Thrive Foods Direct Review

Eggplant Chana Masala from Thrive Foods Direct (the official photo, not my own)

On the heels of last week’s post about eating vegetarian while traveling, it seems an opportune time to publish a review of a service that makes it easy to do that very thing.

During Brendan Brazier’s podcast appearance earlier this year, we talked briefly about Thrive Foods Direct, his new service that delivers healthy vegan meals (like those in Brendan’s book Thrive Foods) to your door, fully prepared and ready to heat and serve.

I had the chance to try Thrive Foods Direct several weeks ago. My four sample meals could not have arrived at a better time — just a few hours prior, Erin and our son had left on an overnight trip, and I was foodless. The arrival of TFD at my door at that time meant:

(a) I wouldn’t have to cook for myself; and

(b) I wouldn’t have to share any of it with the little table monster that steals food from people’s plates in our house. Or with my son, either.

Win win win. Here’s how it went down.

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A Review of Brendan Brazier’s New Book, Thrive Foods

If you’re the type that reads blogs about vegetarian and vegan fitness, then you already know who Brendan Brazier is.

He’s been a friend of this site since the very beginning, so of course you’ve already checked out our first interview, our second interview, and our third interview, right?

Okay, so if by chance you don’t yet know about Brendan, he’s a former professional Ironman triathlete who competed on an entirely vegan diet. And he’s the author of several books — most recently, Thrive Foods, which hits U.S. stores this month.

Well, the folks at Vega, Brendan’s sports nutrition company, were nice enough to send me an advance copy of Thrive Foods to review.

Hence the title of this post. Review time!

How do you improve on Thrive?

I read Brendan’s first book, Thrive, shortly after I became vegetarian back in 2009. It was my first serious introduction to plant-based nutrition, and it’s an incredibly thorough resource for any athlete who is interested in learning about the advantages to the body and the environment that a vegan diet offers.

It became my manual, my nutrition bible, and the book I recommended whenever someone asked me where to turn.

But there was one aspect of Thrive that I eventually came to realize I did not love: the actual, day-to-day recipes.

Take a look at a few of the ones I shared on this site (with Brendan’s permission, of course).  There’s the raw walnut “burger.”  There’s raw zucchini “pasta.”  There are the “pizza” recipes.

Why am I putting this stuff in quotes? Because if you actually look at these recipes, you’ll see that while they’re super-healthy, they’re really approximations of what these words are supposed to mean.  Don’t get me wrong — these high-raw, gluten-free, high-net-gain versions of familiar foods are far better for you than the originals, for sure. And as a professional Ironman triathlete, someone for whom fueling his body is part of his livelihood, that’s what mattered most to Brendan when he wrote Thrive.

But for a family, a vegetarian one even, that wanted to eat pretty normal (read: cooked) food, the recipes in Thrive were a little too extreme. I did the best I could with raw smoothies, salads, and I incorporated of as many of Brendan’s “next-level” foods as possible into my meals, but the diet in its entirety was something I just couldn’t adopt.  (I did appreciate the recipes for smoothies, sports drinks, and energy bars, however, and still use those today.)

The good news: Thrive Foods, Brendan’s new book, changes all of this.

In Thrive Foods, the focus is still on high-energy foods, many of them raw. But now, taste seems to have played a substantially larger role in the development of the 200 recipes in the book. Thrive Foods isn’t just for athletes; it’s for the growing vegan-curious population out there who cares about health, but really wants their food to be good.

And cooked. That’s hot.

Right in the introduction, Brendan explains that he’s not a chef, and so he enlisted the help of several top vegetarian and vegan chefs to improve the palatability of his ultra-healthy recipes. I’m familiar with only a few of the names, but you may know more of them: Amanda Cohen, Matthew Kenney, Julie Morris, Chad Sarno, and Tal Ronnen.

There are still the sports drinks, smoothies, energy bars and energy gels like I loved from Thrive. But now the salads, soups, dips, dressings, main courses, and desserts are the types of foods you can make for your family. (In fact, our 16-month old son even likes this food — a few nights ago he wolfed down his share of the Shanghai Rice Bowl, the recipe I’ve included at the end of this post.)

What’s amazing is that with the much-improved quality of the recipes, the focus on nutrition still shines through, making Thrive Foods the healthiest cookbook I know of. Many of the recipes (perhaps 10-20% of them) are raw, and most of those that are not still incorporate lots of raw ingredients and the foods that Brendan introduced so many of us to in Thrive — chia seeds, buckwheat, sprouts, dulse, coconut oil, dates, hemp seeds, etc.

If Thrive Foods was a cookbook and nothing more, it’d be totally worthy of my recommendation.

A volume of accessible recipes to accompany the treasure trove of information and the more extreme recipes in Thrive.  What more could you ask more?

Well, guess what? There’s a lot more… the recipes don’t start until page 127!

The entire first third of the book is an introduction to benefits of a plant-based diet, for health and the environment. It differs from Thrive in that the nutrition focus isn’t on sports nutrition, but rather on eating for general well-being and energy. But just like in Thrive, Brendan explains the need for all kinds of individual nutrients and minerals, listing the reasons why we need them and the best sources for them. He also goes into depth about the benefits of each of what he calls “next-level” ingredients.

If it sounds like I’m gushing about this one, it’s because I am. I really like this book. In fact, I’ll go ahead and call it the best vegan cookbook out there, if you’re looking for a balance of serious nutrition and food that tastes good. Oh yes, I went there.

I’ve recommended Thrive to more people than I can remember, but if I could go back and do it again, I’d start with Thrive Foods instead, for anyone but the most serious of athletes. The recipes are way better, and the supporting information is presented in a more appealing, easily-digestible way, with the help of graphics and diagrams for those who just want to skim it.

Alrighty. Enough gushing. You can check out Thrive Foods for yourself by visiting Brendan’s Facebook page, where you can download the introduction and three chapters from the book for free. Or if you just want to go ahead any buy the book, you can do that here (that’s my Amazon affiliate link, by the way). Finally, in case I haven’t provided enough links to click, you can go to Vega’s Facebook page to enter a contest for a chance to hang out with Brendan at a “green” Hollywood party during Emmy week.

I’ll leave you with my favorite of the handful of recipes I’ve tried so far. It’s quick, filling, and gives you a good idea of the mix of healthy, superfood-y stuff and regular food that you’ll find throughout Thrive Foods. And like I said, my kid even liked it. 🙂 Oh, and the portions are enormous, so count on leftovers from this one.

Shanghai Rice Bowl (from Thrive Foods)

Time: 10 minutes; 20 minutes for the rice – Makes 2 servings

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 baby bok choy, cut in half lengthwise
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 tbsp tamari
  • 3 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and halved if large
  • 4 cups cooked brown basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup Tahini Sauce (see recipe below)
  • 2 tsp Mixed Herbs  (Another recipe used several others: basically a blend of oregano, basil, marjoram, dill, thyme, rosemary, sage)
  • 2 cups sunflower sprouts
  • 2 tbsp hulled hemp seeds
  • 1 cup cooked or canned chickpeas
  • 2 lemon wedges, for garnish

Put the water in a wok or skillet over high heat. Add the bok choy halves and cover. Steam 5 minutes until bok choy is almost tender. When water evaporates, add 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp tamari, and the shiitake mushrooms. Saute 5 minutes until bok choy and mushrooms are tender. Set aside.

Divide the cooked rice between 2 large bowls, and drizzle both with Tahini Sauce, 4 tbsp olive oil, and 4 tbsp tamari. Sprinkle with Mixed Herbs.

Place the sauteed bok choy and shiitake mushrooms on the rice, and top with sunflower sprouts, hemp seeds, and chickpeas.

Garnish with lemon wedges and serve.

Tahini Sauce

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup filtered water
  • 1/2 cup tahini

In a belnder, process the garlic, parsley, salt, and lemon juice until smooth.

Add the water and tahini, and process until smooth. You may need to add a bit more water if your raw tahini is especially thick. Add water a tablespoon at a time until you get a pourable consistency.

Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days.



Note: links are affiliate links.



How I Make Almond Butter, Juices, and Smoothies (and Your Chance to Win a Blendtec High-Speed Blender)

“$475 for a blender?  Does it do the dishes, too?”

When my wife first started pushing for us to get a high-powered blender, I just didn’t see how any blender could justify that kind of price (even if it could blend a golf ball).

But when I asked a few readers of this site what they thought of theirs, I was shocked when the responses ranged from “best investment you’ll ever make” to “I can’t believe you’re so into health food and don’t own one!”

So, I caved.  In what just might be our least romantic Christmas ever, my wife and I bought a Blendtec Total Blender as our gift to each other, as a sign of our undying love and commitment to blending excellence.

Well, it turns out that it doesn’t do the dishes (although it does clean itself pretty well).  But it does pretty much everything else… juice, smoothies, nut butter, nut milk, dough, ice cream, dips, sauces, even hot soup.

To demonstrate, I put together some videos to show you just a few of the basic things it does.

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ChiRunning DVD Review and Giveaway

When I first tried to read the ChiRunning book after a friend recommended it to help me qualify for Boston, I couldn’t get through it.

I really wanted to like it — the friend who recommended it to me is the same one who ran Badwater (135 miles) and Western States (100 miles) within two weeks of each other last summer, so he knows his stuff.

But while I picked up a few tips from the ChiRunning book that I still think about when I run today, I found the book itself mind-numbingly boring and ineffective at getting me to really understand the feeling and movements it described.

Enter the DVD

The ChiRunning people got in touch a few weeks ago to see if I’d like to review the ChiRunning DVD, and I agreed, with the caveat that I had found the book less than stellar.

When I turned it on, I remained skeptical.

First, the production and music were cheesy.  Chi-sy, perhaps? (Sorry.  Now that is cheesy.)

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Forks Over Knives Review

The title says it all.  That is, if you get it.

I didn’t at first.  I figured “Forks Over Knives” was simply a reference to vegetarians’ choice not to kill animals for food.

But an image on the film’s webpage leaves no doubt as to what the title really means.

In the upper left of the page, there’s fork with a tomato on it.  At the bottom of the page, there’s the knife.

Only, it isn’t a knife like you’d use to eat.  Instead, it’s an image that evokes far more emotion — it’s a scalpel.

The knife, here, is medicine and surgery. The fork is food.

Food over medicine

If the argument against a plant-based diet is that it’s extreme, then what do you call 500,000 people each year having their chest opened up on an operating table, and having a vein from their leg sewn onto their heart?

That’s one of many, many points raised by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who, along with Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Cornell University professor and author of The China Study, presents evidence in favor of a plant-based diet for health.

Esselstyn and Campbell both grew up on farms believing that animal protein was essential to our well-being, but have since changed their beliefs in the face of mounting data pointing in one direction — that a whole foods, plant-based diet could be the answer to our country’s obesity epidemic and health crisis.

That evidence, and the theory which it supports, is the main subject of Forks Over Knives.  Among the evidence are several damning studies of the cancer-causing effects of casein, the protein which makes up 80% of the protein in cow’s milk.

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The Lightest Neutral Cushioning Shoe on the Market — New Balance 890 Review and Giveaway

First off today, I just want to take a minute and say thank you for your incredibly supportive comments on my Boston Marathon post.  You guys blew me away with the words of encouragement, and I really appreciate all of you taking the time to do that.

With the time I would have spent writing a weekend link post yesterday, I chose instead to respond to as many of the comments as I could.  I wasn’t able to respond to all 100 or so of them, but I’m trying to make more time for this sort of thing, so please keep it up!

Thanks again. 🙂  Onto the review, and a giveaway I know you’ll like.

I have a problem

At first, it was just something I tried because it seemed like fun.  But it felt good, so I did it again.  And again.  And now I don’t know if I can stop.

Okay, here we go.  This is hard to admit in public, but…

I am addicted to buying brand new shoes and wearing them to races. And I don’t just mean a fresh pair of the shoes I’ve trained in — I mean brand new shoes, models I’ve never even tried before the race.

  • On the way up to the Vermont 50 last fall, my friends and I stopped at the Adidas outlet.  I had never worn Adidas, but I fell in love with a pair of adiZero trail shoes.  Two days later, I ran 30 miles in them before switching to road shoes for the last 20 miles of the race.
  • Then a month after that, at the Marine Corps Marathon, I was seduced by the Brooks tent at the expo and walked out with a pair of the Green Silence.  The next day, I ran the marathon in them.
  • And last week, at the Boston Marathon, I tried out a brand new pair of New Balance Badelley 890’s.  I didn’t actually buy this pair; New Balance was nice enough to send me them to review.  And even better, one for you to win!

Why, why, why?

Maybe it’s a backlash.

For years, I tread very carefully when it came to marathons — I took every precaution and tested everything beforehand, just to make sure there were no surprises on race day.  Oh yeah, and I prayed that nothing went catastrophically awry during the race, when it seemed like even the slightest equipment malfunction could leave me with a something bleeding that you really don’t want bleeding.  Or a nutrition mistake that could turn the race into a 26.2-mile Porta Pot tour.

But as you do more and more races, you start to learn that you’re not that fragile.  And the more long runs you do, the easier they seem to get, even when you’re not in peak condition.

Maybe that’s a mental thing, maybe it’s physical, maybe it’s both.  If you’re new to running, this probably seems hard to imagine, but I bet some others will back me up here.

My wife hates this habit of mine, as well she should.  It’s stupid — maybe it’s my very lame attempt at thrill-seeking.  But for now, the sky hasn’t fallen as a result of my wearing new shoes to races.

My defense is that this way, I’m assured of maximizing the amount of cushioning left in my shoes. 🙂  And the shoes I’m reviewing today offered plenty of that.

New Balance Baddeley 890 Review (+ Giveaway)

Over the past two years or so, like a lot of runners I’ve gotten away from heavy, clunky shoes in favor of something more minimalist — even if not to the extent of doing all my runs in Vibram Five Fingers or even completely barefoot.

I’ve settled on the Brooks Green Silence, and been very happy with that compromise between cushioning and feel.

So I was little skeptical about the New Balance 890’s since they do, in fact, fall into the “neutral cushioning” category.  And that means a thick sole, especially at the heel, which is exactly what I noticed when I first walked around in them.

The difference, though, is the weight.  The 890’s weigh in at only 9.65 ounces (roughly the weight of an apple), thanks to the REVlite material that makes up the midsole.  And that makes them the lightest shoe of their kind.  (Significantly heavier, though, than racing flat type shoes like the Green Silence.)

New Balance’s aim here was a shoe that’s lightweight, but durable and cushioned enough for everyday training.

I like this description New Balance wrote about the 890’s: “a new experience suited to runners not necessarily in search of something closer to barefoot, or even the podium, but rather a lighter, more invigorating take on the running experience they already love.”

That’s perfect.

So how did I like them?

I must say I was surprised to really, really like these shoes.  It’s been a while since I’ve run in anything this cushioned, and I’m not gonna lie — the cushioning felt good.  So did the weight, and so did the upper of the shoe, which softly and seamlessly hugged my foot in a cozier manner than what I’ve grown accustomed to with the Green Silence.  And the lacing system is much better.

My one complaint about the 890’s is that the toe box isn’t very big.  My toes felt sort of jammed into the shoe, not front-to-back, but laterally.  It wasn’t really noticeable once I started running, though I did develop small blisters on the second toe of each foot, which doesn’t happen in shoes with a larger toe box.

By the end of the marathon, my feet still felt great (much better than my quads, after hammering 15 miles of downhill to start the race), and I’ll attribute this to the substantial cushioning, after I’ve been training in less-cushioned shoes for well over a year now.

Oh yeah, and they look pretty sweet.

Will the 890’s become my everyday trainer?

I’m at a crossroads here.  One one hand, it was really nice to run with cushioning again.  But the barefooters will tell you that’s deceptive — by letting you land hard on your heel without pain, cushioned shoes set you up for injury (they’ll say).

But consider another take on it, from someone with just a tiny bit of credibility — when I got the chance to run with Scott Jurek last weekend, he said something interesting about barefooting that I took note of.

I don’t have an exact quote, but what he said was something to this extent:

Just because you’re not wearing minimalist shoes or running barefoot, doesn’t mean you can’t still be conscious of your form. If you can run with proper form and still lessen the force of your impact with cushioning, you’re getting the best of both worlds.  (For the record, Scott does some barefoot training but not every day.  He said he likes to run barefoot around the inside of a track after a speed workout, for example.)

With that in mind, I’m happy with the Green Silence as my compromise.  But on days when I want something just a little more forgiving of my sometimes-heelstrikes, the New Balance 890’s will be it.

More info, and your chance to win a pair!

You can check out New Balance’s website for some more specs that I’ve left out of this post, or check out the reviews on Amazon (my affiliate link).  Also, they’ve got a few promotional videos that are sort of fun, like one where they show how 13 helium balloons can carry the shoe away.

The New Balance 890’s retail for $100, but guess what?  If you leave a comment on this post between now and next Monday, May 2, you could win a pair when I select one lucky winner at random!

To enter, just leave a comment on this post.  Leave me something good, like an opinion on the whole minimalist vs. cushioned debate, or what you think of the promo videos.  Or something else, just not, “I want them and you vegetarians are weird.”

And I’ll tell you what.  Since this is a pretty cool prize, you can get a bonus entry if you share this post on Facebook and let me know that you did in your comment.  So for those of you who are still staunchly anti-Twitter, this is your time to shine.

Alright, that’s it.  Share this post on Facebook, leave a comment, and you’ll have two chances to win a pair of these shoes that I really like.

Thanks to New Balance for sponsoring the review and giveaway.



New Minimalist Shoe – The ‘Nada’ by Somnio

To me, the “Nada” sounds like the name of a fake product from one of those Saturday Night Live commercials.

I can imagine the marketing meeting now…”Well, we can’t call it the ‘Nothing,’ guys, because who wants to pay for nothing?  I know, how about we just use the Spanish word?  Then ‘nothing’ will seem seductive and spicy and awesome!”

So the name is kind of dumb, but then again, a lot of their names are funny (Hot Sauce?), so maybe it’s a joke.

Regardless, Somnio won me over on the Nada.  How?

With (a) some really nice packaging, (b) a DVD “owner’s manual” with exercises and a plan to help make the transition to minimalist running gradual, safe and painless, and (c) a pair of shoes that truly delivers on achieving a balance somewhere between practicality and barefoot running.

I decided that a video review would be more helpful than a written one, so here you go!  I used the Vibram Five Fingers and Brooks Green Silence to give some context.  Take a look and let me know what you think.

(And just to be clear, Somnio sent me these shoes for free to review on my site. I think I’m supposed to tell you that so I don’t get locked up.)

Thanks to Somnio for sending me the shoes to review.  Check out the Nada at Somnio’s website if you’d like to learn more — you can even apply to be a tester for their stuff!

P.S. Let me know what you think about video posts so I can decide whether to do more of them.  Yay or nay?



Not Sure What To Do? Try Starting

At South by Southwest Interactive (the conference where I’ve been for the past week), there’s a lot of “free shit” to be garnered.

Mostly, “free” takes the form of tacos and empanadas from the scores of food trucks in Austin.  And it sometimes shows up as beer (usually Miller Lite but often Shiner Bock, which tastes alright back home but somehow much better in Texas).

So when I saw a stack of copies of marketing genius Seth Godin‘s newest book at the Man Vs. Debt meetup (more free — coffee and espresso, food, and RV tours), I got excited because (a) I love Seth Godin’s stuff and (b) I figured it was free.

It was.  Sort of.

On certain conditions

After I had the book in my taco-greased hands, I discovered that I actually had to earn it.  How?

By agreeing to read it within five days, write a one-sentence review in the back, and then pass it on to someone else who could use it.

Having read the whole thing on the plane ride home (not such a feat — it’s only 83 pages), I’m doing that last part now: Maybe you’re the one who can use it.

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