How practical is it to maintain a healthy/vegan diet while on a low budget, long distance cycle?

How practical is it to maintain a healthy/vegan diet while on a low budget, long distance cycle?
- Dominic Harrison-Poole

I try to eat healthy but don’t stick to a regular diet, so am not the best person to answer. So, I’ve asked some other people to do it for me. The final word at the moment of the article is a lovely article written by Jago Hartland.

Firstly, it seems that it’s both possible and practical - in most parts of the world - to stick to a healthy vegan diet.

The winner of last year’s Indipac bike ride, Abdullah Zeinab, is a vegan and, I’m reliably told, so were a number of the other riders. The Indipac is a tough race and covering over 5000km in two weeks or so is no mean feat.

My friend Rod Wellington is vegan and has completed many long distance cycles and paddling trips, including a 3800 mile descent of the Missouri - Mississippi. His website is a source of information and he regularly talks about his diet

I also posted this question on my Facebook page and here were some of the answers:

Shusanah Pillinger cycled across America as a veggie and across Europe as a vegan, she says:.

“Pretty much the same as surviving on a healthy / vegan diet whilst not cycling. Know what calories you need to consume to maintain energy levels, know what works for you in terms or carbs/protein, find foods high in the right nutrients in garages/supermarkets/cafes/restaurants and do some investigations of what is available in the places you will visit. I know I cycle best on carbs, with protein before sleep - crisp and olive sandwiches are my favourite. Nuts and chocolate soya pudding for quick protein choices. Bananas / avocados / houmous are other go to items.”

Kimberley Frances did a low-budget long distance cycle veggie & found the hardest thing is variety. “I ended up having porridge with honey for breakfast, bread rolls with tomato, cucumber and sauce for lunch & pasta with tomato sauce for dinner pretty much every day. Snacks were nuts. Any time there was fresh veg on roadside would chop up into dinner. Beans were a luxury due to extra weight. Had to stock up for several days at a time due to long stretches & shops were sparse in Patagonian towns. Would recommend taking many herbs & spices though for health benefits! Meat would not have kept anyway or would have added extra weight in tins. Took multi-vitamins!”

Paralympian Melissa Nicholls says “In my opinion, long distance cycling and a healthy diet need to go together. And for me too veggi / vegan. It’s often a safer option when it comes to sensitive tummies and as long as you know what you need and if you can prepare a little with taking a few bits, it’s definitely doable. Some countries are more challenging than others admittedly! Even in the Faroe Islands, my only dinner option was an £11 fuel station salad sandwich. I cried when I opened it up and found ham in it.”

Charlotte says “Rich Roll talks a lot about this in his finding ultra book, and when he runs ultra marathons he eats similar to what Shusanah said, lots of nut butter sandwiches, avocados, quinoa, lentils, beans and all have loads of protein 👍🏻 maybe hard in some countries though”

Thoughts by Jago Hartland

To start with, I have been Vegan since October 2017. I feel lucky in the sense I came to realize the health benefits of a Vegan diet after many years of eating meat and finding it slowing me down in my competitive running and other team sports I was playing. If you are vegan, you understand the benefits if you have a good diet, but if you don’t have a good, strong, healthy diet then it could have a much worse effect on your endurance sports and especially anything long distance.

Let’s start with typical ‘easy vegan’ answers and I will help put them into context for endurance. The main things to remember, and I emphasize REMEMBER are to monitor your Protein, Iron and B12, particularly in that order. Everyone’s bodies work differently and that is another reason why a vegan diet suits so many people as a lot of people don’t need higher counts of protein or Vitamin B12 whereas other people do.

Before taking on an endurance sport such as a long distance cycle it may be helpful to watch your average daily diet and keep a track of your protein intake, iron and B12. Typically without pills and supplements is ideal although… why not use them? As long as you keep well hydrated during your adventure there is no reason why using supplements is a bad idea. For example, Vitamin B12 comes from our water sources, because of the filtration, it is hard to contain in a diet other than meat products which have digested the B12. But, great B12 sources can be from Marmite, Yeast products, seaweed, Spirulina and although these may be challenging things to take on a long endurance adventure, there are also many supplements that you can take instead! Understand your body! After going vegan I encountered signs of B12 deficiency after two weeks which is usual, if you feel fatigued, tingling sensations in the limbs and you aren’t functioning very well then it’s likely you need more vitamin B12. On a long trip, this can happen any day from day 3 to day 30.

Protein and Iron can be a lot simpler. On a vegan diet, I myself and many others get plenty of protein through vegetables and fruits including good quality broccoli and spinach. (I will get onto practicality soon). In terms of protein, a good rule of thumb I have picked up on for protein intake is to have your bodyweight in KG, in the same grams for protein. So for example, my bodyweight is 76kg, so I try to keep to a minimum of 76g of protein through my food. I know many vegan athletes trying to keep high muscle growth by eating up to ‘your bodyweight + ½’ to maintain muscle growth. I try to keep to this rule when training hard for more than 2 hours a day: which happens to be most days in my case. But do remember, if you aren’t used to eating such a high level of protein in your normal home diet then you don’t need to keep it so high as it is! But when physically exerting yourself, definitely try keeping a good high amount of protein and that will help muscle repair and your consecutive days of cycling. Carbohydrates is something we tend to eat a high amount of without always realizing. If you are doing a multiple day trip then GO CRAZY! Eat lots of carbs! If you are cycling more than 5 hours a day in most weather conditions at a 50% effort level, you will be burning more than 2000kcal anyway. So eat that pizza, have an extra sandwich, go crazy on the biscuits, you need the calories. Carbohydrates are as important to fuel as protein.

I cycled Bristol to Paris last year covering 430km in just four days, On these days I kept my protein to around my bodyweight (grams to KG) and I had no worries over the four days to cover over 100km a day; although if I was doing it for weeks on end, it may be different so you may need slightly more protein.

This biggest argument for a lot of people towards a Vegan diet tends to be practicality and low budget. When at home, cooking away and training hard; if you cook smart and plan ahead, it can be very easy. But in many countries I have had issues which tends to be based on practicality more than budget. I have always found that if the country accommodates for a Vegan diet, then it tends to be as cheap or cheaper than a meat based diet. Plants always tend to be cheaper and keep much fresher over periods of time in comparison to dairy and milk. You can literally buy KILOS of vegetables for the same price as a kilo of meat in South East Asia.

So all in all, I don’t tend to have a problem with price as it tends to always be cheaper and even the supplements you may want to take as a ‘just incase’ or meal replacement don’t tend to be more expensive than any dairy based products. India, Vietnam and Cambodia are all countries I have trekked in jungles and mountains and all three have been cheaper and very accessible on a vegan diet. I must admit that Europe, even though greatly changing towards Vegan now, is a more difficult area for keeping a strong diet. It will come at a higher price although everything is more expensive so the comparison is practically nill. But the main issues is the fact a lot of these countries don’t cater well on a vegan diet. I have been in many European restaurants that have served no Vegan options and shopping for supplies has also been quite difficult. The best advice I can give you is to research your country ahead. I have been faced with some of the worse scenarios on a Vegan diet. In the Himalayas around 5000m I was hit with altitude sickness badly and I had to keep my calories high just to stop from vomiting and to trek further down. It lasted four days and I did have to switch to a vegetarian diet. For most vegans, this is undreamt of to do but other than in the hidden Himalayas, I haven’t had to do this often.

I will 100% say that a Vegan diet can be as practical and as cost effective as a meat and dairy diet. The only issue’s you may face will be to keep to a healthy diet and shopping around more (but when on a budget, all of us adventures tend to do that a fair amount). I highly recommend training hard at home before going on your big adventure, understanding how your body copes with the stress and seeing how affectively it is recovering on your current diet. It gives you a very good idea on how to manage yourself when travelling and challenging yourself. Even experiment on a slightly more Raw Vegan diet as this will make it so much easier and practical to eat whilst travelling, check out the infamous Rich Roll endurance athlete. He is one of my biggest role models for endurance and he is mostly raw vegan completing Ironman and Ultraman events. I go more raw vegan towards my marathon races and longer events and it helps with my body recovering a lot more.

Good Luck! I hope this can be of help and I know you’ll have an amazing adventure, I am envious just talking about it.

Jago Hartland - say thanks to Jago in the comments below, and follow him on Facebook or Instagram