This next installment of the Active Outdoor Vegans Series is with Mick Walker, of The Vegan Cyclist (UK), an avid cyclist and outdoor enthusiast! Mick shares a bit about his cycling, vegan, and healthy, plant-based journey. Powered by plants, Mick shows just you can do on a vegan lifestyle!
About how long have you been vegan, and what led you to the vegan path?
I have only been fully vegan since early 2014. However, it was over 35 years ago that my wife and I decided to stop eating meat. This was based largely on the realisation that it is much more efficient to produce plant food rather than meat – especially if we were going to be able to feed the rapidly growing human population. It is worth noting that 35 years ago the population was around 3.5 billion – it is now over twice that!
We did continue to eat fish, dairy products and eggs. I suppose I am almost a bit embarrassed to admit that, with what I know now – but we had two young sons and I suppose we thought this was a good compromise and made sure we were all getting enough protein.
Around 8 years ago, I decided to remove fish from my diet. This was mostly because of concerns about sustainability and also issues about the accumulation of toxins in marine food chains. Sometime later, I read ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer and he makes the point that if you are eating red meat it is JUST ABOUT conceivable that it reached your plate in a humane manner and that it involved a minimal amount of suffering. If you have fish on you plate, it could not have got there without suffering. So no more fish for me!
A little later, I had been reading about the ethics of the dairy industry and decided to minimise my use of milk – so I stopped taking it in tea or coffee and using it on cereal. I did continue to eat cheese and cake, biscuits (cookies) etc which would usually have contained milk, butter or eggs.
Then came the start of 2014! My son, Sam, and I decided to ride The Fred Whitton Challenge – a cycling Sportive around the English Lake District – in memory of Fred Whitton, a highly respected cyclist in that area and now regarded as the toughest one day cycle challenge in the UK. We both got places in early January for the ride in May. In the UK, a Sportive is an organised cycling event – not a race, but around a specified route, usually electronically timed and with feed stations and mechanical support at various points.
I knew just how tough the Fred Whitton Challenge would be – so increased my daily cycling to 50 miles. I was a little heavier than I thought I should be and my weight started to come down – but not as much as I might have expected.
At that point I decided that I would cut cheese out of my diet. Around the same time, I was recommended ‘Eat and Run’ by Scott Jurek, the American Plant Based ultramarathon runner. I found this to be truly inspirational and immediately decided to go 100% Plant Based. Shortly after, someone else recommended The China Study, by T Colin Campbell and his son, Thomas M Campbell. This further reinforced my decision.
Did you find it difficult to transition to a plant-based diet and/or vegan lifestyle?
No – though I appreciate that some people might find it quite difficult. As I have explained above, I did not go from omnivore to vegan all in one go. Also, I can be quite determined and when I have made a decision not to eat something, I do not usually find it difficult to do so – especially when I have very good reasons!
Have you noticed any benefits to your health or energy since going plant-based?
As soon as I went 100% plant based I began to lose more weight – now, two years later, I am close to being as lean as I have ever been. Also, I am stronger and fitter on my bike and have great stamina. A good friend suggested that much of this is down to the amount of cycling that I have been doing. Whilst I think this must play a part, I am convinced that diet plays a much greater role than the level of exercise – probably the contribution of diet versus exercise is around 80 : 20.
What is your favourite outdoor activity? And what got you started?
I suppose my favourite activity is cycling – but I have always done a lot of hill walking. Having been brought up in the North of England, from an early age I have been a regular visitor to the English Lake District. My school organised walking trips there and from the age of about 14 some friends and I started planning our own trips – either camping or staying in Youth Hostels if we were away for more than one day. I have carried on hill walking throughout my life – much of it in the Lake District, but also North Wales (Snowdonia) The Peak District (Derbyshire) and Scotland. In addition, I have walked in the Alps, Dolomites and Pyrenees.
I started cycling about 40 years ago. I had had an accident which resulted in a badly damaged knee and I decided that cycling would probably be the best type of exercise with which to recuperate. It worked very well and I have cycled ever since!
What has been your most memorable trip or outdoor adventure so far?
I have had numerous wonderful days in the outdoors – and it would be very difficult to pick one that stands out. However, my two rides in the Fred Whitton Challenge – completed successfully on both occasions – are certainly memorable! This event is always held on the second Sunday in May – so, given that my birthday is the 16th May, it is a few days before my birthday. In 2014, I was almost 62 and this year, I was almost 63. I had only been 100% plant based for a few months when I rode in 2014 – but in 2015 it was getting on for 18 months. I recorded a significantly improved time in 2015 and I am aiming to reduce that even further in 2016!
Information about the Fred Whitton Challenge can be found at their website:
My 2015 ride was recorded on Strava:
Do you have a favourite vegan snack that helps keep you fueled while you’re out on the road or trails?
I usually eat bananas and various snacks which I make.
These include chia oat bars, aduki bean brownies (based on a Scott Jurek recipe) and various nut and date bars.
I like to drink coconut water and also make a ‘gel’ by soaking chia seeds in coconut water and adding maple or agave syrup.
About how often/much do you cycle each week?
It varies. I am a Biology teacher and, in recent years, I have been working in a number of different schools, on fixed term contracts, usually covering for Maternity leave. In every case, I have been able to commute by bike. The longest commute I have done was 25 miles each way – I did this for a year, cycling 250 miles per week on the commute. If I then cycled at the weekend, it meant that some weeks I was clocking up around 300 miles. At the moment, my commute is 18 very hilly miles – so 180 miles during the week and with any rides at the weekend, increasing to something over 200 miles.
Is there a preferred distance or time you like to go out for?
Not really. Aside from my commuting, I have certain routes which I like to do on a regular basis. There are 3 particular rides – of 25 miles, 30 miles and 50 miles. When I feel that I need some miles in my legs I will ride anything up to 100 miles.
I usually record my rides on Strava.
Do you have a favourite post-activity vegan meal?
I always like to eat plenty of carbohydrates – and usually need to fill up after a long ride! One of my favourites is very quick to make and would be to cook onion and pepper in one pan and bulgar wheat in another. When the bulgar wheat is ready, I add some beans (doesn’t really matter what sort – probably black or red kidney beans) then mix in the onion and pepper. I then eat it with some kind of soy sauce.
Are there any specific adventures planned for you in the near future?
My son and I are riding a 100 mile event at the end of September – the Etape London. Beginning and finishing at the Olympic Stadium in London, it is a circular route, mostly through the Essex countryside (north of London).
I will also be riding many other events next year – though my main focus will again be the Fred Whitton Challenge, when I hope to improve on this year’s time – under 8 hours would be good! There are usually over 4000 cyclists wanting to ride in this event, but the organisers restrict it to 2000. This means there has to be a ballot. However, any rider raising more than £500 for one of the supported charities is guaranteed a place for the following year. This year, I raised nearly £1000 for the North West Air Ambulance – so should have my place guaranteed for 2016.
What do you feel is the best thing about being vegan?
People choose to become vegan for a variety of reasons. It is also interesting that some people describe themselves as living on a ‘plant based diet’, rather than being ‘vegan’. Clearly, a true vegan uses no animal products of any sort – either in their diet or in other areas of their lives.
There are three excellent reasons to choose a vegan life style. I try to eat a Whole Food Plant Based Diet, as advocated by the Campbell’s, and I am convinced that this is allowing me to maintain good health and a high level of fitness in my 60s. Using no animal products also means that animals are neither exploited nor badly treated on my behalf. In addition, there is absolutely no doubt that raising animals is highly detrimental to the environment and is a major contributor to global warming and climate change. In terms of producing enough food to be able to feed in excess of 7 billion humans, this is only remotely possible by growing plant food sources, rather than raising animals – as now advocated by many prominent figures, such as Bill gates.
Is there any advice you would give to someone considering going vegan, particularly if they are interested in athletic pursuits?
There is much more to becoming vegan than simply removing animal products from your diet. Anyone wanting to eat a vegan diet needs to make sure that they include a wide range of plant based foods and that they educate themselves to be aware of their dietary requirements. Although there is no doubt that a plant based diet is very healthy, it is perfectly possible to be vegan, but eat a poor diet.
When I decided to become 100% plant based, I started reading about the vegan diet and sought out vegan recipes. As a result of this, I now include much in my diet which I would not have eaten previously. T Colin Campbell in his book ‘Whole’ and Thomas M Campbell in ‘The Campbell Plan’ both suggest that anyone on a WFPB (Whole Food Plant Based) diet who consumes a wide range of fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains in their diet should be getting adequate quantities of all their requirements. The two nutrients which might be deficient are Vitamin B12 and Omega 3 fatty acids. As far as B12 is concerned, it is not available from any plant foods and Thomas Campbell advises that vegans should take a supplement. However, there are a number of foods which are fortified with B12 – Nutritional Yeast, Marmite (yeast extract) and a variety of non dairy milks (almond, soy, coconut etc.). I use all of these on a regular basis and do not have any real concern about my levels of B12. As far as Omega 3s are concerned, excellent plant sources include Chia seeds and Flax (Linseed).
In addition to a wide range of fruit and vegetables, my diet now includes the above mentioned sources of B12 and Omega 3s, as well as soy products, such as tofu and tempeh, quinoa, bulgar wheat, peanut, almond and cashew nut butters and a very wide range of nuts (cashew, almond, walnut, brazil etc) and seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin etc). In the preparation of some dishes, I also use products such as miso and tahini.
I would certainly recommend that anyone adopting a vegan diet would need to be including most of these.
I would also recommend consuming green smoothies on a regular basis.
If people would like to follow you and your adventures, where can they find you on social media, etc?
My website : www.vegancyclist.co.uk
Twitter : @vegancyclistUK
A recent interview : https://youtu.be/ukhppPj5SH0
Thank you Mick, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and your vegan & cycling journey. And all the best in next year’s Fred Whitton Challenge!
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