Train Hard, Recover Smoothly (plant-based protein smoothie review)

Train Hard, Recover Smoothly (plant-based protein smoothie review)
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After a pretty hard half marathon a weekend ago, the theme of the week for me has been recovery.

As anyone who has raced in the middle of marathon training will tell you, recovering isn’t as simple as taking a few rest days or dialing down the mileage. You still have to keep your eye on the big prize (in my case, the Boston Marathon), which means working a recovery week into a training schedule that’s just light enough to let your body repair itself, but still challenging to keep you on track.

When it comes to recovering from a hard race in the middle of training for another hard race, there are three main ingredients to consider:

1. Dial back the intensity of your runs in the week following the race, along with decreasing your mileage (Though, not by too much. For the seven people who like reading my weekly Boston Marathon training updates, I’ll sum up my recovery week training separately.)

2. Take your sleeping and napping schedule to the next level, getting as much sleep as you humanly can (I know: not always an easy thing to do when you’ve got children, jobs, and maybe even a social life to somehow fit into your already busy training schedule);

3. Pay extra special attention to what you eat and when.

OK, let’s talk about that last part. Food is always fun!

Some of you may know that I’m a no-meater. I live mainly on a plant-based diet, eat eggs a couple of times a week, and, very occasionally, add fish to my bed of rice and greens.

I do make a conscious effort to add micronutrients to my diet, be it via a multivitamin or large quantities of spinach. I love avocado and nuts, which give me plenty of fatty acids, even if it’s been weeks since I last ate salmon. And getting enough carbs in is rarely a problem for most runners.

One challenge I face when I’m in peak training, though – meaning I run or train for 12 or more hours a week – is getting enough protein. The recommended range of protein intake for endurance athletes is 1 – 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight (per NASM). For me, that’s roughly 60 to 100 grams of protein daily.

That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It’s not an unattainable requirement when you consider that a bowl of lentil soup may have anywhere from 20 to 30 grams of protein (depending on how large of a bowl we’re talking about), and that’s just one meal. Runner favorites like bagels and pasta (anything containing wheat, in fact), are pretty protein-rich, as well.

But if you’re a no-meat athlete, chances are you’re paying extra special attention to your protein intake – and if you aren’t, you should be.

It is around this time of the training cycle that I add a protein smoothie to my day, either as a quick post-run snack, or an afternoon pick-me-up. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been testing (tasting!) and enjoying a new hemp protein smoothie powder from Manitoba Harvest (received via Fit Approach: thanks, ladies!).

Now, something else you should know before I tell and show you about this is that in addition to being a no-meater, I don’t do dairy either. It’s an allergy, not a whim, so whey protein powders are not an option for me. That can be a bummer for those who expect their protein shake or smoothie to be… well, smooth. If you’ve experimented with enough plant-based protein powders, you’ll know that many can be a challenge to blend well and easily. For years, I stayed away from them because of the chalky texture and taste — or I would compromise by adding very little to a smoothie, so I wouldn’t actually taste it.

However, when I got my sample of Hemp Protein Smoothie flavors and saw Vanilla Chai in there, I knew I might have a smoothie-taste game changer right there.

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

So I put it to the ultimate test: a simple protein shake. Just pour 12 oz of almond milk over a serving of hemp protein smoothie powder and shake until smooth. I used a simple blender bottle like this one; no power blenders or anything fancy. And voila. The consistency was smooth, if not a bit thicker than I expected. (Since my first try, I’ve been mixing about 3/4 to a half serving of smoothie powder with 12 oz of Almond milk. I also tried it with water and it was good, but I prefer the nuttier taste of the almonds added to the vanilla and chai flavors of this smoothie!

Several friends noticed that the color of the smoothie is green. And that’s true! In addition to protein powder (15 g per serving), the smoothie mix contains an organic harvest greens blend of spinach, kale and broccoli. This gives the drink a bit of a green tint, and you can taste the greens a tiny bit, too. (Imagine adding some spinach to your morning smoothie — the effect is the same.)

Another “recipe” that became a quick favorite is a simple mix of the chocolate flavor powder, almond milk and a tablespoon of sunflower butter. That’s it! No fancy add-ons, no need for electrical outlets and super-powerful blenders. Just fill your Blender Bottle with almond milk, throw your favorite flavor of Hemp Protein Smoothie in your gym bag and, on your way out after a workout, add, mix, shake, drink — and recover!

Hemp Protein Smoothie cover

Last but not least: now through April 30, 2016, you can use code hempsmoothielaunch16 for 15% off Hemp Protein Smoothie products on And don’t forget to enter Manitoba Harvest’s photo contest by posting pictures of your favorite protein smoothies on social media, tagging @ManitobaHarvest and using the #hempproteinsmoothie hashtag. Participants will be entered to win a case of their favorite flavor of Hemp Protein Smoothie.

Wishing all who raced or trained hard these past few days a happy, healthy and smooth recovery! 🙂

Note: This post was sponsored by Manitoba Harvest. As always, opinions are my own.

GIVEAWAY: When the Going Gets Tough, Take Your Vitamins

GIVEAWAY: When the Going Gets Tough, Take Your Vitamins
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This is a giveaway post sponsored by Smarty Pants Vitamins. To enter, read on or scroll to the bottom.

Raise your hand if you’ve trained for a marathon and are familiar with the term “runger.”

Right? Runger is an affliction that typically strikes around the time you get into 18-mile-or-longer run territory. (OK, maybe 15-mile or longer… But really, who’s counting.)

The symptoms are as follows:

  • You are constantly hungry.
  • You crave bread and deep-fried everything.
  • Salad for lunch? Sure. But what’s for lunch?
  • If you’re a beer drinker, the amber liquid becomes as much a part of your recovery routine as you once imagined an ice bath would be. Except, ice baths are not awesome, let’s skip those.
  • More bread and deep-fried everything.

All that is to say that, unfortunately, marathon training doesn’t always inspire the best choices when it comes to food and drink nutrition and hydration. Ironically, this is the time when what we eat matters the most. Nutrients matter. Fresh, whole foods that are all the (natural) colors. Not just the macros – ever met a runner who was having trouble getting all their carbs in? The micros.

Take, for example, my menu for the day before a long run a couple of weeks ago. Breakfast was a banana and a bagel. Lunch was pizza. Dinner was french fries (the only meat-free item at a roadside diner just outside of LA… the place was otherwise not bad!)… and I snacked on peanut-butter cookie sandwiches. That 17 miler the next morning was not fun.

And I like to think of myself as a mindful eater! I don’t eat at McDonald’s or gobble down a bag of chips in front of the TV (every day). I do honestly do love collard greens and spinach!

But as you can see, some days, my nutrition choices leave a lot to be desired. So for the past couple of weeks, I’ve made a point of taking a multivitamin – especially on days when I know I should have had less rice, more green stuff.


Thanks to Fit Approach, I was introduced to California-based Smarty Pants Vitamins, which makes multivitamin gummies for children, women or men. For each bottle of multivitamins they sell, they make a 1-on-1 nutrient grant to those who need vitamins the most, including pregnant women, new mothers and children. They sent me a bottle of the women’s multivitamin to try and review, and are running a product giveaway, which I’ll tell you all about in a bit.

So first, here is my review: Mmmm, delicious.

That’s not all, of course, but let’s be honest: taste matters with these things. Ever tried a fish oil supplement? Ever burped after taking one? No fun. But with the Smarty Pants Vitamins, there are no such side effects — or any side effects, really. They are yummy and, the best part: a day’s serving is not one, but six gummies. This way, if you are already eating foods like breakfast cereal, fortified pasta or bread, you can only take one or two and not risk taking in too much of certain nutrients.

(You can’t really overdose on most vitamins… but there are exceptions. Taking too much of vitamins A and D, as well as zinc and iron, for example, can have serious – or at the very least, unpleasant – side effects. As with any supplement, you should be careful and know what you’re putting in your body.)


The giveaway

Starting on March 10 and ending on midnight (Pacific Time) March 17, you can enter to win a free bottle of Smarty Pants Vitamins by doing the following:

  • Follow SmartyPants on Instagram
  • Follow AleksRuns on Instagram and tag me in an Instagram post about the giveaway (this is the only way I can keep track of entries, so do it!)
  • Share the giveaway on Instagram, tagging SmartyPants and hashtags #TheGoodGummy and #SweatPink (in addition to the above)

That’s it!

Oh, and remember to eat well — or take your vitamins!

The Post-Workout Snack: What and when you eat can have a huge impact on recovery and future performance

The Post-Workout Snack: What and when you eat can have a huge impact on recovery and future performance
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I don’t fancy myself a food blogger — much less a foodie — so naturally I don’t write about food often. I mean, what’s to write about: I swim, bike, or run. I eat. Training is a big part of my life, and so is food. Anyone who’s experienced “runger” in the peak mileage weeks of a marathon training cycle knows what I mean. (Not to mention “ranger,” which occurs if you don’t address runger, STAT.)

All jokes aside, though: what you eat and when has such a big impact on how well you recover from training. It’s a simple rule:

  • Within 30 minutes after workout that lasts for an hour or more (and is of higher intensity), you must eat something with carbs and a bit of protein.

Joe Friel gives a succinct, simple explanation of what to eat and why on his blog, and focuses more on recovery here.

Problem is, this is easier said than done: how many times have you you found yourself stuck in traffic on your way home from a long run or rushing to get work done, that snack forgotten until you realize you’re about to pass out or kill a coworker in a pang of ranger? Or you had the very best intention of grabbing a banana on your way out, but forgot?

Which brings me to my next point: the post-workout snack stash. One of my training buddies is excellent at this: she always has a bag full of healthy snacks in her car. I’m talking apples, home-made trail mix, freshly baked almond-flour protein cookies… seriously gourmet stuff. My friend is smart. We should all be like her.

But for those of us who forget to whip up a fresh batch of homemade granola before a run, here’s an alternative: stash a protein bar or two in your car. Eat when needed; replenish supplies. Voila!

Along those lines, my latest discovery comes via Fit Approach (a.k.a. #sweatpink) and Manitoba Harvest, the company that makes Hemp Hearts, a vegan raw hemp seed I’ve been adding to my oatmeal for that extra protein and omega-3 boost. Great product, but not so practical to eat on the go, right? Except now, we have the perfect on-the-go solution, a Hemp Heart Bar.

Hemp Heart Bar

I tried tree flavors – vanilla, chocolate, and apple-cinnamon – and they were all delicious, especially with the nutty “kick” from the hemp seed. (By the way, for those of you who’ve never tried hemp seed: no, you don’t smoke those. Hemp seeds are just like chia seeds or flaxseed, you add them to cereal, oatmeal or smoothies.)

Hemp Heart Bar Nutrition

So if you’re looking to try a new, organic and plant-based protein post-workout snack, grab a Hemp Heart Bar. Use discount code hhbarlaunch1015 for 15% off if you order from

And not least, check out the company’s photo contest for a chance to win a box of your favorite flavor (I recommend chocolate).

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

This is a sponsored product review opportunity from Manitoba Harvest and Fit Approach. Opinions are my own.