Meals on Wheels

Toronto Star, August 9, 1995

by David Graham

A few months ago, Jayne Hart, owner of the Standby Cafe on TemperanceSt., added something new to her menu - a ragout recipe she created witha mixture of mushrooms, carrots and white wine.

Her exclusive clientele was not impressed, "White wine," theygrimaced. You see, the Standby caters to bicycle couriers, who just haven'tgot the stomach for anything they consider highfalutin.

"They're a pretty direct bunch," says the 24-year-old restaurateur."This place is their refuge, their sanctuary inside the mad metropolis.They love this place. No one tells them to get their bags off the floor.No one stares at them because they dress weird or because they smell."

To Bay St. suits and executive secretaries, couriers are a motley crewof disreputable ne'er-do- wells. To the people in cars who are forced toshare the city's streets with them, couriers are obnoxious daredevils -accidents waiting to happen.

Bicycle couriers, for their own reasons, hold suits and motor vehiclesin the same contempt.

But at the Standby there's always a sympathetic ear, a fridge full oftheir favorite brew and the high energy food they crave.

Needless to say the ragout was history.

These days the menu is kept simple. That's just how the couriers likeit. During the summer months, daily specials range from pasta casserolesto enchiladas, burritos and shrimp and rice curries. When the snow flies,the Standby keeps bikers warm with selections of hearty stews, goulashesand shepherd's pie.

This weekend, about 600 couriers from 15 countries will compete in thethird annual Cycle Messenger World Championships in Toronto. Heats andchampionship races replicate the daily conditions faced by the urban bikecourier. The Standby will be cookin'.

Every year more than a million packages are delivered around Torontoby bicycle courier. It is estimated that if the same number of packageshad to be delivered using a mid-sized car, those vehicles would require60,000 gallons of gas.

Couriers by contrast keep their motors running on glycogen - what carbohydratesbecome when they're stored in the muscle and liver.

If you consider the average courier covers about 60 kilometres eachday - dodging downtown traffic at breakneck speeds, inhaling a steady dietof exhaust fumes - you'll understand why it's important for them to keeptheir motors in top condition.

Ask any courier and they'll tell you. It's the carbs that count.

Kelly Anne Carter-Erdman is a registered dietician. The former Olympiccyclist was a member of the Canadian cycling team for eight years and isa regular columnist for the Canadian cycling magazine Pedal.

For athletes, professional couriers and for recreational cyclists, Cater-Erdmaninsists "glycogen is the primary fuel they will run on."

Pasta is the carb of choice for most cyclists, she says, but warns,"Not all pastas are created equal. Lasagna and cannelloni are morefilling and fat than carbohydrate." She recommends instead a tomato-basedpasta sauce, or perhaps a pasta with a vegetable sauce like primavera.Even an alfredo sauce can have a lot of fat.

While pasta is popular, Carter-Erdman also recommends other sourcesof carbohydrates, such as rice and baked potatoes. In fact, one cup ofrice contains 50 grams of carbohydrate compared to 37 grams in a cup ofpasta. A medium baked potato contains 50 grams of carbohydrates.

Keeping this carbohydrate intake level topped up requires consistency.It's the stored form of carbohydrates that provide energy. That's why mostendurance athletes start carbo-loading days before a big race, and actuallyexercise very little. "They may have as many as 18 grain servingsin one day - one bread, one-half-cup of rice, one-half-cup of noodles andso on," says Carter- Erdman.

For the most part, bike couriers acknowledge they must eat the rightfoods if they hope to keep pace. Some are more consistent than others.

Bill Long is a 36-year-old courier who takes his diet seriously. Fromthe minute he wakes up he keeps a constant watch on his intake. The formulathat works for him is a mix of 60 per cent carbohydrates, 40 per cent fatsand proteins.

"I always have a breakfast of cereal or oatmeal. Two hours laterI have a bagel and juice or coffee. I try to eat throughout the day. Igrab food wherever I can. But I stay away from junk foods."

Long makes most of his own meals. But he finds it a hassle to carryfood with him all day. "I don't need the extra weight," he says,"and there is plenty of food downtown."

Ron Freeman, 37, knows the pitfall of a greasy breakfast, but claimsa plate of bacon and eggs buys him an extra two hours of energy in themorning. "My energy level falls off by 11 o'clock if I don't havea really big breakfast," he says.

Long's lunch is more likely to be a portion of rice, a salad or fruit."If I eat a heavy lunch I feel most of my energy is going into mystomach to digest the food. I need the energy in my legs - not my stomach."His evening meal is prepared right at 5:30 p.m. "I have to replacewhat I've gotten rid of immediately."

When student Chris Howell isn't working at the Bike Ranch on AdelaideSt., he's in the kitchen. The 27-year-old former courier makes and marketshis own line of vegetarian sushi rolls, and he's convinced they're theperfect take-along biker's snack.

Howell, whose mother is Japanese, has altered an old recipe to meethis modern needs. There is no fish in his rolls. Instead, Howell relieson a vegetable mixture of alfalfa, carrot, cucumber, avocado, and sometimesasparagus. On a small square of seaweed called norri, Howell spreads alayer of rice and sesame seeds. Then he adds a layer of the vegetable mixturebefore rolling it all up. A Japanese horseradish powder called wasabe andsoya sauce add flavor.

Since Howell began making the rolls two years ago he's turned them intoa small sideline. "The norri is teeming with vitamins and minerals.The rice will add carbohydrates and the vegetables have a little bit ofeverything, including carbohydrates and proteins."

Keeping their bodies hydrated is another concern shared by professionalcyclists and bicycle couriers. Blair Webster, executive director of theOntario Cycling Association, puts it simply. "Eat before you're hungryand drink before you're thirsty."

Carter-Erdman agrees, and she advises anyone who is contemplating along-distance bicycle trip to fill up days in advance. Glycogen is storedalong with water, "so with glycogen loading we also have to focuson increasing fluid intake," she adds.

"As you sweat and become dehydrated you lose fluid from your blood.It's as if your blood become thick like sludge and your heart has to workharder. Water is good, but it is boring."

Carter-Erdman often recommends sports drinks which come in a varietyof flavors. Many contain important electrolytes such as sodium, potassiumand chloride, which maintain the fluid balance in body cells.

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