Claire Richardson is a Category 2 road and cyclocross racer. She’s also a vegan, and a product specialist at a major high street retailer of rather exceptional food. The Sigma-Sport Women’s Race Team rider is often asked why she chose to adopt a vegan diet, what affect it has on her performance, and how she manages to get enough protein in without any animal products.
We asked her to share the answers to all of these questions in our rider blog – and she’s added in some race and training day food diaries to give you an idea what sort of nosh a competitive racer is throwing down the hatch on a daily basis…
Just out for a casual warm up ahead of @londondynamo Windsor loop .... Errrrm.... ???? •••••••••••••••••••••••••••• Richmond Park 10mile Time Trial #pain #timetrial #sendhelp •••••••••••••••••• #ifyoucantgofastlookshiny ???? #glistening #oilylegs #vegancyclist #sigmasport @sigmasportbikeshop @sigmasportwrt ???????????? ???????? #sockdoping from @4shaw_official • PHOTO - Adrian Braun ????
I fit all my training and racing around a full time job, which includes a lot of international travel - so my schedule varies a lot. Like all riders, what I eat varies day-by-day too depending what I am doing training-wise, but what’s less common about my menu is that I eat a Vegan diet.
Why do I eat a vegan diet?
I began experimenting with the idea of veganism in the last few months of 2015 after I got very sick with a virus that I couldn’t shift. The idea of healing the body with what you put into it made a lot of sense to me and I started reading about wholefood vegan diets - people like Sarah Britton (who writes the MyNewRoots blog) struck a cord with me and I started trying ‘vegan days’ and making vegan versions of my favourite foods. I soon realised how tasty vegan food could be which went against my preconceptions: that vegan food was bland, tasteless and, well, that vegans were weak hippies…
Once I started eating a full vegan diet in January 2016 as part of the ‘Veganuary’ campaign, I started noticing changes within about 10 days - I felt like I had tonnes of energy, I was sleeping really well and recovering from my training quickly. At this point I started getting really intrigued as to why my body was responding this way and started researching vegan sportspeople to see if this way of eating could be sustainable whilst training hard and racing. I discovered Rich Roll who is an ultra-marathon runner in California who eats a purely vegan diet. His book ‘Finding Ultra’ made me realise how far the human body can be pushed without eating animals and dairy. The more I read, the more it all made more sense. I have been eating a vegan diet for 7 months now and I haven’t looked back since.
But where do you get your protein?
I get a lot of comments about my diet, especially at work [I am a food Product Developer at M&S and travel the world to taste food & eat out regularly!] and within cycling. The most common question I get is “But where do you get your protein?".
It’s a complete misconception that we need to eat meat and dairy for protein - there are so many sources of great quality plant proteins (lentils, beans, chickpeas, pasta, rice, nuts, nut butters, tofu, protein powders such as Hemp & Soy are useful for sport too). We actually also do not need that much protein in our diets - in general, in the Western world we consume far too much protein. I can easily get enough in my diet each day.
Isn’t it so expensive?
The other question I get a lot is “Isn’t it so expensive?" The answer is ‘No’. Plants are far cheaper than meat. It’s true that some ‘alternatives’ are more expensive – for example 1L of almond milk is about £1 (it’s always on offer somewhere!) versus 1L of milk is about 75p, and vegan versions of foods such as burgers and sausages are more expensive but I don’t tend to eat those as I love cooking for myself and I base my diet around ‘wholefoods’: rice, lentils, pulses, fruit, vegetables and salad which are all cheap, filling and nutritious. I throw in a few treats: dark chocolate, peanut butter, wine, coconut milk yogurts and so on.
I would recommend a Vegan diet to anyone, especially if you do a lot of sport as recovery time is quicker, I have also noticed that when I am doing longer training rides, I don’t need to eat much - my body seems able to sustain effort for longer.
Racing-wise, I am now looking forward to the Cyclocross season starting September, with a short Summer league starting on 21st July. Below is an example of a typical training day for me – and a typical CX race day too.
What a Vegan bike racer eats on a mid-week training day
Every Thursday I get up at 5:30am to train in Regents Park with fellow a London-based racer, we focus on sprint efforts with a variety of drills which is great for criterium racing and simulating the short intense efforts needed in Cyclocross.
Wake at 5:30am - Pre-training fuel
Cup of black coffee & 2 small oatcakes with 1tsp Roasted peanut butter + mashed banana which gives my body some quick release sugars (banana) to be ready to ride hard plus longer release carbs (oatcakes) and a bit of protein and fat (peanut butter)
06:30- 07:30 - Training
I don’t eat anything during this session as it’s short, intense efforts. I will get through 500ml water with a Nuun hydration tablet.
08:30 - Breakfast at my desk.
40g oats + 1 tbsp Chia Seeds soaked overnight in Unsweetened Almond Milk, topped with whatever fruits I have - usually berries/ mango/banana. I often add 1tbsp Pumpkin Seeds or 3-4 brazil nuts for a bit of protein. More black coffee!
12:00 - Lunch
15:00 - afternoon snack
I am usually pretty hungry in the afternoons when I train before work so will have some healthy snacks at work - either a fruit salad pot/ banana/ home made ‘power balls’/ nuts etc.
19;00 - Dinner
I love cooking so I will usually throw something together in the evenings such as a Noodle bowl (see recipe)
If I am still hungry later, I might make ‘Nice cream’ - see recipe
What a Vegan bike racer eats on cyclocross race day
Most CX races are on Sundays around lunchtime which can make fuelling tricky as it disrupts normal eating times.
I try to eat a fairly big breakfast 3hrs before the race starts. Porridge/ Overnight Oats are my pre-race staple with banana, berries, nuts and seeds. Black coffee.
11:00 Drive to race
I drink 500ml water with Nuun hydration tablet while I drive to the race to make sure I am really well hydrated before racing as bottles aren’t usually carried during CX races. I will often eat an oat-based energy bar e.g. CLIF bar in the car as well.
12:00 Warm up
I’ll do a short warm up, its important to get your heart rate high before CX races as they are flat out from the gun. I hate using Gels so I will eat a small, very ripe banana which gives my body the instant sugars for the race.
No food / drink during race
Immediately after the race I drink a protein smoothie with me which I make & bring with me to give my body instant protein & sugars to recover from the intense effort. I use Hemp protein after racing as it the most complete amino acid profile. See recipe.
It takes me a while after racing to feel like I can eat food, typical post-race food is a pasta or rice salad and a slice of homemade Banana cake.
Afternoon snack - if I’m hungry in the afternoon after cleaning mud off absolutely everything…..I’ll eat seeded rye toast with peanut butter + banana.
I’ll cook something with plenty of protein to help my body recover and ready to get back to the working week on Monday morning…..
Noodle Bowl - serves 2
For the noodles
1 large courgette, cut into ribbons/ courgetti
1 carrot, cut into ribbons/ courgetti
200g Soba Noodles (or any non-egg noodles)
For the sesame soy mushrooms
4 mushrooms, chopped
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp dark soy sauce
For the sauce
1tbsp Tamarind paste
1tsp Soy Sauce
1tsp Maple Syrup
1tsp chopped root ginger, fresh
2 cloves garlic, chopped
100ml hot water
For the toppings
1 pack Firm tofu, cut into cubes
Oil for frying (coconut oil works well as it doesn’t burn when very hot)
Black sesame seeds
4 radishes, sliced
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
Fresh lime, cut into wedges
Preheat oven to 180C
Mix chopped mushrooms with sesame oil & soy sauce. Roast on a baking tray for about 15mins
Make the sauce by putting all ingredients in a blender & blend until smooth. Set aside.
In a large non-stick frying pan, heat 2tsp coconut oil. When hot, add Tofu cubes and fry until crispy, turn over & repeat (will take 2-3min each side).
Meanwhile, in a large pan of boiling water, add the Soba noodles, when they are 1min from being ready - add the courgette and carrot ‘noodles’, Drain well & return to the pan, pour your sauce over & mix well
Assemble your bowl. Place half the noodle mixture in each bowl & top with crispy Tofu, sliced radishes, roasted mushrooms, fresh coriander, cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle black sesame seeds over the top and squeeze fresh lime.
1x large banana, frozen in chunks approx 2cm
splash of non-dairy milk (I use unsweetened almond milk)
Handful fresh blueberries
1tsp Cacao nibs
2 dates, chopped
Add frozen banana + non-dairy milk to a blender (I use a Nutribullet). Leave for 3-5mins to soften slightly. Blend until smooth ‘ice cream’ consistency. Top with anything you like… I usually go for blueberries, cacao nibs and dates.
Breakfast is served! ???? Oats soaked in unsweetened almond milk with ....... Grated Apple ???? • Organic Maca powder • Chia seeds • Topped with ........ Pink Grapefruit ???? • Berries ????• Nuts ???? • Sesame seeds ????• and a mug of Hot water, lemon???? & mint ???? • ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• #nourish #eatclean #eatarainbow #eatlikeyougiveafuck #vegan #veganbreakfast #dairyfree #plantbased #plantpowered #poweredbyplants ???????? #5aday #easybreakfast #nourishyourbody #maca #grapefruit #oats #porridgeporn #overnightoats #sesame #blueberries #strawberries #pecan #almond
Pimped Up Porridge
150ml unsweetened almond milk
Shredded dried coconut
Raspberries (fresh or frozen)
Coconut milk Yogurt (my favourite is CoYo)
Add oats & water to a bowl, microwave for 1min 30.
Stir in almond milk, microwave for another 1min. Add more if you like it runny.
Top with grated apple, berries, coconut yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup
Post-race Protein Smoothie
1 banana, frozen in chunks
200ml unsweetened almond milk
3 dried dates
1tbsp Hemp protein powder (I use Pulsin’ brand)
Put all ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth. Add cold water if you like it runnier.
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