This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.
At my 50-year high school reunion, I was reacquainted with two classmates who were planning to participate in the 2018 Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) event and they convinced my wife and me to join them. For the past 46 years, the Des Moines Register newspaper has sponsored the RAGBRAI—the world’s oldest and largest multi-day bike ride. Each year, over 10,000 riders from around the world gather near the Missouri River on the western border of Iowa to begin a 7-day trek across the state to the Mississippi River.
This year’s July ride started in Onawa and ended in Davenport, averaging about 65 miles each day. RAGBRAI is a bike ride, not a bike race, so people ride every kind of bike imaginable; unicycles, tandems, recumbents, mountain bikes, hybrids, road bikes and strange variations of all of those clog the country roads and small towns along the route. The participants are equally varied: female, male, young, old, in-shape, out-of-shape, thin, overweight, fast, and slow, RAGBRAI is an equal-opportunity event.
Each day begins whenever you want it to begin and ends in the same fashion. Small Iowa farm towns pop up every 10-20 miles, so there are ample opportunities for rest breaks with plenty to eat and drink, along with the food and drink vendors that dot each day’s route between the towns. RAGBRAI is a weeklong combination of food and fitness, with nights spent sleeping in tents pitched on fields near each town, or on the lawns of residents willing to accept overnighters.
Depending on their speed and size, riders expend 1,500 to 3,000 calories each day (on top of the 1,000 to 2,000 calories needed for resting metabolism), so everyone had a voracious appetite. As you might expect, the streets of each town were packed with vendors selling drinks (including adult beverages), pork, corn, sandwiches (including the peanut-butter-and-jelly, toasted-cheese, and ice-cream varieties), pizza, barbecue, pies, pancakes, snow cones, salads, egg bowls, french toast, and stir fry. Suffice to say there was no reason to ever be thirsty or hungry.
Throughout the week, I was reminded of the saying “You can’t outrun a bad diet”, a reminder that it is the combination of food and fitness that provides lifelong benefits. That saying usually popped to mind each day when I stopped to eat a slice of cherry pie, but RAGBRAI was a one-time event and developing a cherry-pie addiction was unlikely, so I ate pie without a smidgeon of guilt. The same went for beer, pizza, ice cream, and whoopee pie.
There are times throughout each year when we’re thrown out of our usual diet-and-exercise routines—parties, holidays, and vacations being good examples—but all is not lost when we occasionally overdo eating and under-do exercise. Part of enjoying life is to avoid being so regimented that we can’t revel in special occasions and then return to the food and fitness approach that best fits our needs and lifestyles.
Enjoying food, fitness, and social connections are essential aspects of lives well lived, as we point out in Food & Fitness After 50. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to food and fitness, so it’s important to find an approach that works best for you this week. Next week, next month, or next year might call for a different approach; there is absolutely nothing wrong with switching things up because there are countless ways to eat well, move well, and be well.
For scenic bike routes in your state, check out this link.
For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, follow our blog, Fit to Eat.