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I am a vegan and I bike around 10 miles to and fro from office everyday. After biking to office, I find myself in a low energy state which persists all through the day. I tried having couple of bananas right after I reach office and although it does improve a bit, I still feel low in energy. Also I am losing weight steadily. What sort of foods do you eat before/after biking to ensure that you are in high energy state all through the day?

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Have you tried to just increase the AMOUNT of the same foods that you already eat? –  heltonbiker Jun 19 '12 at 20:52
    
Sedentary people (which is almost all the population) are in the habit of 'dieting' to maintain a healthy weight. When you always do super-normal amounts of exercise (e.g. commuting by bike) then by simple physics you need a super-normal diet, "all you can eat". –  ChrisW Jun 20 '12 at 20:14
    
Beware: be careful to get enough bread (or rice, potatoes, pasta: carbs) and water daily or hourly, and salt. Also, eat all you want, and rest sometimes. If you were on a diet you need a different one now. –  ChrisW Jun 21 '12 at 13:34
    
Also it sounds to me as if you should talk with a doctor or dietician, to get specific advice. I expect they would want to screen you for several other conditions and perhaps look at your blood. –  ChrisW Jun 21 '12 at 13:38
    
This answer, bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/2899/9 is for a food to eat during a ride, but I've also used the same recipe for a post ride meal when I get to work and it's been helpful. It's a simple recipe for potatoes with olive oil and whatever seasoning you like. –  Mike Two Jun 21 '12 at 18:15

9 Answers 9

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Unfortunately, I don't feel able to talk about food QUALITY, since even "vegan" can mean a lot of things these days, and this understanding varies from person to person. Just to illustrate, I'm not sure to suggest cheese, honey, milk and eggs, although I do find these to be excellent heavy-fuels for cycling.

Now what I do feel sure to advise, being an everyday commuter that likes to eat and sometimes get burnt-out or otherwise energy-deprived due to hunger, is about AMOUNT and TIMING.

  • I cannot ride to work without having an at least a decent breakfast, otherwise the weakness manifests itself as soon as I start to pedal. Usually, this is enough to allow a morning of productive work until lunch time;
  • At lunch, I am always hungry eat a very substantial amount of food.
  • When I go home for lunch (50% of the times), sometimes I feel the power to pedal is not so good due to hunger. This only improves some 20 minutes after I start the meal.
  • During the afternoon, about two to three hours after lunch, I start to get hungry. Then I take a snack, otherwise when it's time to go home (by bike) I am already starving.
  • I get home ALWAYS starving, this is the time of day my internal clock demands food, and usually I take some sweet stuff (bread with jam, milk, and other breakfast-related foods). I'ts a requirement, for myself, that I eat until I get totally satisfied, otherwise I cannot be in a good mood (my family knows it best than I do).

Even though, and I have to agree, this seems like a nutritional abuse, my health is fine, and my weight is steady. That was not so in the beginning of this lifestyle (bike commuting every day), but one tends to get used to lifestyle changes eventually.

Of course I would not suggest you to do the same, but I'd suggest the following "general principles":

  • If you commute by bike, you simply HAVE to eat A LOT. There is no magic here: your increased energy consumption demands this energy to come from somewhere;
  • Most regular bikers have a diet that could turn sedentary people ill, due to the amount of calories and what I call "heavy-fuels". Vegan heavy-fuels would be coconut, nuts in general, avocado, lots of bananas, etc.
  • Since the demands are not just caloric/energetic, but also constitutional (you need to rebuild cellular methabolism overloaded by effort, high turnover, exposure to pollution, exposure to climatic factors). So the QUALITY of the food is also important, but since you'r vegan, that should be for you to judge.
  • (EDIT!) Sometimes what you eat just after commuting matters less for your well-being than what you've eaten in the hours, or even days, before the ride. If one is "well fed", it's possible to endure vigorous exercise and be able to bear some hours of fasting until the next meal, specially if you do everything (ride, eat, work) more or less at the same time of day, everyday.

At last, you said you're losing weight. If you were overweight, that might be the expected thing to happen. Now if you were normal weight, and are at the same time losing weight and feeling burnt-out, that is a very serious warning sign. If self-management of food intake alone doesn't solve it, perhaps you should see a professional.

Hope this helps!

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FYI: "vegan" generally rules out cheese, milk and eggs, but honey is usually allowed. –  freiheit Jun 19 '12 at 21:43
    
@freiheit Yeah, although I have some vegan friends who rule out honey, too, and some others that are indeed vegetarian but define themselves vegan. –  heltonbiker Jun 19 '12 at 23:11
    
Thank you for your detailed answer! I did increase the consumption and I also did quite a bit of research as to what one should eat. However, I am worried that I am not eating more of what my body needs but other food that simply adds to more fat. As I am not from a family with athletic/sports background, I am basically learning everything from scratch, and its a wonderful experience so far. –  Hari Jun 20 '12 at 19:18
    
@Hari Besides calories, antioxydants are always a good thing to look for when you write your grocery list, specifically regarding a physically active lifestyle. –  heltonbiker Jun 20 '12 at 20:13

Whenever I do longer morning rides or races, I make sure to eat oatmeal that morning, it's got lots of carbs and provides me with enough energy (non-sugar energy) to make it to our destination where i can have an energy bar/muffin/whatever to refuel for the ride home.

Definitely look at your nutrition in the evenings too. Carbs that you eat will carry over to the next day as energy for sure.

+1 for Daniel's answers as well.

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Beer.

Well, some other stuff too. Mostly you should be eating carbs, and fruits, grains, and nuts are good for those. If it's warm & you're sweating a fair amount you need to get extra sodium and potassium. Some protein is advised, along with a moderate amount of fat, but nuts and beans can supply these.

In part your "low energy state" will correct itself after you acclimate to the routine. You do, however, need to make an effort to replenish the calories consumed within 2-3 hours.

(I forgot to mention calcium, which may be the most difficult nutrient to get for a vegan, but is needed for muscle energy. Green, leafy veggies are probably your best choice, but inconvenient to eat as "snacks".)

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One of the more difficult nutrients for a vegetarian to get enough off is iron; but lack of iron is detectable by a blood test. –  ChrisW Jun 20 '12 at 15:48
    
Perhaps you were being sarcastic about the beer, but for clarity's sake: Alcohol is a terrible recovery drink. jsams.org/article/S1440-2440(09)00003-6/abstract It's also not advisable to raise your sodium intake unless told to do so by a doctor. Most people on a western diet, vegans included, get more than enough sodium. livestrong.com/article/… - The links at the bottom of that article are excellent as well. –  jimirings Jun 20 '12 at 16:25
    
@jimirings -- On a long ride in hot weather it's fairly easy to sweat out enough sodium (and also potassium) to cause an electrolyte imbalance. The voice of experience. The beer comment was (mostly) in jest. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 20 '12 at 18:35
    
True, but it's a relatively rare thing especially in comparison to the number of people who ingest way too much sodium. Electrolyte imbalances can also be caused by over-hydrating which is actually more likely than sweating out all of your electrolytes. Plus, we're talking about a 10 mile commute here. Unless it's through Death Valley, it's probably not enough to cause an electrolyte imbalance. Glad the beer was in jest. I just wanted to be sure. You wouldn't have been the first person I'd heard recommend that and been serious. –  jimirings Jun 20 '12 at 18:57
    
@jimirings -- Relatively few people have the genetic makeup that makes them sensitive to excess sodium, creating a need to avoid it. The paranoia about sodium greatly exceeds the valid concerns. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 20 '12 at 20:15

The exact food shouldn't matter much.

What does matter is the composition. Typically, recovery food should be 4:1 carbs to protein. Depending on amount of exercise, 150 - 300 calories.

This assumes that you've done proper nutrition during the exercise. During exercise you will want mostly carb calories. If under 90 minutes (which I assume yours is per the 10 mile comment) you don't need to load during. 90 minutes or more and you should do 100 - 150 every 40 minutes (a gel or something equivalent).

If you find that you are still out of energy and/or still losing weight you don't want to lose, it wouldn't hurt to see a nutritionist. You can play with fat-carb-protein ratios and amounts, but having a nutritionist will likely get you to the solution quicker.

PS: My goto when I'm feeling depleted due to exercise is avocado. It's mostly fat, but it's what works for me. Worth a try, it's yummy, and qualifies for a vegan diet.

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I've experienced some of the issues you've described when I started increasing my activity level. Your low energy level concerns me a bit as I found this was an indicator that I was getting insufficient nutrition (in my case, mostly calories) to sustain my activity level. I would be less concerned about the weight loss as long as you are not losing muscle mass and your body-fat percentage stays at a reasonable number. It will likely stabilize after a while.

While not vegan, some of the foods I've added specifically because of cycling may work for you. One thing I will point out is that everyone's reaction to physical exertion is different. Some of the "expert" advice I've read and tried to followed made me feel worse or even ill.

With that said, here's what I did when starting to commute by bicycle:

First, I always eat before starting my morning commute or any workout. Generally, I eat a bowl of cereal with almond or soy milk. If I am particularly hungry, I will also include some protein-based foods such as egg-beaters. Unfortunately, I don't know of a vegan friendly alternative. I've also used hummus and a starch (bread, cracker, etc) when cereal/eggs weren't available. The point is to avoid starting on a completely empty stomach or with your body depleted of glycogen.

Depending on the effort level, you may find that a small amount of food during the ride may help. When I first started, a small energy bar, a handful of nuts, or hummus/pita bread would help. Now, I don't need to eat during the ride. For longer rides, I've found that post-workout lethargy is always an indication of insufficient nutrition during the workout for me. Your experience will likely vary.

Immediately after a hard workout (within a couple minutes of stopping), I drink 8-20 oz of soy milk (usually with some chocolate syrup, ovaltine or flavored protein powder) depending on the level of effort and duration. After a lighter workout (such as commuting), I will often subsitute a mixture of fruit and yogurt (not vegan friendly, I know) in place of the soy milk. What I've found is that a moderate amount of protein calories post workout (as someone else mentioned, in the range of a 4:1 ratio of carb calories to protein calories) seems to have improved my energy level overall.

The rest of my nutrition throughout the day is more-or-less what I used to eat, though I increased my overall caloric intake around 25-40% just due to commuting.

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I found it very helpful to include some fats and protein to my diet to help curb the hunger, not just plugging in carbs. I don't subscribe to the school of too much of any one thing, a good mix of carbs, fat, and protein is what I look for to keep me full and have longer lasting energy. Simple carbs seem to just put me in to a sugar crash shortly after eating.

I usually do this in a couple ways:

  • Make a Spiru-Tein shake (banana flavor) with soymilk for protein, some fat, and vitamins. It's vegetarian, but not 100% vegan if you count the bee pollen. I find this really filling
  • Eat a quick PB&J sandwich or peanut butter and banana sandwhich for a mix of protein, fat, and carbs
  • Dip baby carrots in hummus or peanut buttter for more protein. Not as filling as a lot of the other options.
  • Add flax oil and walnuts to oatmeal for a mix of fat (oil), protein (nuts), fiber/carbs (oatmeal)
  • Eat Avacado's for extra fat or put them in a sandwhich with some peanut butter
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    Most of this stuff is pretty easy to make at work with little equipment, so it's easy to make a quick post-ride snack after you arrive (or you can prepare it at home ahead of time). –  Benzo Jun 20 '12 at 17:34

    What sort of foods do you eat before/after biking to ensure that you are in high energy state all through the day?

    Beakfast! Beakfast Beakfast Beakfast! Water! Lunch!

    I'm vegetarian. I want water, bread (or toast), fruit, salt, something on the bread, soup or stew, a muffin or two, a burrito for lunch, snack in the afternoon, chocolate soy milk in my coffee, and dinner, plus a 'recovery day' of rest and unlimited eating.

    Carbs like bread and rice and pasta (not just sugar) are what I mostly need for energy. Oil is very calorie-dense (more than sugar), so add olive oil etc.

    When I'm "working out" I want to eat 50% more (daily calories) than usual.

    The fat I put on in winter (for the cold rides), I have since sweated off again in summer.

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    I've had good luck using chocolate soy milk as a recovery drink, taking up bike trips up to 100 miles in a day.

    Chocolate milk was a staple of "Metal Cowboy"'s family bike trip across Canada.

    As I understand, it has a good mix of carbs, protein, sugar and a bit of caffeine.

    There are some sports-brands versions, but the standard stuff from the grocery store will do.

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    Tiredness and weight loss. Your running on empty, definitely seems like you don't have enough calories vs. what you expend throughout your day. Calorie dense carbs and the right amount of protein is important, you can to retain your muscle mass. Nut butters, potatoes, beans, etc. Also a visit to check in with your doctor and a nutritionist to discuss a good food plan to keep you fueled throughout the day.

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