Educators and administrators often discuss how “tech savvy” their students are; but, too often, we don’t realize their savvy extends beyond their mobile devices. Campus recreation centers are constantly innovating and upgrading to satisfy the newest trends in fitness. So why then are so many rec centers still hosting traditional smoothie brands as the progressive option for pre- and post-workout nutrition?

Your participants benefit from having something to refuel with after a workout. What they put into their bodies after a workout will not only be called on to replenish their energy levels before the next stop in their busy schedule, but it will also be essential to begin repairing tissue and stimulating metabolism. Quality nutrition is complementary to working out; it is essential to the healthy lifestyles we promote as NIRSA members, and students deserve better options for achieving it.

A push for better nutrition

A quick look at a typical smoothie menu will frequently reveal drinks with upwards of 80 grams of sugar, almost no protein, and often made with concentrates, purees, or frozen yogurts. The relatively small amounts of vitamin and mineral nutrients you are getting from the fruit in one of these smoothies comes at a huge cost of added sugars, fats, and calories. While you can often customize these smoothies with “boosts,” adding an adequate amount of protein and reducing the sugar leaves you with an unpalatable drink and that can easily cost over $10.

This was the exact problem my co-founder, Martin Reiman, and I found ourselves contemplating a little more than five years ago as students at San Diego State University. At the time, the campus had little in the way of high-protein options; the closest thing to what we were looking for was on the other side of campus and was well above our typical student budgets when customized to get the proper nutrients. And these options still lacked a palatable flavor after all the modifications.

This dearth of good options sparked the idea for what we consider to be an industry first in the “functional nutrition drink” market. Our company Shake Smart Inc. was created to fill that void by offering an alternative to the poor nutrition of smoothie concepts while still maintaining a convenience and price point that works for college students.

Instead of a menu offering 20 smoothies and one “boosted” protein beverage, we set out to develop a menu of 20 balanced protein shakes with less sugar and higher protein. Concentrate, puree, frozen yogurt, and sugary juice bases were exchanged for milk and milk-substitute (almond, soy, coconut milk) with only real fruits and vegetables, and we committed to never adding any processed or artificial sugars or preservatives. We finished off the recipes with a high-quality whey or soy protein isolate that brings balanced nutrition options for college students pre- and post-workout.

Shake Smart’s journey

Our concept was first launched at San Diego State University in 2011 and it quickly became the most popular food option on campus. By the second semester Shake Smart was open on the SDSU campus, we were serving over 500 customers a day. And our popularity continued to grow with students and faculty alike.

Our team opened several more locations in the San Diego area, but we continued getting the best feedback, loyalty, and growth from our first SDSU store. The demand became so strong at SDSU that the campus requested a second location be opened near the campus’ satellite rec center to serve the students using that facility as well. Combined, our two SDSU locations had grown to serve over 1,200 students and faculty a day.

In 2015, Shake Smart decided to put 100% of its focus into serving college and university markets. We opened a location at Cal State University, Northridge, right outside their Student Recreation Center. The results mirrored exactly what SDSU had seen—a line that wrapped around the corner from opening day, an excellent amenity for students and staff, and a great partner to the student recreation center.

In 2016, Shake Smart expanded outside of California for the first time with our newest store opening at the University of Texas at Austin, inside Gregory Gym. Only a semester into operations and we are already thrilled with the results! On opening day, we had to reposition the line into the store, as Longhorns queued up to try a shake after their first workouts of the semester.

It was also in 2016 that Shake Smart joined NIRSA as an Associate member. Our product culture and our story aligned with NIRSA’s mission and values. Director of the Student Recreation Center at Cal State University, Northridge, Jimmy Francis says, “As recreation centers continue to be the focal point of college campuses, I believe Shake Smart is a perfect partner in helping students and campus community members live a healthy lifestyle.”

Looking ahead

As we continue into 2017 and beyond, Shake Smart is focused solely on growing opportunities to deliver nutritious options to more college and university students. We are already looking forward to further discussions to open locations at 12 universities throughout California, Texas, and Florida.

College and university recreation centers are enhancing their participants’ experience and expanding their offerings every year. And while almost all of them provide ample tools for the fitness aspect of what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle, we look forward to becoming a great partner for those rec centers looking to improve the nutrition aspect of what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle.

Many of our ongoing discussions have been with campuses that currently have smoothie vendors that are underperforming. We are at an exciting time when the recreation center directors that we are speaking with are as motivated as we are to bring quality nutrition to the students because it aligns better with the active demographic that they serve.

Combining nutrition, convenience, affordability, and a great taste is what has made Shake Smart a leader of this emerging industry. I believe that core focus will carry us forward as we look to partner with your campus in the coming years.

  • For more information about the great vendors who are NIRSA associate members, visit the online NIRSA Buyer’s Guide.


Photo courtesy of Shake Smart

Kevin Gelfand is currently the President of Shake Smart. He can be reached at