This July, American pro cyclist Dave Zabriskie will become the first rider to ride the Tour de France while on a vegan diet.
The race, which spans 21 days, covers more than 2,000 miles of road over the Alps and Pyrenees mountain ranges. It is widely considered one of the most grueling athletic events in the world. Cyclists who compete in the race are estimated to burn approximately 8,000 calories per day and just finding the time to ingest enough food to compensate is something that riders and team support staff struggle with on a daily basis during the Tour.
Zabriskie, who rides for the Garmin-Cervelo team, is a six-time US National Time Trial Champion, has won a stage of the Tour before and even wore the leader’s yellow jersey for three days at the beginning of the 2005 Tour.
Zabriskie announced at the end of the 2010 season that he had switched to a vegan diet (with some occasional salmon) to help with his training and after blood tests confirmed that he had sensitivities to a number of different foods.
For advice he consulted with former professional Ironman triathlete and author of the Thrive Diet, Brendan Brazier.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Zabriskie said that after nine months on the diet, he's feeling better than ever, has had some of the best results of his career and is feeling more focused.
Zabriskie’s boss, Garmin-Cervelo team director, and former pro cyclist, Jonathan Vaughters was initially concerned when he heard about this radical change in diet from one of his star riders. He feared that Zabriskie’s levels of ferritin - the protein that stores iron and helps muscles rebuild after exercise – would be too low without meat. But, after regular blood tests showed that the cyclist’s ferritin levels were remaining stable, he now admits that his fears were unfounded and that he's been pleasantly surprised by Zabriskie’s performance on the vegan diet. "He's won more time trials this year than he has in his career. The proof is in the pudding."
It will be interesting to see how Zabriskie fairs during the Tour and whether or not this starts a trend in the world of pro cycling.