Robbie Balenger is running across America. That’s 3,200 miles, in 75 days, averaging just under 45 miles each day. Beyond one heck of a runner’s high, he took on this self-imposed challenge to spread the plant-based word. Accompanied by a bright blue camper van displaying the NadaMoo! vegan ice cream and the dairy-free nonprofit Switch4Good branding, he’s running to leave a lasting impression and prove that one can accomplish incredible physical feats when powered by plants. We were curious about what his nutrition plan looked like, so we caught up with Balenger and his crew to see what makes up his 8,000-calorie days.
Meal Planning is Non-Negotiable
When running across the country on a vegan diet, there is no choice but to meal plan. Balenger’s nutritionist (and soon-to-be sister-in-law) Jackie Howard shared her immaculate nutrition spreadsheet with us. The exceptionally detailed tool laid out every single edible item accompanying him on the trip including the caloric content, serving size, cost, and more. A few items that caught our eye were Soylent, Daiya Mac and Cheese, a variety of naturally made vegan gels and electrolyte drinks, smoothie ingredients, and various Bobo’s products such as the Toast’r Protein Pastries. Howard is an athlete in her own right, having accomplished several endurance challenges such as hiking the Appalachian Trail and “dabbling in the 50k trail running scene.” In regards to her “giant spreadsheet with tons of tabs,” Howard told VegNews, “I was able to adopt this planning sheet from my Appalachian Trail spreadsheet template. I customized the sheet to be tailored specifically for Robbie’s Run. Once we had the ideas housed in an organized fashion, we shared it with the whole crew; it makes it much easier to make any tweaks needed to the original plan.”
A Note on Macros
Athletes are trained to view nutrition through the lens of macronutrients—protein, carbs, and fats. While vegan athletes understand that micronutrients are truly their secret weapon, Howard was kind enough to break down the macros to help us plebeians understand the basics. She explained: “[Balenger] consumes a lot of good fats (1.5-2 cans of coconut milk per day!) trying to get plenty of carbs as well (oats, tortillas, and pasta). Peanut butter, cashews, and leafy greens all contribute to his protein. We are working under the basic assumption that when you get enough calories on a whole foods plant-based diet it is impossible to be protein deficient.” There you have it. That’s where he gets his protein. Moving on.
Despite the orthodox runner’s diet of gels, powders, and bars, Balenger consumes most of his nutrition in the form of whole foods. This requires equipment. He told VegNews that his camper is equipped with three burners, a mini-fridge and freezer, and the holy grail of all kitchen equipment: a Vitamix. The crew relies on these simple appliances to prepare his morning oats, blend up superfood smoothies, and whip up a hot meal when he gets in for the night. Howard also let us in on a secret: the fridge is vital to keeping the beer cold, something that helps Balenger wind down after a long day of running. Another end-of-the-day treat is a spoonful or two of NadaMoo! The vegan ice cream brand is a sponsor, which means Balenger and the crew always have several pints in stock. Balenger noted that Maple Pecan is his favorite flavor and enjoys it on occasion. He joked that Elliot Preater, his crew-based running buddy from the UK, dives into a bowl every day (NadaMoo! hasn’t made it to the UK … yet!).
An 8,000 Calorie-Day of Food
Balenger’s early morning begins with coffee and a loaded bowl of hot instant oats made with chia seeds, maple syrup, bananas, walnuts or peanut butter, and raisins. Throughout the day of running, he takes in a plant-powered smoothie every ten miles and a form of carbohydrates (such as fruit or Pringles—he needs the salt) every five miles. He also fuels with Soylent, vegan cheese quesadillas, Spring Energy Gels, and tofu wraps. We were surprised when he mentioned his hydration routine. “I don’t drink a lot of water,” Balenger noted. “I mostly drink Skratch,” which is a natural vegan hydration mix that provides key electrolytes. For dinner, Balenger enjoys a meal prepared by his crew, many of which consist of Outdoor Herbivore vegan-friendly camping meals; however, on occasion, the crew will order takeout if available. “In small towns, we seek out Thai places. Those are always vegan-friendly. However, I just had a beet burger at Three Carrots in Indianapolis, and that was good. Also, the Flagstaff [AZ] vegan scene is on point. The Thai food there was absolutely fantastic.” When asked if he was tired of any particular road food, he sighed and replied, “I’m just tired of eating. The constant eating and the amount of food … it’s just a lot.” However, Balenger did admit to daydreaming about one specific meal back in his hometown of Denver, CO: seitan wings from City, O’ City. Further, when he completes his journey in New York City (tentatively predicted for May 29), he’s looking forward to trying the pizza at Matthew Kenney’s Double Zero. Balenger was a pizzeria restaurant manager in his former life and remains a self-proclaimed lover of all (vegan) pizza.
Balenger has put more than just miles past him. He has served his purpose to change the way people think about plant-based fuel. However, he was surprised to find that “Everyone is really aware of [veganism]. It’s something people are thinking about or at least have even just heard about even in extremely rural areas.” He noted that many of his non-vegan friends who came out to run with him went home and either adopted a fully vegan diet or at least made significant changes to be “more conscious” eaters. Looking ahead, Balenger hopes to use his platform to continue spreading the plant-based message through endurance events. Whether he’ll be attempting another fantastic challenge or aiding others, Balenger is in it for the long haul.
To track Robbie’s Run, see the Robbie Tracker. He invites anyone to run a mile or a marathon with him as he completes the final few weeks of this adventure. His crew also encourages all to send him virtual kudos by following him on Instagram @RobbieBalenger and engaging with his daily posts and stories. Finally, to run with Balenger on his final day (or even participate in the Central Park celebration with complimentary NadaMoo! ice cream), RSVP to the event’s Facebook page or join the vegan pizza and ice cream party at Screamer’s Pizzeria the following day.
Photo credit: Max Haimowitz