Matt James Calls Rachael Kirkconnell 'the Brightest Spot' in the Year Since His 'Bachelor' Journey

"I'm excited for what lies ahead for us," the Vita Coco Real Partner tells PEOPLE

Former Bachelor Matt James traded handing out roses for coconut water to celebrate Vita Coco's IPO launch on Thursday, a partnership that made sense to the reality star given the brand's support of his nonprofit ABC Food Tours.

"It's important for me and people who have a platform to make sure whatever they're promoting is something they're aligned with. For me, alignment starts with their core values," Vita Coco Real Partner James, 29, told PEOPLE at the company's coconut cart at the Nasdaq Building in New York City. "With Vita Coco, it was seamless."

James brought the N.Y.C. children he works with through ABC Food Tours for a Career Day at Vita Coco earlier this month and watched the kids have new experiences, "like the first time you try coconut water," he said. "It was a lot of their first times leaving their neighborhood. It was a lot of fun."

Matt James for Vita Coco

James said his best friend and fellow Bachelor franchise alum Tyler Cameron actually got him hooked on Vita Coco years ago. Now James puts it in his smoothies every morning, which consist of frozen bananas, frozen blueberries, pressed Vita Coco, peanut butter and protein. "I have the same thing every single day, without fail," James said.

The former college football player stuck to that routine even while filming The Bachelor at Nemacolin resort in Pennsylvania. His mornings consisted of lifting weights, riding his Peloton bike and then making a smoothie he estimates clocked in at around 1,500 calories. Along with his usual faves, James packed in "heavy peanut butter, dates and other random stuff."

"I had that for breakfast and dinner for like a month and a half," James said. "People think I'm crazy, like, 'You want to switch it up tonight? You could literally order whatever you want. Do you want steak? Do you want lobster? Do you want salmon?' I'm like, 'Nah, I'm going to go home and make a smoothie because my body processes it the right way."

RELATED VIDEO: Tyler Cameron Says He Thinks Matt James Would Look 'Kind of Creepy' if He Shaved His Beard

James plans to return to Nemacolin soon with his girlfriend and Bachelor final rose recipient Rachael Kirkconnell to celebrate their one-year anniversary and take in the resort "without all the fritz and stuff around."

James and Kirkconnell, 25, have come a long way since past racially insensitive behavior of hers surfaced online earlier this year, engulfing the franchise in controversy. Amid the turmoil, the pair confirmed during his season's After the Final Rose special in March that they had split. But they found their way back together, with James confirming the following month that he was "pursuing" a relationship with Kirkconnell again.

"Just being able to take her to my favorite spots and really enjoy Nemacolin for the beautiful property it is and not have to move around in secrecy is going to be nice," he told PEOPLE on Thursday. "There's been a lot that's happened over the past year and she's been the brightest spot of that. I'm excited for what lies ahead for us."

Rachael Kirkconnell and Matt James attend the 2021 Sports Humanitarian Awards on July 12, 2021 in New York City
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

In the immediate future, James plans to work with Kirkconnell on finding a place to put a hydroponic farm (one that grows plants typically indoors with nutrient-rich water instead of soil) in N.Y.C. "We bought a shipping container that we repurposed for hydroponic farming and we're looking for a place to put that in Brooklyn," the North Carolina native said. "That'll be a fun project to be a part of."

He'll also be running the TCS New York City Marathon next month (so will Bachelorette alum Zac Clark) and considers his time on Dancing with the Stars season 30 part of his race training.

"I was practicing four or five hours a day with Lindsey [Arnold] and I feel like that was a substitute for those long runs because being able to run, in my opinion, it's a mindset," said James, who got eliminated during Disney Week last week. "It's about time on your feet — and those dancing shoes aren't crazy comfortable. I've been on my feet for four to five hours, which is kind of similar to a marathon, so my target time for the marathon is probably going to be in that four-hour range."

ABC/Maarten de Boer

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James has been going on long runs with 28-year-old Cameron, who finished the N.Y.C. marathon in 2019, and said, "I'm willing to train with whoever's willing to run in my schedule."

One person who James thinks doesn't need his assistance: ex and new Bachelorette Michelle Young. "I don't think there's any advice I could give Michelle," he said. "She's way smarter than me! I'm very confident in her being able to own this process. She'll be the best Bachelorette yet."

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