment, I get an email reminding me that it’s about to ship, and have the option to delay or modify the order. The Hammer website also has loads of information on nutrition and endurance sports. If you’re thinking about making your first order, might I suggest you use my referral code? If you do, you’ll get 15% off your first order and a special packet of goodies including samples of some of the most popular Hammer products. Just place your order, and in the “referred by” section: Elizabeth Bain, email address bananafishie AT gmail, and code 252426. Voila!

Want to try before you buy?

Enter to win a bag of Hammer 53×11 coffee from Train With Bain! Just follow along on the Rafflecopter widget below. Please note the following: (1) This giveaway is in no way sponsored by Hammer Nutrition (or any other company or person or animal or alien), it’s 100% Train With Bain, baby. (2) I will happily ship to you for free within the US and Canada. If you’re in another country, I’ll have to look at postage…if it is extreme, I might ask you to help pay for it (or donate to a charity in lieu of paying postage). (3) Winners have to contact me with their shipping details within a reasonable amount of time–if I haven’t heard from you in a week, I’ll assume you are not interested.

Prizes: one bag of Hammer 53×11 coffee (new, unopened, fresh). The first winner to get back to me gets first pick of the blends!

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Like coffee? Why not take a spin around the April But First Coffee loop? It’s a short one this month! Next in line is Endure, Run Conquer

Imagine a building that is about the size of a medium-sized airport, with at least as many people as you’d find in a medium-sized airport. Spread out as far as you can see (and then some) inside are more than 6,000 exhibitors, some of whom have more than one booth space. The path to the front door is backed by a stage, flanked by sampling stands, and swarmed with perky teens and twenty-something offering samples–breakfast bars, gluten-free snacks, yogurt, ice cream, fizzy fruit drinks, and more. Everyone wants to hand you something!

If you can picture that, you might come somewhere near picturing Natural Products Expo West. It filled every big ballroom in the Anaheim convention center (including the lower level and third floor), plus two giant rooms in one of the adjoining hotels–and that’s just the product and ingredient exhibitors! There were also educational sessions, meet-ups, morning yoga, and various other activities filling the area. 2016 was my first year at ExpoWest, and it gave me enough food for thought (figuratively and literally) to blog about for weeks. Lucky for you, it also gave me more than enough snacks, samples, and coupons, so I’m going to share them with you! But first, a quick word on a very important topic:

What does “natural” mean?

Even gluten-free products can rock your taste buds these days
Even gluten-free products can rock your taste buds these days

First, “natural” does not mean “organic.” Organic has a very specific meaning, and there are loads of rules about what can be labeled organic, and who can certify that something is organic. (To read more about what organic means, check out Organic.org) Organic things are arguably natural, but things bearing the natural label are not necessarily organic.

Second, “natural” does not automatically mean “good for you to eat.” Many, many things that you and I would both agree are natural products are also things we would both agree we do NOT want to eat! Need a few examples? Here they are: arsenic, mercury, moose feces…oh wait? You want me to limit the list to plants and animals? How about hemlock, poison ivy leaves, cyanide, dart frogs, black widow spider venom…I could go on for quite a few pages. As several comics have noted, nature is always trying to kill you. (See also, lightning, earthquakes, sunburn, poisoning from naturally occurring radiation, and food allergies.)

Third, “natural” does not mean “unprocessed.” Let’s take a peanut butter made from only peanuts (zero other ingredients). Wouldn’t you agree that is natural? How about raspberries that are picked, washed, and frozen–aren’t those natural too? Is cider made from pressed apples (and nothing else) natural? What about flour made only from ground rice? ALL of these examples are processed food. Since the term “processed” has gotten a bad rap lately and many bloggers are quick to condemn anything that comes in a package (as all of my examples do), I’d be straying from my mission if I didn’t point this out.

So…wait, what does “natural” mean? As I write this, if you see the word “natural” on a package, it means anything the product manufacturer wants it to mean. You read that right. “Natural” currently has no legal definition. If I want to make a product using meat I grew in a petri dish seasoned with chemicals cooked up in the lab next door,and add some high-fructose corn syrup, I can legally label that product “natural.” (You might find this surprising, given the level of detail given to the Code of Federal Regulations–think of it as the federal food rules–gives to the definition of “cheese” versus “cheese product” versus “cheese food.” I am not making this up–go check out Part 133, Cheeses and Related Cheese Products.)

BUT WAIT! In response to confusion from the public, the FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) is currently considering new rules to limit the use of the term “natural” on food. You can read more about the proposed definition and limits and–much more important–provide YOUR input to the FDA, by clicking over to the “Natural” on Food Labeling page of the FDA. Seriously, this is your chance to help shape food policy in this country. Please, let your voice be heard!

So, on to Expo West!

Next, a little overview of things to come… Expo West is a trade show for the natural products industry, and covered everything from sourcing ingredients, manufacturing, and packaging through finished products to eat, wear, and use. The ingredients-focused section is known as Engredea. Since I’m not in the market for organic cane sugar syrup or hypoallergenic pouches, I took a fairly brisk walk up and down the aisles of this section without doing more than looking. I think you might be shocked at the variety of ingredients available to use in natural products. Anyway, my goal was to check out the natural foods exhibitors, and seek out the top trends in the natural food industry. Here’s what I observed:

Snackification. Holy cow, everything is a snack. New Hope Network natural media had been documenting this trend prior to the show, but I had NO idea. Whether you’re on a six mini-meals per day plan or just get hungry between meals, it turns out that Americans now get a significant number of daily calories from snacks. Apples and celery are not always at the ready, right? Expo West contained more snack bars—paleo, protein, meat-based, vegan…so many options there!—than I had ever dreamed of, plus other ways to snack: Mamma Chia squeeze pouches, cooked fruit in pouches, Cracked nut butters, Hope hummus dips in individual servings, Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods heat and eat soups, chips made from fruit or veggies or both or beans…

Who doesn't love popcorn?
Who doesn’t love popcorn?

Popcorn. It’s everywhere. There are snacks based on popcorn, like PopCorners. There are bagged popcorn snacks, like Gaslamp Popcorn in flavors from white cheddar to birthday cake, and Beer Kissed popcorn; Boulder Canyon, POP! Gourmet, Kettle Foods, and Angie’s Boomchickapop. I was happy to see Halfpops, a snack for those of us that dig the not-quite-popped kernals from the bottom of the bag—I know them from many race expos. New to me was Black Jewell Popcorn, a popcorn with almost no hull (outer shell); if you shy away from popcorn because it gets stuck in your teeth, THIS is your solution. (I tasted it myself—no joke, there is almost nothing to stick in your teeth.) Popcorn is gluten-free, FODMAPS friendly, and one of my personal favorites. Several companies were also popping popcorn in coconut oil, which reminds me how the thought on this has come full circle: first we ate popcorn at the movies popped in a butter that was mostly solid at room temperature, then we decided those fats solid at room temperature were bad so all the cinemas switched to oil, and then we discovered that hm, maybe those medium-chain triglycerides were okay after all and here we are back at popping in coconut oil. It made the expo smell delicious, and the popcorn popped in coconut oil rich in MCT (medium chain triglycerides) tasted amazing with just a tiny bit of salt. I’ll be trying this at home…

This is my jam
This is my jam

Nut butters. As a kid I was a picky eater, so I ate A LOT of peanut butter and jelly. I thought I was in heaven when I discovered macadamia nut butter as an adult (at like $12/jar!) but I have since been blown away by the amazing, nutritious, tasty goodness in today’s nut butters. I finally got to meet two of my heroines (and Shark Tank favorites), the Wild Friends nut butter founders (try the cinnamon raisin peanut butter, and you’ll understand why jam is optional). My friends from Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter were there with their simple-ingredient, super tasty, family-owned peanut butters. Expo West gave me the opportunity to meet Bliss Nut-Butters (cinnamon chia seed peanut butter for the win!), and Cracked Nut Butter (the pouched chocolate chip cookie dough is SO going with me on my next run!) Peanut Butter & Co., Justin’s, and Once Again were also there with their tasty nut butters. Allergic to peanuts? How about a creation from San Diego-based Nuttzo, which has non-peanut options. Many of these delicious nut butters also come in individual-serving-sized pouches, perfect for hitting the trail or the road.

Tastes like butter!
Tastes like butter!

Vegan food that does not suck. If you’ve ever met me in person and talked food, you know I always say maybe I could be vegan, but I’d miss the butter and cheese. I can’t say that anymore! Expo West introduced me to Miyoko’s Kitchen, which is just up the peninsula from my home in Alameda. Miyoko’s makes a vegan butter that tastes buttery! I don’t mean “tastes like butter flavored margarine” I mean tastes just like butter! (What’s in it? Organic coconut oil, water, organic safflower oil or organic sunflower oil organic cashews, soy lechitin, sea salt, and cultures. Nothing weird.) I also tried Miyoko’s Fresh VeganMozz, Aged English Sharp Farmhouse, and a vegan pizza featuring their products. HEAVEN! I also tried some frozen pizza from Oh Yes! (vegan and non-vegan, gluten-free and non-gluten free varieties), which as a bonus also “hides” a serving of vegetables. Those were just two of the brands of vegan food you could easily slip to a meat-eater to change their opinion of vegan food.

Honestly, made from vegetables!
Honestly, made from vegetables!

Non-dairy milk. Speaking of vegan, the world of milk has gotten so much better since you first tried soy milk. While I was thrilled to meet the family behind Califia Farms—the almost milk I “discovered” at my corner grocery the week before Expo West—there are now so many more options than you imagined in the non-dairy milk section. Want a coffee creamer that tastes creamy? Califia makes that too—and a whole line of packaged coffee drinks. Milkadamia is made from macadamia nuts. Rebel Kitchen makes Mylk, a coconut milk with no refined sugar. My favorite discovery is, sadly, not-quite-yet available in the United States: Veggemo is a milk made from actual vegetables, yet it has the consistency and texture of 2% dairy milk. It even tastes milky, not vegetable-y. Trust me, you want this as soon as the nice folks in Canada let us have some!

Coffee, oh yes, please, coffee
Coffee, oh yes, please, coffee

Coffee. Oh #coffeeyescoffee and #butfirstcoffee because there were some amazing coffees at Expo West! I got to see and handle the recyclable k-cup style coffee pods by Marley Coffee (and more important, drink the coffee!). I met the folks behind Steamm, which I’ve stalked during its crowd-funding phase. Café Kreyol introduced me to the boots-on-the-ground work they are doing in Haiti and how coffee can be a force for economic growth in developing nations while still being amazing (I didn’t even put cream in that coffee). Intelligensia Coffee, another staple from my corner store, was there, along with innovative and amazing non-dairy creamers and milk-based creamers, and creamers with functional benefits. Trust me, I’m going to be writing about coffee…

But this is getting long.

So how about a giveaway? I was only able to hit Expo West for two days—the beloved day job expects me to attend—but I still want to share the love and the swag! On Saturday as I was driving to parking, a guy at the intersection gave me two sealed packs of Expo West-related goodness, and I’m giving one to you! This prize pack consists of Naturally Healthy, a special issue of Gourmet News issued just for Expo West, so you can read about innovations in the natural food space; Modern Oats 5 berry all natural oatmeal; Fig Bar in raspberry; Cosmos Creations Coconut Crunch premium puffed corn; fruit bliss organic Turkish mini figs; and a few surprises! You’ve got two weeks to enter, so don’t delay!

Some of the goodies in this giveaway
Some of the goodies in this giveaway

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received five Luvo meals to review because I am a BibRave Pro. (I had previously encountered Luvo as a sponsor of the Shape magazine Meet and Tweet event.) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews. As always, the opinions in this post are 100% mine–read my integrity statement!

I’m really busy, and don’t enjoy cooking for one, or preparing dinner at the end of a long day. But I’m also trying hard to keep my eating habits away from food that comes in through my car window or is so processed that I don’t recognize what it is. Last fall, I was lucky enough to score an invite to Shape Magazine’s “Meet and Tweet” event, where I first heard about Luvo. Most of the samples Luvo brought to the event contained meat, but I did get to try one of the vegetarian burritos–tasty!  Luvo also sponsored the hydration stations, and gave each attendee a well-designed, super cute infuser bottle that is currently my favorite water bottle. When BibRave provided the opportunity for the Pro team to try Luvo meals, I signed up as fast as my mouse could click.

But let’s step back for a moment.

Once upon a time not that long ago, a “frozen meal” was a Swanson’s TV dinner, heated and served in the Pan Am Airlines-inspired aluminum tray. Not only did they save 1950s and 1960s housewives countless hours so they could focus on other tasks (you know, ironing the bed sheets, busting out the hot rollers to primp before the man of the house returns from his long day at work), but surely they were a sign that we were living in the future. I remember the beefed-up “Hungry Man” dinners introduced in the 1970s (can’t have those hungry manly-men going without dinner just because they hadn’t married yet or because the little lady got herself a job), and the 1980s’ “Kid Cuisine” (though I’m still not sure why kids need their own special food—can’t they just eat regular food?). For at least the last decade or two, the phrase “frozen meal” has conjured up images of overly processed, boxed food with more polysyllabic mystery ingredients than recognizable ones, the glossy packages featuring professionally styled “serving suggestions” that surely must be photos of something other than the contents of the box.

Frozen food’s reputation has taken a hit, especially among the younger, savvier generations who don’t trust “big food” to have their best interests at heart. Industry insiders have commented that consumers are increasingly skeptical (just like this BibRave Pro) of any food that comes in packages, and want products with ingredients they recognize. (Check out this article from Fortune.)

That pretty much describes me. I recognize that modern food technology enables me to have cooked food that is safe to eat directly out of my grocery store—and I like visually appealing, cootie-free food—but I don’t want to have to guess at what’s in my food, and I don’t want to have to pay restaurant prices for frozen meals. Luvo is a great compromise: I recognize the ingredients, it heats perfectly in the microwave due to the proprietary pouch, AND it tastes delicious.

This is the frittata I made--not a press shot. Doesn't it look just like the box?
This is the frittata I made–not a press shot. Doesn’t it look just like the box?

Let’s take a look at the Farmer’s Market Frittata, which was one of my favorite dishes.  It is intended as a breakfast dish, but I ate it for lunch, along with an apple and a beverage. At 250 calories and 12 grams of protein (10 grams fat, zero trans-fats; 29 grams of carbs—in case you care about the macros), the frittata plus a medium apple was enough for me to feel satisfied.

First question: What’s inside?

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Mango
  • Egg Whites
  • Apple Juice From Concentrate
  • Tomatoes (Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid)
  • Mushrooms (Mushrooms, Water, Salt, Citric Acid)
  • Water
  • Poblano Chiles
  • Red Bell Peppers
  • Tomatillo
  • Milk
  • Parmesan Cheese (Cultured Milk, Enzymes, Salt)
  • Onions
  • Ricotta Cheese (Whey, Milk, Cream, Vinegar, Salt, Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum)
  • Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese (Pasteurized Part-Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes)
  • Goat Cheese (Pasteurized Goat’s Milk, Salt, Cheese Culture, Vegetal Rennet)
  • Green Bell Peppers
  • Contains Less Than 2% Of:
    • Balsamic Vinegar
    • Citric Acid
    • Dehydrated Onion
    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    • Garlic
    • Garlic Powder
    • Green Chili Pepper
    • Green Onion
    • Guar Gum
    • Jalapeno Peppers
    • Lime Juice Concentrate
    • Natural Flavor
    • Oat Fiber
    • Rice Starch
    • Roasted Tomatoes In Oil (Tomatoes, Sunflower Oil, Garlic, Salt, Oregano)
    • Seasoning (Natural Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Yeast)
    • Seasoning (Sea Salt, Potassium Chloride)
    • Spices
    • Turmeric And Annatto For Color
    • Whole Eggs
    • Xanthan Gum

Now there are probably a few things in the list you’ve heard mocked in the national TV campaign the dairy industry is waging against non-dairy milks, or targeted as evil “chemicals” by a certain food blogger who shall remain nameless. So before you get yourself tied up in knots, here’s the REAL scoop:

  • Calcium chloride is a salt, similar to sodium chloride (you know, white table salt). Similarly, potassium chloride is a salt—maybe you’ve purchased it as a commercially available salt-substitute.
  • Those “gum” ingredients… Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum…these are all polysaccharides (a carbohydrate  with more than one monosaccharide bonded togther; monosaccharides are simple sugars like glucose). Guar gum (aka guaran) is made from ground up guar beans; the beans are dehusked, milled, and screened to obtain the guar gum. Locust bean gum does not have any insects in it, but is basically guar gum made from locust beans (carob beans) instead of guar beans. Xanthan gum is made by fermenting simple sugars (glucose, sucrose, lactose), then drying the product and grinding it into a powder. (But wait, you may ask, aren’t these “weird chemicals”? You can buy they all from Bob’s Red Mill, a trusted brand in natural foods for more than three decades. As thickening and stabilizing agents, they are commonly used in gluten-free baking.)

Second question: is this idiot-proof?

Instructions printed ON THE POUCH, not just the box.
Instructions printed ON THE POUCH, not just the box.

Um, sort of. Both the box and the pouch tell you to microwave it seam-side up. I missed that, and made a little bit of a mess with my first ravioli meal. Oops.

Side by side: the box, my meal
Side by side: the box, my meal

The food still tasted just fine, but when you heat them up, the pouches expand in the microwave. If you are like me and didn’t bother to read the actual instructions carefully, and put the seam down, you just end up with some minor leakage from the pouch at times. (When you cook them seam-side up, there might be a little steam, but the seam doesn’t always burst.)

Obligatory action shot!
Obligatory action shot!

As you can see, the pouch poofs. My kale ricotta ravioli slid right out. At first it seemed like a small amount of food (like 6 ravioli), but it gave me some much-needed perspective on portion size! The ravioli made a great light lunch or, when paired with a salad, a substantive one. One thing I liked about Luvo at the Meet ‘n’ Tweet was the handout about customizing Luvo meals, which included recipes using Luvo–like how to use the Luvo Orange Mango Chicken to make lettuce wraps.

If you haven’t figured it out, I found all of the meals I tried quite tasty. The surprise stand-out for me was the Roasted Vegetable Lasagna. Look, I grew up in a midwest “steak and potatoes” kind of family that all think it is bizarre that I no longer eat animals. We ate canned and frozen produce for most of the winter. The most adventurous options available to use were a Chinese restaurant and a Chi-Chi’s. I grew up as a bit of a picky eater, and I didn’t have a sweet potato or kale until I was over 30. So “with butternut squash, whole wheat noodles and kale” was almost a taunt about how yucky this would be.

The contents of this box won my heart. If you can cook like this and are single, call me.
The contents of this box won my heart. If you can cook like this and are single, call me.

Except it wasn’t. It was completely delicious, and I wanted a second serving. (Not because I was hungry, but because I loved the taste.)

A few more pointers about the Luvo brand:

  • Luvo has a woman CEO! Christine Day, former CEO of lululemon, is a sort of rock star. Even Fortune thinks so.
  • If you do eat animals, at least Luvo meals don’t use meat raised with hormones or antibiotics. (NOT using antibiotics is super important—read why here.)
  • Dairy products are sourced to be rBST-free.
  • Concerned about the effect of GMO crops and Monsanto on international agriculture? Luvo is committed to non-GMO soy, corn, and canola.
  • Each Luvo meal or burrito has fewer than 500 calories. Paired with a salad or a piece of fruit, it’s enough to satisfy.
  • Luvo uses organic ingridients whenever possible.
  • Frozen meals have a reputation for being high in sodium—but Luvo defies that, with fewer than 500mg sodium per serving. (No, they didn’t mess with the number of servings per package—each of the pictured meals is one serving.)
  • Protein, fiber, and nutrients come from real food.

Overall, I’m really happy with Luvo, and intend to head to the Whole Foods near my office to stock up. For other reviews on Luvo, try an omnivore’s opinion, or a meal-by-meal review.

I’m pleased that Luvo has stepped up to my plate, and can’t wait to taste more of their vegetarian dishes. (Did you see they have a quinoa and vegetables enchilada?? How about the vegetable coconut curry pilaf?)

Disclosure: I received complimentary bottles of MinoTOR to review because I am a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!–and I don’t accept unlabeled advertorials.) 

In classical Greek mythology, the minotaur was a half-man, half-bull who lived in a maze. In the modern age, MinoTOR is a new performance beverage living in a maze of supplements (many of which are nutritionally worthless or can’t fulfill any of the claims they make–just check out the FDA’s latest smack-down actions or the New York attorney general’s latest suit to see what I mean). The name MinoTOR actually has nothing to do with the Greek bull-headed mythological monster, per the website:

The word “minoTOR” is a portmanteau.
A combination of two (or more) words or morphemes, and their definitions, into one new word. We took “mino” from Amino Acids and TOR from mTOR (more about that later) and put them together to form minoTOR™. Amino Acids are the building blocks of proteins. mTOR is the abbreviation of Mammalian Target of Rapamyacin. mTOR is a protein synthesis pathway that is vital for recovery and muscular growth.

I don’t like junky supplements, so MinoTOR had to win me over before I decided to test it out. Appealing aspects:

  • all claims backed by science explained on the website (by the way, I did my own reading for this blog post!)
  • no artificial colors, flavors, or unnecessary stuff
  • contains amino acids (key for recovery and muscle building)
  • low calorie, but not filled with sugar alcohols

As with anything I’m going to consume, I went to the website to read about it first.

The Other Ingredients.

Let’s start with the non-nutrional stuff inside. MinoTOR contains filtered water (of course!), cane sugar (real ingredient), citric acid (that’s like Vitamin C), natural flavors (legally defined term that’s not a big deal), acesulfame-potassium, and sucralose. Out of all of those, the only ingredients that are even mildly controversial are sucralose and ace-K, so I’m going to talk about those. Both are on the FDA’s list of accepted food additives, and are in use in the European Union as well. I haven’t found any credible study pointing to any serious health problem from consuming small amounts in moderation–if you find one, let me know.

Sucralose is a sweetener. When you eat it, your body doesn’t break it down very well, so most of it goes undigested, and thus contributes no calories to a product. It also has no effect on blood sugar levels, and does not contribute to tooth decay. Sucralose has been around since 1976 and is sold under the brand name Splenda. While one unpublished rat study claimed to link sucralose to leukemia, that study has been criticized for poor design; I wasn’t able to find other studies replicating that result that were published, peer-reviewed, or critiqued for design, and no studies showing any similar results in humans. Another recent study concluded that sucralose kills off good gut bacteria, but that study has been solidly questioned because it was funded by the sugar industry (which stands to profit handsomely from making anything other than sugar look as bad as possible); further, that study’s results haven’t been replicated in humans either.

Acesulfame-potassium is another no-calorie sweetener. It’s been around since 1967, and is sold under the brands Sunnett and Sweet One. It has a slightly bitter aftertaste, which means it can balance out the sweet flavor but also means it can’t be the sole sweetener used in a product (unless you want a bitter aftertaste). Both the FDA and the European Union (which tends to have stricter controls and regulation when it comes to food) approved it for general use. Again, the only studies I could find were rat studies, used a larger dose of ace-K than you will ever consume (like 3%+ of the rats’ total diet, which, according to Wikipedia, “would be equivalent to a human consuming 1,343 12 oz cans of artificially sweetened soft drinks every day”) and they are at best inconclusive. The studies were observing whether ace-K promotes tumor development; if you’re a male p53 haploinsufficient rat, the answer is “maybe.” At the same dose over 40 weeks, there was a limited effect on neurometabolic function. There was also some hypothesis that rat fetuses ingest ace-K via amniotic fluid or later from breast milk, and that it may influence their preference for sweet flavors. Something to consider if you decide to start drinking 1,343 12 oz. cans of diet soda each day.

Bottom Line: MinoTOR contains a small amount of sucralose and ace-K in order to keep the taste mouth-friendly without inflating the calories. You’d have to consume a ridiculous amount of diet soda (which is higher in both than MinoTOR) to come close to the dose any rat in any study received. (Also, you are not a rat.) I have zero worries about the sucralose and acesulfame-potassium in MinoTOR, and I’m fine with a small amount of artificial sweeteners as the last two ingredients in my beverage. A serving of MinTOR is half a bottle, and 50 calories. That’s a little over 8 ounces. To compare to the calories in other drinks, it is easiest to compare 12 ounces (the standard serving size for beverages). So let’s call it 75-80 calories. A few others for comparison are orange juice at 157-168 calories, and lowfat unflavored milk at 154 calories. A 20 ounce serving of cool blue Gatorade (a bottle) is 130 calories, which is similar to MinoTOR (8ish ounces = 50 calories, x 2 to get to 20 ounces brings it to 100 calories in 16 ounces).

A little aside…the sweetness factor/taste was the big dividing line between the Pros that like the taste and those that did not. 

Angie, another BibRave Pro, didn’t care for the sweet taste. She had a conversation with the MinoTOR crew about it too. You can read her experience on her blog, Marathang. She also took decent pictures (Mine were bad. Hence you don’t see them here.) Katherine agreed with Angie about the sweetness; her review is at Magic of Running.  Heather didn’t find the taste offensively sweet, and described it as more like coconut water. You can read her review at Heather Runs 13.1  Similarly, Erica over at Another Half Please found the taste just fine.

The Non-Ingredients.

Worth mentioning, MinTOR does not have artificial colors or flavors. Unlike some very popular drinks marketed as “sports drinks,” it doesn’t come in orange, red, or bright blue. It doesn’t have sugar alcohols, which upset some people’s GI tracts (and interesting fact at least one sugar alcohol, sorbitol, is regularly prescribed as a laxative).

The Main Ingredients.

For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to divide the ingredients into three categories: vitamins and minerals, caffeine, and amino acids.

Vitamins and Minerals. Straight from the label, you’ve probably heard of all of these:

  • Niacin (Vitamin B3)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Zinc
  • Chromium

With the exception of zinc and chromium, the ingredients in this category come in at 50% of the RDA. (Zinc is a little higher (83%) and chromium is lower (10%).) This is EXCELLENT news, as mega-doses of any vitamin are almost never a good idea and should be closely supervised by a doctor. For example, Niacin is a vitamin you need for overall good health, and there is some evidence that it helps to prevent atherosclerosis; it is used in extremely high doses to treat cholesterol imbalances, but needs close medical supervision because mega-doses can cause liver problems.

As a vegetarian I’m pleased to see B12 included. B12 is primarily consumed by humans in animal meat, but not because meat has B12–B12 is actually made by bacteria! (Animals, like humans, cannot synthesize B12 or make it within the body. They have to eat it.)

Caffeine. Look at any pre-workout supplement on the market, and you’ll see they ALL have stimulants. (“Green tea extract” is partially code for caffeine. Even yerba matte, consumed by Mormons because coffee and tea are forbidden by their religion, is naturally caffeinated.)  Most of them have hundreds of milligrams of caffeine. Pharma Freak’s “Super Freak” brand, for example, has 500 mg of caffeine. For comparison, 100mg of caffeine is about what you’d find in an strong cup of coffee, or one and a half cans of Red Bull. The various flavors of Coca Cola have between 34mg and 45 mg per 12 ounce can.

MinoTOR has 40mg of caffeine. Caffeine is the most widely-used stimulant in the world, and is safe for the general population in ordinary doses. (I’m not a doctor, but a can of Coke isn’t going to kill the average person.) A quick Google search of “caffeine for runners” returned 457,000 results; the top of the page includes articles in Runners World, Competitor, The Guardian, and Active.com so if you want to read more about why caffeine before a workout, Google yourself silly. Or pick up the book, Caffeine for Sports Performance, by sports dietitians Louise Burke and Ben Desbrow and exercise physiologist Lawrence Spriet.

Amino Acids. As you’ve likely forgotten from high school biology, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. When you eat protein (which is a bunch of amino acids stuck together), your body breaks it down into the component amino acids, and then shuttles those amino acids off to where they are needed in the body. For athletes, amino acids are critical for muscle repair (which leads to muscle growth) as muscles are at least one-third amino acids. That’s why branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are popular supplements. I highly recommend the BCAA article on Precision Nutrition to learn more.

Amino acids come in two basic types. Essential amino acids are those the human body must obtain through food or drink–you have to eat them. Non-essential amino acids are those that the human body can manufacture within itself. The amino acids in MinoTOR are:

  • Leucine (this is a BCAA)
  • Beta-alanine
  • Isoleucine (this is a BCAA)
  • Valine (this is a BCAA)
  • Taurine
  • Sustamine™ (L-Alanine and L-Glutamine)

If you’ve ever gotten into an argument with someone who tried to make their dog or cat a vegan, you probably know that for dogs and cats, taurine is an essential amino acid–that’s generally the reason why they are obligate carnivores. (Please, don’t try to make your dog or cat vegan.) In humans, taurine is a non-essential amino acid. I confirmed with the company founder, prior to trying MinTOR, that the taurine is from vegetarian sources. So it is vegetarian-friendly.

Amino acids also serve other critical roles in the human body that are of particular interest to athletes. They assist in nitrogen transport, and production and transportation of glucose (aka the carbs your body uses for fuel), for example.

The Experience.

Okay, science is super awesome, but what about the drink? Sure, I’m getting to that.

Taste. MinoTOR has a slightly sweet taste that reminds me a little bit of coconut candy. It isn’t super sugary. It feels like water in your mouth, or maybe water with a little bit of sugar.

Performance. The bottle makes six claims, “Formulated with ingredients designed to:

  1. Increase energy
  2. Buffer lactic acid
  3. Accelerate recovery
  4. Improve oxygen utilization
  5. Promote muscular growth
  6. Boost metabolism”

These are all things that I can only evaluate subjectively. There’s zero science or study design here, because I can’t do a double-blind test with water (MinoTOR has a flavor, and I’d have a hard time fooling myself). I don’t have massive lab equipment to test how my muscles handle lactic acid, or whether my body is more efficiently using oxygen. Finally, since I’m reviewing this product and I know what it is supposed to do, I can’t avoid observational bias.

My Testing… All that aside, I tried MiniTOR before starting two of the 21 Day Fix Extreme workouts with Autumn Calabrese. These are targeted workouts with weights, about 30 minutes each, broken into sets of 2 or 3 exercises; upper body uses drop-sets, while lower body goes from weighted movements to plyometric ones.  I didn’t even pretend to try to do everything the same way, too many variables to control.

Test #1: 21 Day Fix Extreme: Upper Body Fix. For this session, I worked out first thing in the morning on a weekend. After I got up and threw on workout clothes, I drank half a bottle of MinoTOR and then waiting about 30 minutes before I did the workout. While I couldn’t bang out all of the push-ups, even with the modification (which isn’t “girl style on your knees” but “don’t drop as much and stay in full-body plank”) that was because my hands are apparently just not built for push-ups. I managed to do almost everything else in the workout minus the triceps kick-backs (dumb exercise, difficult to hit the target muscles and very easy to have bad form in my messed up shoulder) which I swapped for skull-crushers. At the end of the workout, I felt great. I had a post-workout protein and carb snack before my shower, and went about the rest of my day. The NEXT morning, ow!!! HOLY DOMS BATMAN!!! (DOMS = delayed-onset muscle soreness.) Yes, I killed that workout, but that workout tried to kill me right back. After teaching the morning yoga class, I felt much better. Conclusion: if MinoTOR makes the workout seem easy-ish when clearly I’m kicking butt–wimpy workouts do not cause sore muscles–then I’m for it. I’ll definitely drink it the next time I try this workout.

Test #2: 21 Day Fix Extreme: Lower Body Fix. For this session, I worked out in the evening, after work. (Actually it was after work, driving home, and doing some computer work.) It had been some time since I had lunch, so between driving home and working out, I had a small serving of cheese tortellini and drank the other half of the bottle of MinoTOR. The lower body workout seemed much more difficult than the upper body workout, I suspect because the lower body muscles are bigger, and I know I have weak glutes and hamstrings. This workout was definitely much more challenging, and I had to drop out to catch my breath several times (no, this was not an aerobic workout, thanks). But I finished it, and kept good form for every rep I banged out. Next time, I should try to eat the pre-workout snack earlier, as my stomach definitely let me know it had stuff in it. Conclusion: I’m pretty sure I’m going to be sore tomorrow. Even though I detest getting up early, I think my morning MinoTOR plus workout was better than the evening one…though I suspect this was due to poor timing of the snack.

OverallI’m glad I had the opportunity to try MinoTOR. I’ll definitely use it for future weighted workouts.

Want to try MinoTOR? Head over to the MinoTOR website and enter code BIBRAVE1. You’ll get 10% off and FREE shipping. You can also follow MinoTOR on social media to ask questions, and learn more.

Twitter: @drinkminotor
Instagram: @drinkminotor
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drinkminotor

Disclosure: I received samples of Everlast Vegan Protein because I am a BibRave Pro and because I am a fitness professional member of IDEA. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at BibRave.com!

As many of you know, I eat vegetarian and have been trying to reduce my egg and dairy intake. As part of my quest to keep a healthy, balanced diet I’ve been in search of a vegan protein powder. Since I drink Shakeology daily, I don’t need a protein powder with added nutrition–I’m just looking for the protein, thanks. I jumped at the chance to try Everlast Vegan Protein!

After I received the samples, I bought the full-sized bag, so you can enter to win those samples. (There is a great sale on right now–the regular price is $68.99, the sale price is $39.99–plus I saved 5% with code TRAINWITHBAIN and scored free shipping and a shaker cup.)

Everlast Vegan Protein
Everlast Vegan Protein

Everlast Vegan Protein currently comes in one flavor, “light vanilla flavor.” It has no dairy, no gluten, no sugar, and no soy. If you have severe allergies, you should know it is made or packaged in a facility that also handles products made with milk, eggs, wheat, and soy (and the package has the required FDA allergen warning on it).

Ingredients. Many protein powders either have a bunch of weird or unnecessary additives. Yes, protein powder is a highly processed food, but I still like to know what is in it and make the best possible choices.

Bag, back view
Bag, back view
  • Pea protein
  • Carrageenan
  • Sea Salt
  • Natural flavor
  • Rice protein
  • Hemp protein
  • Stevia glycoside

The protein blend includes yellow pea protein, rice protein, and hemp protein.  This mix avoids the most common allergens (e.g. soy) while delivering a protein that covers a complete BCAA profile. (Branched-Chain Amino Acids–BCAAs–are the building blocks of protein: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. You can read more about what BCAAs do on the Precision Nutrition site.)

What about the non-protein ingredients? Sea salt is exactly what you think it is. The term “natural flavor” is regulated by the FDA, and is used on the labels of many food products and supplements–and since this protein powder has a flavor, the label has to identify it. If you really want the technical definition, here it is, direct to you from the Code of Federal Regulations:

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

Since this is a vegan protein, you know the flavor isn’t from meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, or dairy products. (I know, you’re thinking, “why not just say ‘vanilla’?” My guess? That’s complicated, as in there are separate sections of the Code of Federal Regulations with specifications for vanilla. Title 21, Part 169, Subpart B defines:  § 169.176 Concentrated vanilla extract; § 169.177 Vanilla flavoring; § 169.178 Concentrated vanilla flavoring; § 169.179 Vanilla powder; § 169.180 Vanilla-vanillin extract; § 169.181 Vanilla-vanillin flavoring; and § 169.182 Vanilla-vanillin powder. Vanilla is derived from a variety of orchids from the genus vanillia; different flowers grown in different parts of the world produce different flavors. If you want to keep the taste of your product consistent, ideally you’d use the exact same type of vanilla flavor…but vanilla is a picky little diva of a flower that can only be grown in certain places. Any change in the flowers could change the flavor, which means re-sourcing the vanilla. Re-sourcing the vanilla could mean changing from one type of regulated flavor to another–for example from extract to powder–which would require a change in the label, which would lead to a delay in production. In other words, major pain in the butt.)

That leaves carrageenan and stevia glycoside. The dairy industry has worked hard to demonize carrageenan through production of commercials about nut milks. (Backstory: the biggest dairy producers and processors convinced some legislators to introduce a bill that would limit use of the word “milk” to dairy products; they are unhappy that in the current nutritional climate, many people are turning to soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, and similar beverages. When this bill failed, they started to run commercial advertising to influence public opinion by providing just one tiny slice of information about non-dairy milks. Basically, sore losers.) Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed. The Irish began using it in food hundreds of years ago (if not earlier–there’s only so much history we can trace). The Food Babe points to it as one of the most evil things in food, but she relies on animal-only studies that studied poligeenan (which is a different substance) and studies that used huge amounts (more than you’d consume even if you ate all-processed, all the time). (You can read one simple counterpoint to the fear-mongering at the International Food Information Council site. Click the links, use Google Scholar and PubMed, and understand the science.) Carrageenan serves two functions in a protein powder. One, it preserves the nutritional value of the protein. Two, it allows the protein to suspend evenly in liquid, instead of clumping up and floating to the top or sinking to the bottom.

Finally, stevia glycoside. Steviol glycosides are the compounds in the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant–at least ten of them–that make the plant sweet. Pure stevia actually has a bitter aftertaste, which is why commercial sweeteners containing stevia usually don’t contain much stevia–and why Truvia (which is like 95% erythritol, a sugar alcohol) is being sued for misleading consumers. The difference is important; stevia, which has been used for over 100 years as a sweetener, does not have an impact on blood sugar, while some sugar alcohols not only impact blood sugar but also affect gut bacteria and may cause intestinal upset in sensitive individuals.  You can read more than you ever wanted to know about stevia from the International Stevia Council. (Yes, it is their job to make stevia sound awesome. Feel free to cross reference with Google Scholar and Pub Med.) Oh, and the amount of stevia added is just enough to make Everlast Vegan Protein not-sour, not-salty. This isn’t a sugar bomb “tastes like a cake mix” product.

My kitchen is the laboratory: Touch Test. Okay, so this might not technically be a test, exactly, but in my experience the texture of the mix affects the final product. The protein powders my brother used in high school were gritty and felt like they contained bits of ground-up gravel in them. The resulting sludges had a sandy texture to them, and any un-mixed lumps brought me right back to falling off the swingset and doing a face plant in the sandbox. Yuck. Birds need to eat gravel and grit, but I surely don’t!

Thankfully, there is no sandy, gritty stuff in Everlast Vegan Protein powder. The dry texture is more like a weightier powdered sugar, or a very soft and creamy powdered makeup. While in the sealed bag, you can almost knead it like bread dough.

pint glass with full scoop of Everlast Vegan Protein
pint glass with full scoop of Everlast Vegan Protein (just pretend you can’t see parts of my kitchen, okay?)

My kitchen is the laboratory: Mix Test. The first test I perform on any drink or protein powder is a mix test: I take the full serving size, put it into a pint glass, and add either water (for fruity-flavored supplements) or skim milk (for protein powder), then stir with a spoon. I don’t always have a shaker cup with me, and sometimes you need to adjust serving sizes to get an optimal mix. Yes, I realized while I was stirring that it is a little ironic that my first test on a vegan protein powder is to mix it with dairy milk. Oops.

The majority of the protein powder mixed thoroughly and dissolved. In hindsight, the amount of space the protein powder took up in the glass means it is unlikely I got the recommended 8 to 12 ounces of liquid in there. Oops. There were a few globs of not-quite-dissolved powder; when I tasted them, they were smooth, like a thick pudding (not at all gritty like my brother’s high school sludges). The resulting protein drink was smooth and had a nice texture. To my surprise it was also very filling, even though a single serving is only 110 calories (plus the approximately 90 calories in the 8 ounces or so of skim milk I put in there).

The flavor was light, as described on the package. It didn’t scream VANILLA! like some vanilla-flavored things. Personally, I consider this a major win, as my search for a protein powder is in part so I can add it to recipes and shakes where I don’t want it to overpower the other ingredients.

One serving mixed with skim milk (opacity = evidence of complete mixing)
One serving mixed with skim milk (opacity = evidence of complete mixing)

My kitchen is the laboratory: Blender Test.  At IDEA World last year, I stopped by the Ninja Kitchen booth, had some delicious green juice, entered a twitter contest, and won a Ninja Ultima! The blender is now my go-to appliance (because it works like a ninja, and because it is so easy to clean) and I use it pretty much every day to make a breakfast smoothie using the single-serve Nutri Ninja cups. Since the mix test above convinced me that I needed more liquid for a full scoop of Everlast Vegan Protein, I made one of my usual recipes and added a half scoop (without changing anything else about the recipe). I was a little afraid that I should have added the liquid first–some of the powder hit the bottom of the cup, and I wasn’t sure whether the Ninja could get it fully mixed-in, given the softness of the product.

Fortunately the Ninja worked like a champ, and the Everlast Vegan Protein blended into the smoothie 100% (no unblended bits). The smoothie tasted pretty much like I expected it to taste, with a subtle hint of vanilla in there. I could definitely tell I had added more protein, as the smoothie had a little more weight to it, and I felt sated longer than I usually do after a smoothie.

The not-so-good. The only downside to Everlast Vegan Protein is the packaging. (I was going to add the flavor–there’s a thing called “flavor fatigue” if you always have the same thing–but the flavor is so light that you can add anything to it, or add it to anything, and come up with a million tasty flavors.) I like that the packaging is minimal, just a single, theoretically re-seal-able bag. I’m trying to cut down on how much trash I generate, and since I own plenty of portable containers and such there isn’t any reason why I should need individually-wrapped servings. I like that it’s not a giant plastic canister like most other brands of protein, as those take up way too much space in my kitchen and are usually about 25% larger than necessary.

I count the packaging as a downside, because the ziploc-style re-seal-able top is incompatible with the product. When I tried to re-seal the bag, the single set of grooves refused to mate and seal; both sides of the bag had the fine dust of Everlast Vegan Protein thoroughly filling in the groove. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get the bag to seal shut again. This led me to dump the bag into a Tupperware-type square container with a tight-fitting lid. Unfortunately, the fluffy texture of the powder meant that even though I tried to prevent any giant dust-poof (if you’ve ever poured flour into a storage jar, or tried to seal a flour bag shut, you’ve met the dust-poof), the product got all over my counter and myself. Oops. Now that it is in the container, and I’ve washed and dried the scoop (which I put into the container with the handle OUT of the product), I’m good to go.

WIN WIN WIN!

Since I went all-in and bought the two pound Everlast Vegan Protein bag, I don’t need the samples. Since I have a bit of a drinking vessel habit–seriously, I can’t resist a cute water bottle or shaker cup–I don’t need the shaker cup either. (Trust me, it pains me to give this one away, but I’m trying SO HARD not to turn into my packrat Nana.) This giveaway features TWO prizes! Prize #1: two samples of Everlast Vegan Protein. Prize #2: two samples of Everlast Vegan Protein plus an Everlast shaker cup.

Prizes!
Prizes!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

P.S. remember there is a great sale on right now–the regular price is $68.99, the sale price is $39.99–plus I saved 5% with code TRAINWITHBAIN and scored free shipping and a shaker cup. (That code is good on anything on the Everlast Nutrition site, and does not expire.)

P.P.S. Want to see what the other BibRave Pros thought about Everlast Vegan Protein?

If you haven’t checked out the Run Where I Live Tour, hop over to Live Run Grow and start your tour in Cape Cod, then follow the links to see where your fellow runners run. (Maybe bookmark a few for your next vacation?) Since runners love to eat, the topic of running local easily leads to eating local. So I’m dedicating my first “what I ate Wednesday” post to edibles for runners (and other athletic types). Read on to learn about my newest discoveries, and to win some of your own!

Disclaimer: I received the products reviewed in this post from Clif Bar & Company. Clif Bar did not ask me to publish a review (though they are probably hoping for at least a shout-out). Clif Bar did not ask me to use these products in a giveaway (so count yourself lucky that I’m not greedy and that I promise not to eat all the coconut-flavored samples!). All opinions are my own. Trust me, I have so many opinions I don’t need to borrow anyone else’s. 

Clif Bar & Company is headquartered in Emeryville, the “rottenest city on Earth” according to Earl Warren, about two blocks from my first California apartment. If that’s not local food, I don’t want to hear about it. Ha! The original Clif Bar in coconut chocolate chip kept the rumbly-in-my-tumbly from disturbing my classmates when I had 12-hour days in grad school. I love the relatively new Clif Mojo Bars, so I was excited to get the opportunity to try the new Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars, which debuted in April 2015.

According to the Clif website, “Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar is made for mixing it up and discovering all the good stuff the day has to offer. Combining simple and organic ingredients that are good for both our bodies and the planet, our trail mix bar comes in flavors for just about every occasion no matter where the trail takes you.” If you like Clif Mojo Bars, chances are very good you will also like the Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars. Mojo Bars inspired the Organic Trail Mix Bars, which have 95% organic ingredients (Mojo is 70% organic).

These bars? I eated them.
These bars? I eated them. (LOL. All of them.) But I have another one of each flavor just for you!

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars are gluten free, certified kosher, and delicious! These wouldn’t be a go-to running food for me, exactly, because you have to chew them and I’ve got a talent for choking on things, but they make a great post-run snack. Or a hiking fuel snack (nuts + chocolate = protein, fat, and carbs). I have a stash in my desk so I can successfully treat myself to something healthy instead of grabbing a donut at the cafe. Each is at or under 200 calories, so it is a good size for a snack. The protein and fats from the nuts up the satiety factor (you actually feel like you ate something).

Don't you love it when you look at food, and you can tell what it is?
Don’t you love it when you look at food, and you can tell what it is?

My favorite flavor is the coconut almond peanut. (I’m still a sucker for coconut.) Just look at it, and you can tell most of what is in it. The dark chocolate almond sea salt is a close second, because it’s a little bit like a candy bar–chocolate and almonds, right?–but without the candy bar fake ingredients. Dark chocolate peanut butter rounds out the top three for my favorites, but I think dark chocolate cherry almond deserves an honorable mention; it has cherries in it, so I need it for muscle recovery, right?

Clif seems to have a flavor for everyone in the Organic Trail Mix Bar, with or without chocolate. The other flavors are cranberry almond, wild blueberry almond, and dark chocolate pomegranate raspberry. (If you enter my giveaway below, you could win a box with one of each flavor!)  Certified USDA organic, the ingredients list for my favorite illustrates what is inside:

INGREDIENTS: Organic Peanuts, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Almonds, Organic Coconut, Organic Rice Crisps (Rice Flour*, Dried Cane Syrup*, Salt, Calcium Carbonate), Organic Inulin, Organic Honey, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Coconut Oil, Sea Salt, Natural Flavors, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant). ALLERGEN STATEMENT: Contains soy, peanuts, almonds, and coconut. May contain traces of other tree nuts.

Good stuff! Clif Organic Trail Bars are available in a variety of grocery stores, sporting goods stores, Target, and online through companies like The Feed. MSRP for a single bar is $1.69-$1.79 but you might as well buy a box (it’s more cost-effective, and you know you’re going to want more than one…and if you don’t want more than one, just send me your leftovers and I will take care of them for you).

If you’ve been to any race expos in the past year, you’ve probably noticed an interesting trend in athletic fuel. While athletes have used itty-bitty pouches for years (think Gu, Clif Shots, Honey Stinger, Hammer Gel), the larger pouches have been reserved for toddlers (think Mott’s Snack & Go, GoGO Squeeze, Chobani Tots). Until now.

Pizza parlor-themed sample presentation
Pizza parlor-themed sample presentation

When I opened the box with samples of Clif Organic Energy Food I was excited, but also a little bit terrified. The pack was super cute and pizza, themed, complete with a red and white checked napkin and seeds to grow basil, oregano, and tomato.

Organic seeds to grow organic ingredients
Organic seeds to grow organic ingredients

Then I looked at the contents. Pizza Margherita? Really? My runner friends who found the pizza and the Sweet Potato with Sea Salt flavors were quick to snap a selfie and post an expression of similar skepticism. Is this for real? I love pizza as much as the next runner, but pizza squeeze? Yum or Ew? (The answer is yum, by the way, but I’m getting to that part.)

Have you seen these? Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?
That’s my hand, so you can see the size. Have you seen these? Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?

Clif Organic Energy Food comes in four flavors. According to the Clif website, these were inspired by recipes used by Clif athletes. The two you would thing of as “more normal” (banana mango with coconut, and banana beet with ginger) are sweet, like you expect runner food to be, and come in at 90g and 100 calories per pouch. They taste just like you’d expect them to taste (only if you expect to get a vegetable flavor from the beet, that’s not quite right.) The two savory flavors (sweet potato with sea salt, and pizza margherita) have a higher protein and fat content and are 120g per pouch, with the sweet potato at 200 calories and the pizza at 160, making them more suitable for longer activity. But let’s take a look at that freaky-sounding pizza flavor, shall we? What the heck is inside?

Organic Tomato Puree (Water, Organic Tomato Paste), Organic Carrot Puree, Water, Organic Quinoa, Organic Sunflower Seed Butter, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Olive Oil, Yeast Flakes, Sea Salt, Organic Garlic Powder, Organic Oregano, Organic Basil, Citric Acid.

What is NOT inside? GMOs, trans-fat, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, weird fake sugars, preservatives, artificial colors, and artificial flavors. Okay, so far, so good.

Since I didn’t want to try a new food on a race day, but I also didn’t want to open a pouch and risk throwing most of it away just to get a taste–with no preservatives, these foods are designed to open and eat immediately, not be served up as leftovers–I decided to make my own version of the recipe for Scott Jurek’s Long Run Pizza Bread included in the box. But first, a taste of the Clif Organic Energy Food:

Looks like baby food, no artificial colors here!
Looks like baby food, no artificial colors here!

It tastes like pizza. Not like “pizza flavor” but like you took a bite of pizza toppings and chewed it up. Most of my Instagramming and Facebooking friends doubted that they would want to consume anything tomato-based while running. This doesn’t have the acidic, sharp flavor of pureed tomatoes. Notice the second ingredient is actually carrot, which gives the Pizza Margherita a smooth, creamy texture. The starch from the carrot balances out the tart tomato. So I was happy to make myself some dinner!

Clif Organic Energy Food in Pizza Margherita, a Prezilla bun, and a little dish of cheese. (Just add wine and it's dinner!)
Clif Organic Energy Food in Pizza Margherita, a Prezilla bun, and a little dish of cheese. (Just add wine and it’s dinner!)

I sliced the Pretzilla in half and toasted it, cut side up, in the toaster oven. After it started to tan, I pulled it out and spread a generous heap of the Clif Organic Energy Food on top. (It looked really orange–not like tomato sauce.) Then I topped each half off with a sprinkle of shredded pizza cheese, and popped it back into the toaster oven until the cheese started to melt.

Yes, it's an indulgent dinner. But hey, it's actually Monday as I'm eating this.
Yes, it’s an indulgent dinner. But hey, it’s actually Monday as I’m eating this.

Moral of the story? Your parents were right: try it, you might like it. (This recipe used about half of a pouch. While you’re supposed to consume it and toss the leftovers, I’m going to take a calculated risk. I put the remaining half pouch in the refrigerator, and plan to put it on eggs and potatoes for breakfast.)

By the way, another aspect of the Clif Organic Energy Food I really approve of: the lid can be recycled, and Clif partners with Terracycle so you can upcycle the pouch itself.

Clif Organic Energy Food is available in a variety of locations. Check your local running store first, then your grocery store. MSRP for the sweet flavors (90g) is $2.29 and MSRP for the savory flavors (120g) is $2.99.

Do you want to win some Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars AND Clif Organic Energy Food? One lucky winner will get a prize pack that includes one of each flavor of bar, and one of each flavor of Organic Energy Food.

 

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Three of the products in the Vega Sport line
Three of the products in the Vega Sport line

High-intensity training and endurance sports both require recovery, an element of training that athletes often ignore. That’s a shame, since just a little planning for recovery can improve athletic performance—better recovery means less inflammation and faster bodily repair, resulting in less down-time between workouts—while poor recovery can lead to extended muscle pain and soreness, and lack of energy.

Nutrition is the first element of recovery, and something you should start to take care of immediately—within 20 minutes or so of finishing your workout or event—for optimum results. Recovery nutrition is the first step towards replacing the nutrients depleted during your workout. Many athletes crave carbohydrates, and historical sports nutrition advice was to consume carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stored in the muscles (which is consumed during exercise). More recent studies indicate that a carbohydrate and protein supplement is more effective in replenishing muscle glycogen, and that the effect is most noticeable during the first 40 minutes of recovery; at least one study also suggests that a combination carbohydrate and protein would be also be preferable for weight-management programs. (See Ivy, et al., below) Sources I was able to locate differ on whether a 4:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is best, but all agree that adding the protein enhances recovery.

A quick disclaimer: I was provided a box of Vega Recovery Accelerator packets to try out and review; per my integrity statement, all of the opinions below are my own, and there is no “sponsored” or pre-written text. The Vega team actively supports my local athletic community, and I have tried the other Vega Sport products and talked to Vega representatives at the Esprit de She 5k benefitting Silicon Valley Girls on the Run, the San Francisco America’s Cup boot camp workouts sponsored by Puma, and most recently the Livermore Half Marathon. This is significant because I’m predisposed to like any company that supports local athletics, even if I don’t care for their products very much. (If I do like the products, I’m more likely to patronize a company that supports local events.) At the Livermore Half Marathon I also picked up a sample of the Pre-Workout Energizer (which led me to buy a tub of it), and a booklet called the Vega Sport Nutrition Guide 2013.

Mixed with cold water
Mixed with cold water

Vega Recovery Accelerator is a plant-based beverage powder designed for post-workout recovery nutrition. It does not contain casein, whey, or soy, making it ideal for those with milk and soy allergies or sensitivities. Since it has no animal-derived ingredients, it is also suitable for vegetarians. On the nutrition side, it has a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, and contains 23 plant-based ingredients selected to support recovery by replenishing electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium), replenishing glycogen stores, and reducing inflammation (turmeric and cayenne). Turmeric contain a substance called curcumin, which studies show can reduce inflammation and counter some exercise-induced muscle damage. (See Davis, et al., below.)

One serving of Vega Recovery Accelerator has 80 calories and no artificial dyes or weird fake sugars (sweetness—and the carbohydrates, in part—comes from whole grain brown rice sweetener and stevia extract). The protein is a mix of pea protein and sprouted whole grain brown rice. Like all of the Vega Sport products, Vega Recovery Accelerator is Informed-Choice certified: it has been tested to ensure it contains no substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances. (You can read more about this certification at www.Informed-Choice.org)

On the performance side, Vega Recovery Accelerator is available in two flavors (apple berry and tropical), and in tubs or portable individual serving-sized packets. Unlike most sports drinks I have tried, it does not have a particularly appealing Pantone pretty color to it and when mixed in a clear glass looks more like cloudy apple juice than Kool-Aid (which I believe is a plus—no synthetic colors). My favorite aspect of Vega Recovery Accelerator is that it mixes easily and dissolves completely. (Chunky, gritty, sandy post-workout drinks are a pet peeve of mine.) I prefer my post-workout drinks cold, but both flavors also have a pleasant taste at room temperature (ice cold, it’s pretty tasty and not sickeningly sweet like many sports drinks).

Vega’s recovery products also include the Vega Protein Bar, and Vega Recovery Protein. You can read more about them, and download a free e-book at http://vegasport.com

 

Thumbing my nose at the many hours I was forced to spend getting chummy with The MLA Handbook (I prefer “the Bluebook” for law, and The Chicago Manual of Style for everything else), these citations do NOT conform to MLA format:

Davis JM, Murphy EA, Carmichael MD, Zielinski MR, Groschwitz CM, Brown AS, Gangemi JD, Ghaffar A, Mayer EP. “Curcumin effects on inflammation and performance recovery following eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.” Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2007 Jun;292(6):R2168-73. Epub 2007 Mar 1. (Abstract available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17332159)

John L. Ivy , Harold W. Goforth Jr., Bruce M. Damon , Thomas R. McCauley , Edward C. Parsons , Thomas B. Price. “Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement.” Journal of Applied Physiology Published 1 October 2002Vol. 93no. 1337-1344DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00394.2002 (Available online at http://jap.physiology.org/content/93/4/1337)

 

In a marketplace evermore crowded with Big Food’s prepackaged pseudofoods, Clif Bar remains an independent, family-owned company producing bars with ingredients you can pronounce (and love). Also, I personally have to love a company that has headquarters in Emeryville, CA, once described by then-Alameda County District Attorney and future Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Earl Warren as “the rottenest city on the Pacific Coast.” Naturally I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to try the Clif Bar Mojo Dark Chocolate Trail Mix Bars and Clif Mojo Fruit & Nut Bars.  In a tag: #nomnomnom Box of Clif Mojo Bars The new bars come in Wild Blueberry Almond, Cranberry Almong, Coconut Almont Peanut, Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond, and Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt. Despite my love for chocolate, my favorite flavor is Coconut Almond Peanut. The dominant flavors are toasted coconut and nuts—NOT sugar!—and it makes a fulfilling snack.  Here are the ingredients:

Organic Peanuts, Almonds, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Coconut, Organic Rice Crisps (Organic Rice Flour, Organic Cane Sugar, Salt, Calcium Carbonate), Organic Inulin, Organic Honey, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor, Natural Vitamin E (Antioxidant).

Two Clif Mojo barsWhile I didn’t need to eat more than one at a time to feel satiated, I certainly wanted to eat them all. Eventually I did eat them all, but I did it one at a time so I could really taste each flavor. That made it harder to pick a favorite, but I’m a sucker for a coconut bar that doesn’t taste like it was made with sugary sticky oversweet leftover Mounds or Almond Joy. Two more mojo barsBefore I even tasted the bars, I surfed around the Clif website. Because there is so much green-washing and outright lying going on in the world of Big Food, or perhaps because I practice law, I’ve been pretty skeptical of anything provided in a press release.  (To be clear, I received the Clif bars with only a single-sided postcard featuring a photo of the bars, a short phrase describing each flavor, the suggested retail price, and the Clif Bar social media links. No press release.)

I decided to ask some questions outside of what I could find on the website.  This was both to satisfy my own curiosity and desire to use this blog to only endorse products that I love and believe in.  I was not disappointed!

Here is my mini-interview with Clif Bar:

Q:  I know that the chocolate is Rainforest Alliance certified, but can you tell me about the other ingredients? Are there any specific projects or programs with a single ingredient?

A: We use USDA-certified organic palm kernel oil in many of our bars, which ensures a strong ecological approach to palm oil production. Currently, 65% of our palm kernel oil is Rainforest Alliance Certified. Our organic supplier is currently working towards 100 percent Rainforest Alliance certification. We have worked with our suppliers to understand their commitment to positive environmental and community practices.

Q: What is Clif Bar’s involvement/commitment/aspiration in the Fair Trade department?  I know that the Fair Trade label has undergone some changes, and that it has never been accessible to many small and co-op farms; I’m more interested in the principles (working with suppliers and paying a fair price to the farmers historically disadvantaged by the global market) than the official label.

A: Fair trade is an important issue and Clif Bar wants to ensure a socially just and environmentally responsible supply chain. We recognize the importance of fair labor conditions, community development and environmental sustainability. As of June 2013, all of our CLIF Bars are being made with Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa. In addition we have a responsible sourcing and supplier code of conduct that outline our minimum expectations of how our vendors do business as it relates to legal requirements, ethical practices, and labor conditions. Our code is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, and covers a full range of ethical trading issues focused on basic labor rights; including a safe working environment, the right to organize, and non-discrimination in the workplace, among many others.

Q: There is currently a certain amount of backlash in the twitterverse against “Big Food,” especially as big international conglomerates are buying up what used to be “mom and pop” organic brands.  Can you tell me more about Clif Bar’s plans for the future? Will it remain a family company for the foreseeable future?

A: We are an independent, family-owned company, continuing to make progress on our 5 Aspirations (Sustaining our Planet, Community, People, Business and Brands). To further invest in our future as an independent, family-owned company, we recently announced plans to build our own bakery in Twin Falls, Idaho, which is scheduled to open in 2016.

Afterwards, I felt even better about liking these bars, which are also gluten-free and low glycemic index. The Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt and Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond are both backed with a thin layer of dark chocolate. It’s not too much chocolate—after all, this isn’t a candy bar—but it is the kind of quality-tasting chocolate that doesn’t require snarfing down an entire bar. Ordinarily I don’t go for fruit in my bars, but the Wild Blueberry Almond and Cranberry Almond both won me over. Frankly, they are delicious.  I’d still choose the Coconut Almond Peanut any day though. One bar You can learn more about Clif Bar on their website, www.clifbar.com or by following them on Twitter (@ClifBar) or Instagram (@ClifBarCompany). Clif Mojo Fruit & Nut and Clif Mojo Dark Chocolate Trail Mix Bars are available now.


Disclosure: I was provided with a box of Clif Mojo bars, two of each flavor, to sample and discuss on social media.  I did not promise a favorable review (or any review, for that matter). Except where specifically noted above, all words used in this review are my own.

Hey there! I’m revisiting this post  back from the earliest days of my blog–can you believe I published it on April 10, 2014??–because now it comes with a giveaway! This giveaway is not sponsored by CamelBak or Nuun.

First, The Review!

Integrity Statement: CamelBak provided me with a Relay pitcher to review back in 2014. I did not receive any other compensation for this review. All opinions are my own. All words are my own, except where otherwise indicated.

So just how much water should be consumed on a daily basis for optimal health? The consensus among health experts, in other words those who look to optimize health and not merely look at the absence of disease as a sign of health, is that there is a chronic dehydration epidemic.  Paul Chek and Steve Meyerowitz recommend one-half of an individual’s body weight in ounces (90 oz. of water for someone weighing 180 lb.), while Mark Lindsay recommends 0.6 ounces times body weight in pounds (106 oz. for someone weighing 180 lb.) for achieving optimal health and mobility. Even greater fluid intake has been recommended for those individuals who are exercising and sweating profusely. While there seems to be no agreement between the researchers and the health experts, there is enough anecdotal clinical evidence to suggest that increased water consumption is warranted for achieving and maintaining tissue mobility and overall health for most individuals.

Evan Osar, Corrective Exercise Solutions to Common Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction, Lotus Publishing (2012) at 44. For National Hydration Day, I encourage you to stay hydrated!

out of the box Relay

Why am I dehydrated? My main problem is that I don’t like drinking room-temperature water.  I’ll drink hot water (in the form of coffee, tea, cocoa, or similar beverages).  Otherwise, I only like it ice cold.  Call me an American (but at least I know not to ask for ice while abroad, okay?). I’ve kept a filter pitcher in the fridge since the very first ones came out, to keep my water cold and fresh-tasting. I’m also somewhat obsessed with water bottles, and have amassed a collection of about a dozen in my quest to contribute fewer disposable plastic bottles to landfills and the plastic mass floating in the Pacific Ocean.  (Despite our best garbage-sorting efforts, most plastic is not recycled. In 2019, even less plastic is recycled because China stopped accepting American plastics for recycling. Why? We suck at recycling–there were far too many dirty items, non-recyclable “wish-cyling” items, and contaminants. Since I found half a sandwich in my apartment recycling bin, along with dental floss and used kleenex, I’m not surprised.)

Until the fall 2013 Fitness Magazine Meet and Tweet event, I thought CamelBak was not a brand for me. The CamelBak I knew was a hydration pack for longer distance runners (not me) and had a bite valve (not for me). In my defense, the association makes sense, since CamelBak basically invented the hydration pack. As it turns out, CamelBak makes a pretty excellent water bottle with a filter in the bottle—the CamelBak Groove Insulation—so the water is filtered as you drink it.  The drinking spout folds, make it spill-proof, and therefore perfect for me.  My CamelBack from the Fitness event became my go-to travel bottle, since the straw-like drinking valve prevents me from spilling it on myself as I drove all over the state of California for work; I eventually lost it during my work travels. Hopefully it found a good home. The double-walled bottle design is optimal for avoiding slippery hands and water puddles caused by condensation as cool beverages warm up, but the same design prevents it from being optimal for refrigerator storage. Also, it is too small to chill enough water to keep me steadily drinking.

My new RelayEnter CamelBak Relay. The Relay is a filtration pitcher with a 10-cup capacity, perfect for the fridge. (It fits inside the door.) CamelBak graciously offered me a Relay to test drive, and after just a week I decided to give away all of my other filtration pitchers. I’ll never need them again, since CamelBak has a lifetime “Got Your Bak” warranty. By the way, now that I’m in 2019, I still only use my Camelbak.

Filter close-upWhen I opened the box, my first thought was disappointment.  The filter is so huge compared to my old pitchers that I thought, “there is no way I can recommend a product that is going to generate more waste than what is already on the market.”  Then I read the directions.  Oops. Turns out the filters last four months (not 30 days) with regular usage, which means it generates LESS waste than my old filters. Win! This is “double-filter technology,” filtering the water first as you fill it up, and again as you pour the water out. The lid even has a built in reminder dial so you don’t have to remember when to change the filter. Win!Close up of the reminder

The most obvious thing to love about the Relay is that it fills up quickly. My old pitchers were very slow to filter the water, so I would end up standing at the sink as I filled the pre-filtration chamber, waited for it to filter, and then re-filled the chamber to achieve a full pitcher to put in the fridge.  Those days are over. The Relay filters the water about as quickly as I run the tap, meaning I turn on the tap and fill the pitcher—no waiting. Sure, you might be thinking this is a net savings of just five minutes per refill, but over the course of a year those five-minute periods add up to hours I could be running or sleeping!

My second favorite feature is the snap-shut lid. Despite my years in dance and yoga, you can just call me Grace in my tiny kitchen. The biggest peril with my old pitchers is that I’d pour a glass of water over ice just after filling the pitcher and knock the lid off, spilling the water in the pre-filtration chamber all over myself, the floor, the stove, and anything else nearby. With the Relay, that’s impossible.  The lid has two side-locking latches that snap shut, securing the lid tightly. So even if I managed to start pouring before all the water left the pre-filtration chamber—a move that would require Speedy Gonzalez-like agility, since the chamber empties so quickly—there is no way I can accidentally turn my desire for a drink into a shower.  Bravo!

The speedy filing and secure lid were designed in response to consumer requests.  According to the press release: “CamelBak Relay is the latest example of our commitment to promote hydration while eliminating disposable bottled water,” said Sally McCoy, CamelBak CEO. “We listened to our consumers’ frustration with existing water filtration pitchers and solved each complaint by creating an all-around better product that filters water fast, prevents spills and fits well into refrigerators.”

As a design aficionado, I also appreciate the pretty colors (and CamelBak sent me a blue one, my favorite!). I know, pretty colors shouldn’t make the water taste better…but if they make me like the pitcher more, I’ll want to use it more, which means I’ll drink more water.  Hydration, level up.

Camelbak_Relay_Sam_0727_CharRelay_BoxRightPour_PurpleFINALFinally, the taste. I currently live in an area with decent-tasting water but WWII-era plumbing.  According to CamelBak, “When tested to NSF/ANSI Standard 42, independent test results have shown Relay removes 97% of chlorine, taste, and odor.” I have not seen the test results, but I love the taste when I pour.

You can learn more about CamelBak and buy your own Relay at http://www.camelbak.com . The Relay is also available at Target (MSRP $36.99), and at this point in 2019 I’m pretty sure you can buy it pretty much everywhere–I buy my replacement filters using Amazon Prime.

Giveaway!

In celebration of #NationalHydrationDay (no, I am not sure when that is, but I saw it in a tweet for runners, so it has to be a real holiday, right?) I am giving away a box of hydration goodies. One lucky winner will receive:

  • A brand new Camelbak Relay Pitcher! (In the box–but I accidentally left it in the sun, so one side is faded.)
  • A brand new Camelbak Fresh filter water bottle! (Not in the box–I accidentally squished it–but the plastic wrapper is still over the “straw” portion and the filter is still in the package, so you can tell it’s new.)
  • A  suite of Nuun products (see my review here: Happy Nuun Year!): 1 tube of Nuun electrolytes (watermelon), 1 tube of Nuun vitamins (blueberry pomegranate), AND a limited edition Nuun water bottle celebrating the Pacific Northwest!
  • Samples of other hydration products (as your taste may differ from mine)

This is only open to residents of the US and Canada. Sorry everyone, this is a big ol’ box, and postage is killer!

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