(Pictures - Above - me on my recumbent bike, Below - With Bill Galerstein at the finish.)
In 2009, I hesitated doing Bike Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) in part because I was concerned about the challenges of maintaining a whole foods plant based diet during this event. BRAG is an organized supported seven day bike tour. This year, the route started and ended in Fayetteville, Georgia. We rode through Griffin, Thomaston, Columbus, LaGrange and Newnan. Each day covered between 55 and 75 miles of hilly riding. And, it was very hot on most days.
I am happy to report that my eating strategy worked, for the most part. I share it here in the event that the information can be helpful to other plant-based nutrition cyclists considering similar events.
I decided to stay in motels, rather than camp. Each of the hotel rooms I booked had microwaves and refrigerators, which made my task of eating healthy a little easier. Also, I was part of a group that arranged for our luggage to be transported from motel to motel. The day before departing, I packed up a box filled with Healthy Additions (Dr. Fuhrman's) soups, canned beans and corn. I figured that at least some of my meals would come from these cans. I also packed a large baggy of trail mix (oat meal, raw seeds, raw nuts, chopped dates and raisins). The trail mix served me well especially for calories on the bike. Another baggy contained a week's worth of plain oatmeal.
My bike nutrition was comprised mostly of a water/apple juice mixture in my water bottles, and the trail mix. I also was able to find plenty of bananas along the way. Each rest stop (every 10-15 miles) had fresh fruit (bananas, oranges, peaches(Ga. is the peach state, afterall)). Bananas are a great fruit to carry along on long bike rides. When I depleted my two water bottles full of water/apple juice, I would get more water at the rest stops. On a couple of occasions I added a little PowerAid, mostly for some flavor. I steer away from all processed energy food/drinks, but a little bit once in awhile won't hurt, I figured.
For breakfast on most days I cooked up a bowl of oatmeal in the hotel room microwave using oats, bananas, trail mix and water. On one day I mixed up some Supreme Greens soup, black beans and corn, heated it in the microwave. That was a surprisingly good breakfast. On the last day, the shortest ride day of 40 miles, I skipped breakfast, ate bananas along the way and had a veggie burger at the finishing "picnic" for riders.
Each day BRAG had a lunchtime rest stop. I had purchased meal tickets for lunches. One day they served beans and rice and on another they had veggie burgers. On the other four days, the lunch stop did not contain any acceptable foods, so I contented myself with fruit for lunch.
Dinners provided the biggest challenges. One night I ate soup, beans and corn from my stash. So as not to be anti-social, I joined our group for dinner at local restaurants on the other nights. My riding friends were accommodating to my needs in the selection of restaurants. We had two meals in Mexican restaurants, where I ordered only a bunch of sides, steamed corn tortillas, whole black beans (rather than refried beans), guacamole, rice (white), salsa, and a side salad. I used these ingredients to make my own tacos. These were good tasty meals, but undoubtedly had too much added salt. I also suspect that my two lunch time rest stop lunches had too much salt. Certainly, the white bread bun that came with the veggie burger, was not ideal. We also found two Chinese and a Thai restaurant along the way. The Chinese meals consisted of steamed vegetables, rice (white), a white sauce (on the side for dipping) and a salad. The Thai meal (the best of the entire trip) was steamed vegetables, brown rice, seaweed salad and salt free edamame. We also ate at a Japanese restaurant where I had veggie sushi rolls, salt-free edamame, seaweed salad. I dipped the sushi rolls in a wasabi/water mix.
All in all I didn't do too badly. There was undoubtedly too much salt, especially in the restaurant and rest stop meals, but I forgave myself since I was sweating a lot during the rides. I never felt bloated, never bonked, never cramped and my ring slipped on and off comfortably during the entire trip, so my salt intake was probably harmless.
I missed my green smoothies for breakfast, but the oatmeal was similar to the mixture I eat on some mornings at home. I did not eat as many green leafy vegetables as normal. Every restaurant meal contained a large salad and some greens. I had one salad per day, rather than my normal two or three. I had more rice than normal, but considered the occasional white rice to be acceptable, if not ideal. It always surprises me that many Asian restaurants serve only white rice. My hats off to the Thai restaurants that most always have brown rice. Wish the Chinese were as accommodating.
A couple of other observations. I have done BRAG six times, but this is my first since starting whole foods plant based nutrition 3.5 years ago. My recovery from each days ride was much better than in the past. Although I was tired at the end of each day, the next morning I was fresh and ready to go. On previous rides (before whole foods plant based eating) the fatigue throughout the week accumulated more intensely. Also, I reinforced my belief that fresh and dried fruit are really good source of calories for endurance athletes. I have participated in some long strenuous events, and never once have felt the need for processed energy foods like Gatorade, Spiz, Hammer Gel, etc.
My conclusion is that with proper planning I can do bike tours and stay mostly on a healthy eating program. And, the good news (but not surprising), my energy level stayed high throughout the week that covered 475 miles of very hot, hilly bike riding. Yeah for whole foods plant based nutrition!
Follow this link to dowload a Healthy Times (Dr. Fuhrman) newsletter on Food for Vegan Athletes.
Don't let healthy eating keep you from doing the things you enjoy.