Let’s get the obvious answers out of the way first:
Yes—the smell of BBQ does still make me salivate.
No—I’m not ever tempted to tear into a steak or whatever meat you put in front of me.
I’ve been vegetarian since I was 18, which means I’m coming to the point in my life where I’ve been vegetarian as long as I was a carnivore. For me, making a healthy transition to being vegetarian was not the easiest thing, in no small part because I am a picky eater. Example, I hate salad—H-A-T-E it. You see, man harnessed fire for a reason—that reason is so that I would not have to eat raw vegetables.
So, you’re probably wondering how I ended up as a vegetarian—like most of history’s great stories, there was a lady involved. But I digress…
When I was invincible in my 20’s and running hundred-mile weeks training for collegiate track and cross country, I fueled myself on cheap pizza, Doritos and Gatorade. I survived with decent results, but as I got older (arguably wiser, and inarguably softer and fatter) and switched to cycling, I began to look more deeply into how I could tweak and improve my diet to help improve my performance.
Many of the challenges presented by cycling were the same as running—(re)fueling before and after workouts, nutritional preparation heading into big races, etc. However, cycling was filled new challenges, like being on the move for 4 – 5 hours. I was now forced to deal with questions on how to refuel mid-workout, not to mention nutritionally mitigate the havoc that workouts of that length leave in their wake.
Here are some of the things that I’ve learned (often the hard way) during my transition to cycling while being a vegetarian. To make these points more exciting, I’ve adopted the Kanye West-like trait of the overuse of exclamation points.
1. Look at what the pros do! Professional cyclists? No, professional vegetarians. You can bounce around a wide variety of Asian countries (especially those with high numbers of Buddhists and Hindus) and find a lot of great tasting, healthy vegetarian food, because the diet is so deeply embedded in their lifestyle and culture. Who knows—along the way you might find out that tofu can, in fact, be delicious. Indian food is a go-to for me when it comes to pre-ride fueling. The options of lentils and carbohydrates are endless and delicious and are great ways to get complete proteins. Plus, samosas are BOMB.
2. Data snacks! For post-long ride, I’m a huge fan of the eggs and rice recipe from The Feed Zone Cookbook. I’ll quickly cook an egg, heat up some rice, and refuel while I upload my data and write in my ride log. For me, this ritual is a key in keeping my workouts at the appropriate level of effort across Saturday and Sunday.
3. Eat your vegetables! Like I said, I’m a pretty picky eater, and this was tough for me to embrace. But there are a number of vegetables that can provide a surprising amount of protein—cauliflower, broccoli, pumpkin and quinoa are all great examples. As added benefits, they’re low fat and high fiber to keep you at your race weight, and they have other fun properties and nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids which can help reduce inflammation.
4. Eat more than gel! It’s tough to avoid grabbing a handful of gels, chomps or some other semi-solid, semi-nutritional colloid and shoving them into your jersey pocket as you head out for a ride. A little forethought and dash of Susie (or Stephen – who are we to judge?) Homemaker can not only spice up your mid-ride snacks, but also improve how you feel during that ride. A small bag of almonds for shorter rides is nice protein-packed punch, or a black bean and potato empanada to keep you moving on the days when things get a little more “epic.”
5. The incredible edible egg! Are they high in cholesterol? Yup. But as a vegetarian, eggs are one of my lone sources of cholesterol. Eggs are versatile, quick, and delicious—one of these bad boys has 70 calories, 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat, leaving you both refueled and full since they have a great protein to fat ratio. Pre-ride breakfast: oatmeal and an egg; lunch/snack: eggs and rice; dinner: frittata…
For those of you looking to try out some recipes, find some tasty treats and learn more about the purported benefits (like I said, I got into this for the ladies), I’d highly recommend the following reading: