Wednesday 29 June 2011

First vegan in the Tour (well, almost)

Garmin-Cervélo rider and time trial specialist David Zabriskie may be a long way from favourite in this year's Tour de France, but he's guaranteed one first - he's the first vegan to compete in the race.

Veganism omits all animal products from the diet, unlike vegetarianism which omits only those that require the slaughter of an animal, which means none of the meat, eggs and dairy that professional cyclists traditionally consume in enormous quantities to ensure they take onboard sufficient protein and iron. However, Zabriskie didn't adopt the diet for the usual ethical reasons - he decided to give it a try after tests revealed that food sensitivity was a likely culprit behind a series of medical problems from which he had been suffering. He then began cutting out all meat from his diet and, when beneficial results became noticeable, he cut out dairy as well.
Zabriskie at the 2007 Tour de France
"I'm seeing food in terms of how it will make me think and will it give me clarity," says the 32-year-old who has won stages in all three Grand Tours, adding that since becoming vegan the rash and canker sores from which he used to suffer have cleared up and even claiming his vision has improved. This is not without precedent - many people who adopt veganism make similar claims, suggesting that sensitivity to meat and dairy is behind a host of common ailments. It's not for everyone, however - remaining healthy on a vegan diet, especially if one is to compete in events that place such high-stress demands on the body as professional cycling does, requires thought and attention if the body is not to be starved of essential nutrients. Some people who are unwilling to give their food intake that much consideration find they become ill as a result.

The Tour de France, though, is not like other sporting events. The demands it places upon riders are beyond anything imaginable to most people, and as such Zabriskie feels that he's going to need to make allowances. Following consultation with dirt track and Superbike motorcycling champ Ben Bostrom, who has been a vegan for some years, he's decided that he will eat small amounts of fish twice a week in order to boost his ability to absorb iron and vitamins. That, unfortunately, means his success if he finishes the Tour (he finished three of the five in which he has competed. Among his Tour appearances is 2005, when he beat Lance Armstrong in the Stage 1 time trial), proponents of veganism will be reluctant to hail him as their new hero.

In an average day on the Tour, Zabriskie will eat for breakfast oatmeal with molasses, an apple, hemp and flax seeds, coconut butter, cacao nibs and nuts. For dinner he has white rice or pasta, salad with dark leafed plants and vegetables with particular emphasis on spinach, broccoli and others rich in iron. During the day, including whilst riding, he'll consume a variety of vegan energy bars, gels and shots, the vegan sports milkshake developed by triathlete and vegan advocate Brendan Brazier (made from brown rice, flax and hemp seeds) and dates. Post ride, he eats white rice flavoured with cinnamon and maple syrup (we were just thinking that all this sounds quite tasty, but the rice might take some getting used to), goji berries, protein drinks and more of the sports milshakes which are marketed in the USA as Vega shakes. With that in mind, it's pity that vegans will feel they can't give him the honour he deserves because even if he's going to eat a little bit of fish on the Tour he proves that, with care, a vegan diet is no reason why an athlete cannot perform at the top of the game. (Thanks to AwesomePower CC for the food info. Cheers, guys!)

Directeur sportif Jonathon Vaughters was at first unimpressed when news of Zabriskie's new diet reached him. However, when his rider explained what he was doing, he began to relent and gave permission, even offering the tip that Utah-born cyclist include plenty of dark-leaved plants such as spinach in his diet as these are high in iron. He also said that Zabriskie would be required to have regular blood tests to ensure levels of the globular protein ferritin, which stores and releases iron into the bloodstream allowing haemoglobin to carry oxygen to the muscles - but was surprised when the results showed that ferritin levels remained the same. Then, Zabriskie began to win more time trials than ever before, providing more evidence that although it might not be for everyone, veganism suits him very well indeed.

No comments:

Post a Comment