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RAGBRAI Training: Healthy Eating on RAGBRAI

  • 12 July, 2016
  • TJ Juskiewicz

corn photo

by Coach David Ertl

I received a question from a rider asking how to eat healthfully while on RAGBRAI.  This is a great question because one thing people hear about is all the food and beverages that are available on RAGBRAI and even some rumors that people gain weight during RAGBRAI!  So I will attempt to give some hints on how to survive RAGBRAI with plenty of energy, while eating nutritious food and without gaining weight.

There is a lot of food on RAGBRAI.  That is one of the great features of this ride. You get to sample all the great food these small Iowa towns can offer.  Every town you ride through, and even in between towns, there will be stands, churches and individuals offering to sell you everything from water to pork chops to sweet corn to homemade ice cream to, of course, pie.  There are plenty of healthy options available throughout the week on RAGBRAI, as well as some, let’s say ‘treats’.  By being selective you can find good nutritious food to fuel you through the ride.  But it is possible to overdo it as well.  You do need to eat a lot to have energy to ride.  If you assume you burn 30 calories a mile, then doing all of RAGBRAI will burn 12,522 calories.  That’s not quite double what you would normally burn in a week. But it is surprisingly easy to get those calories in, especially when there’s all that food available.  So enjoy, but don’t gorge.

There are lots of healthy choices of food on RAGBRAI. There are many stands that offer healthful options such as smoothies, burritos, even lean meats such as turkey legs and pork chops. Churches and other organizations in almost every town open their doors to riders and offer home cooked meals, such as spaghetti or turkey dinners.  There is a lot of fruit available along the way as well.  But in addition to all of these options, there are always the grocery stores. You may not think about going to one of these but you know you can get anything there you would like. So if you are craving a yogurt, you can get that there.  Also, don’t count out the convenience stores that appear in almost every town.  Some of these are now offering a lot of healthy food choices, such as fresh fruit, energy bars, nuts and sandwiches and some even make fresh subs and wraps.

Bring your own food.  If there are certain items that you love to eat while you ride and you aren’t sure you will find them along the way, bring it along.  If there is only one flavor of a particular energy bar or powered drink mix that you can stomach, you might want to bring some of that along from home. Just make sure it will survive getting thrown around in your baggage and not be sensitive to extreme heat.  Dry foods are the best option here.

Be careful drinking your calories. Calories in beverages count too.  We primarily drink because we are thirsty, not hungry. Therefore, when we drink beverages containing calories, you get calories even though we wouldn’t necessary be hungry enough to eat them.   There are times when this is good, such as during a ride when you need some quick energy. Sports drink serves both purposes – energy and hydration.  But just be mindful that many things you will drink along the way have calories.  Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, compared to sugars which have 4 calories per gram, so alcoholic drinks are quite calorie dense.

Eating is an enjoyable aspect of RAGBRAI so don’t be too strict about your diet and miss out on some of the special foods out there. Sample some of the treats along the way, along with some healthy things.  Hopefully this makes you aware of some of the many options available for almost any diet as you graze your way across the great state of Iowa.

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at coach@cyclesportcoaching.com.


  1. Amanda

    What’s the point of going on vacation if you can’t gain weight? I always gain 2 – 4 pounds on vacation – RAGBRAI- and I am okay with that. I am doing what I love and no stress all week long. You can diet and eat healthy 51 weeks out of the year. I say live it up! :)

  2. LarryTucker


    You are 100% correct! This is not a workout; but, instead, a vacation. You don’t go to Las Vegas to do sit-ups, and you don’t do RAGBRAI to diet. What are people thinking? Iowa is the land of buttered corn and pork with BBQ sauce, not protein drinks, hee, hee.

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