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Cody Beals’ Ironman-winning flexitarian diet

Three days of an Ironman champion's "flexible vegetarian" eating

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

My diet is best described as “flexitarian”, i.e. flexible-vegetarian. My diet has been mostly vegetarian for nearly a decade and increasingly plant-based. I’ll occasionally eat seafood or meat when I’m away from home, usually when a nutritionally balanced vegetarian option isn’t available, or when a rare craving strikes. I aim to be as flexible and unrestrictive as possible, especially when I’m sharing meals with friends and family.

My primary motivation behind a mostly plant-based diet is to reduce my environmental impact and to offset some of the high carbon emissions of all the travel and gear required by my career. I’ve been gradually shifting towards a more plant-based diet that is less reliant on dairy and eggs.

Many people express skepticism or even shock that elite endurance athletes would willingly choose a plant-based diet, though perceptions are changing. From a health and athletic performance standpoint, I personally wouldn’t make a strong argument for or against animal protein. I don’t find it at all inconvenient or onerous to meet my protein and micronutrients needs from other sources.

My only general observation is that elite endurance athletes don’t tend to follow diets with names. There’s a lot of variation, even at the highest level. More often than not, flexibility is the common denominator, not dogmatic adherence to a particular diet.

Three-time Ironman champion Cody Beals speaks on behalf of sponsor Vega at the 2019 Ironman World Championship. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

Macronutrient Profile

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I’d estimate my macro profile as 65 per cent carbohydrate, 20 per cent protein and 15 per cent fat. I’m a firm believer that carbs should be the cornerstone of most performance-minded endurance athlete’s diets. This may be a contentious topic lately, given the rise in popularity of low carb/high fat and ketogenic diets. At the risk of provoking many irate comments, I’ll say that I’ve yet to personally observe a single elite endurance athlete who strictly adheres to such a diet. My own experimentation with carb avoidance during my disordered eating days yielded horrendous results. To be fair, it’s easier to make a case for these diets for weight management, certain medical conditions, some ultra-endurance athletes and a minority of good responders.

Cooking & Grocery Shopping

I seek out local food options whenever possible. I’m willing to pay more for benefits like freshness and supporting my local economy. I prioritize local over organic food for several reasons. In my opinion, it’s not a given that organic foods are more environmentally friendly, healthier or better for performance than their conventionally grown or genetically modified equivalents. Shopping exclusively organic would probably also triple my grocery bill!

My Typical Diet

Here’s a three day snapshot of my typical diet under heavy training load. I also included a guesstimate of energy output and intake each day. Note that I likely finished this three-day block in a significant energy deficit. I rely heavily on lower activity recovery days to make up the difference.

Day 1

  • Approximate energy output: 8,000 calories
  • Approximate energy intake: 6,000 calories
  • Training time: 6 hours
  • 9:30 AM – wake-up/breakfast
  • 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM – snacks/lunch
    • veggie pizza (from frozen)
    • whole wheat English muffin with banana, peanut butter
    • large flake oats with cashew milk, Vega protein, peanut butter, dates
    • dark chocolate
  • 2:00-8:30 PM – long/hard trainer ride (6:00:00, ~5100 Cal, 234 W AP/242 W NP)
    • root beer
    • carbohydrate race blend
    • Martin’s Apple Chips (cinnamon)
    • berry smoothie with Vega Protein
    • perogies
    • potato chips
    • Vega Sport Hydrator (berry)
  • 8:30 PM – post-ride refuel/dinner
    • plant-based stir fry (soy curls, assorted veggies, white rice)
    • mixed green salad with oil/vinegar dressing, Martin’s Saladitions Citrus Pepper Blend (apple, pumpkin seeds, sweet potato, beets)
    • homemade lemon-ginger kombucha
    • ice cream
  • 10:30 PM – late night calorie injection
    • fast food veggie burger, fries, onion rings

Day 2

  • Approximate energy output: 6,000 calories
  • Approximate energy intake: 5,500 calories
  • Training time: 4 hours
  • 6:45 AM – wake-up/pre-workout breakfast
    • tea with cream
    • whole wheat bagel with peanut butter, raisins
    • banana
    • plain yogurt (3%)
  • 7:40 AM – moderate swim (1:20:00, 4000 m)
    • grape juice
  • 9:20 AM – hard treadmill run (1:20:00, 20.2 km)
    • grape juice
    • Vega Sport Hydrator (lemon/lime)
    • Endurance Tap maple syrup gel
    • Vega Sport Protein bar (immediately after)
  • 11:00 AM – refuel/lunch
    • avocado toast with eggs
    • mango/chia seed parfait
    • date square
  • 2:30 PM – post-nap snacks
  • 6:30 PM – dinner
    • vegetarian chili with homemade cheese bread, hummus, beet chips
    • dark chocolate
    • spoonfuls of cake icing
  • 7:30 PM – easy trainer ride (1:20:00, ~1000 Cal, 210 W AP)
    • mango juice
  • 9:00 PM – refuel/bedtime snacks
    • large flake oats with coconut milk, banana, Vega Protein Made Simple (vanilla), peanut butter, raisins
    • whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter, vanilla yogurt
    • potato chips

Day 3

  • Approximate energy output: 4,500 calories
  • Approximate energy intake: 6,000 calories
  • Training time: 2.25 hours
  • 9:00 AM – wake up/breakfast
  • 11:30 AM – pre-workout snack
  • 12:00 PM – hard swim (1:40:00, 5,000 m)
    • root beer
  • 1:00 PM – easy treadmill run (45:00, 10 km)
    • root beer
  • 2:00 PM – refuel/lunch
  • 5:00 PM – post-nap snacks
    • large flake oats with coconut milk, banana, peanut butter, dates
  • 6:00 PM – dinner
  • 7:00-11:00 PM – snacking
    • vegetarian Chinese potsticker dumplings (from frozen)
    • double chocolate muffin
    • decaf coffee
    • English muffin with peanut butter, dates, banana

Two-time defending champion at Ironman Mont-Tremblant, Cody Beals has partnered with Vega and Martin’s for his nutrition needs.