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When pro cyclist – and serious gardening enthusiast – Sara Rains made the switch to a predominantly plant-based diet two years ago, it was for the animals. She had personal experiences with animals through an internship at a local farm and decided to change her meat-eating ways. “Eating plant-based is about doing no harm to the animals, yourself and the planet,” says the Lewisville, North Carolina-based athlete.
When the Team Colavita/Hello Fresh rider first changed her diet, she initially found it challenging to eat enough. After all, she trains two to four hours every day. Eventually, though, she figured out what her body needed and began to thrive on a plant-based diet.
“I’ve noticed a tremendous difference in my recovery, which allows me to put in the harder efforts during training over and over, day after day,” she says, adding that she’s also eliminated low levels of underlying inflammation. “My mind feels clearer, I have less joint pain, and I haven’t gotten sick since making the switch.”
While it’s easy enough for her to maintain this diet when she’s at home, it can be tougher when she’s on the road for races. Her cycling team focuses on the USA Crits Series, a 10-race criterium series. A ‘criterium’ is a type of intense, one-hour race, held in venues across the country. To fuel her body while traveling, she packs oatmeal, nut butter, trail mix, rice, and beans, and hits local grocery stores for fresh produce.
She shares a simple tip for other athletes who want to go plant-based: Find your why.
“Everyone has their own reasons so find yours, and it will give you motivation,” she says. Then focus on progress, not perfection. “Each plant-based meal you consume is a step in the right direction.”
What Pro-Cyclist Sara Rains Eats While Training
For this VT Food Diary, we asked Sara Rains to keep track of her food, training, and wellness routines for two days to give us a glimpse into how an elite athlete really makes it work.
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7 a.m. – Wake up and do yoga (important for my mental health) and meditation.
7:30 a.m. – Walk my two mixed breed rescue pups, siblings named Jacks and Rosie, whom I adopted during the pandemic.
8 a.m. – Eat breakfast Oatmeal with almond butter, chia seeds, fresh blueberries, apples, bananas, and of course coffee with almond milk. This should be good fuel for my workout later this morning!
9:45 a.m. – Do a pre-ride workout, which includes light stretching and band work.
10 a.m. – Let’s ride! I do a 2.5-hour ride with intervals. Today, my coach had some over-under planned, a type of interval that helps clear excess lactate at high intensities, which is important during racing. So I did 3 x 12 minutes, where I rode pretty hard for 2 minutes, then really hard for 1 minute. I did this for 12 minutes, then rode easy at a recovery pace for 6 minutes, repeated 2 more times. I train with power so I had certain targets to hit for those intervals, and it went well. Team Colavita/Hello fresh is sponsored by First Endurance, a nutrition company from Salt Lake City, so I consumed 1 serving of their hydration mix (sour watermelon flavor) and their liquid shot, which is an endurance performance type get to keep me fueled.
12:30 p.m. – Sipped a post-ride recovery drink. I like pea protein as it’s not hard on my gut.
1 p.m. – Lunch time! I had some leftover grilled portabella mushrooms so I made a sandwich out of them with sourdough bread, grilled onion, arugula, vegan feta and a little Colavita EVOO and Colavita Balsamic. I wanted some salt so I had some pretzel chips and hummus to hit the spot.
4 p.m. – I took a nap and woke up a little hungry so I ate a handful of nuts and had a few sips of kombucha.
7 p.m. – Dinner was a big bowl with kale, quinoa, tofu, chickpeas, carrots, cucumber and avocado. I put some Indian spices on the chickpeas and carrots while they cooked, and it was delicious.
7 a.m. – Wake up and do yoga and meditation.
7:30 a.m. – Walk the dogs.
8 a.m. – Eat breakfast, which today consists of oatmeal with peanut butter, walnuts, bananas, raspberries, and ground flax seeds. I also sip coffee with almond milk.
9:45 a.m. – Pre-ride routine with stretching and band work.
10 a.m. – Log a three-hour endurance ride, which meant I was riding at a steady pace. I consumed hydration mix from First Endurance, a Larabar, and part of a banana. I always keep my pockets stuffed during training. Better safe than sorry!
1:30 p.m. – I’m hungry after a shower so I eat some leftover kale, quinoa, and chickpeas from last night with a veggie sausage.
4:30 p.m. – I crush some watermelon because I’m hungry and thirsty.
6 p.m. – Nothing like a beer with my husband before we cook dinner. It’s always nice to share my day with him and catch up. On tonight’s menu? Colavita pasta and Colavita marinara with broccoli and crusty bread. My husband adds chicken to his, but I’m okay with that, as he’s on his own journey.