The VinFast Ironman World Championship triathlon last year fed nearly $140 million into the Big Island’s economy.
Part of the spending in the race’s host community of Kona went to health-conscious restaurants that provide fuel for the competitors to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a marathon.
“Our crew at the store loves Ironman Week,” he said. “We work all year practicing and perfecting our craft, training for these busy days. In a way, it’s our food industry version of a championship and we’re in it to win it.”
Triathletes must eat the right kinds of foods to fuel their bodies to maximize their results and minimize injuries and Kona offers several healthy food establishments that are helping keep hungry competitors on the right track in their bid to cross the finish line this year.
“There are so many other small places in town such as Loko Wraps and Herbivores that I haven’t been at but have heard they have really good healthy options,” said 58-year-old Brenda Avery of Keauhou, who is competing in Ironman for the second time this year.
In January, Loko Wraps will celebrate 10 years of serving up island-style Mexican food that is fresh, fast and affordable, and made with thoughtful island-inspired ingredients served with aloha and a health-conscious emphasis, Winder said.
The restaurant’s bento boxes and made-from-scratch acai bowls are fuel for the minds and bodies of Ironman competitors. Its fresh blended smoothies as well as its vegan and vegetarian menu options also are racer favorites.
The smoothies can include an array of 12 different healthy boosters added, including spirulina, bee pollen, chia seed, flax seeds, turmeric, whey protein and vegan plant-based protein.
The restaurant, open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and located in the Lanihau Center, just a block away from the Ironman finish line, sees an estimated 30% boost in business the week of the world championship triathlon. Last year during Ironman, the store enjoyed its biggest ever sales day.
Herbivores Vegan Cafe, a 100% plant-based vegan cafe located on Hanama Place, uses local and organic ingredients to create healthy and delicious dishes from salads and pure fruit smoothies to “naughty” options such as cheeseburgers, nachos and pizza.
“Healthiest food in Kona town,” boasted owner Antoinette Ortiz. “A variety of high-carb, high-protein and low-fat meals.”
Popular menu items include the Pōhaku Bowl, a black bean and brown rice dish with purple sweet potatoes and the restaurant’s famous cashew queso sauce, and the burger and Ceasar salad made with Kaua’i-grown taro. Herbivores is also known for its jackfruit nachos.
The restaurant, open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., will celebrate 6 years of business in November. Ortiz didn’t provide a number but said the store definitely sees an increase in sales during Ironman Week.
“The atmosphere is really exciting,” she said. “We love meeting people from around the world. We are bilingual (Spanish and English), so it’s fun to connect with visitors who are traveling from abroad.”
Anyone who mentions Big Island Now during Ironman Week at the restaurant will receive 10% off their order.
This will be the first Ironman for Hungry Honu Smoothie Bar & Cafe. The restaurant on Ali‘i Drive has been open a little more than a month and offers a menu that includes 15 real fruit smoothies, melts, sandwiches and wraps, soups, pizza and housemade pickles.
Owner Alicia Dalhouse said the store, open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, is already seeing an uptick in traffic because of Ironman.
“My team is super excited for this upcoming week and race day,” she said.
Melissa Schad of Pāpaʻaloa is competing in her third Ironman World Championship this year. The 47-year-old seeks out high-protein foods, good fats and nature’s carbohydrates when training for the race. That includes eggs, fish, grass-fed beef, organic chicken and turkey, avocados, nuts, olives, sweet potatoes, dates, berries and more.
She prefers to make her own meals before the race so she knows for sure what’s going into them. When she does eat out, Schad looks for high-protein options and lots of greens; no dressings or sauces.
She’s had a good fish dinner at the Fish Hopper and enjoys the stir fry at Foster’s. While Schad has not eaten at Loko Wraps or Herbivores, she’s curious to try.
Other than increasing protein, staying away from sugar as much as possible and upping her caloric intake to compensate for what gets burned during long and intense workouts, Avery’s diet doesn’t change much when she’s training for Ironman.
She’s not a strict or regimented eater and but chooses foods that provide good vitamins and energy for her body and exercise needs.
Avery seeks out good fish dishes when she goes out to eat and has found several at places in downtown Kona, including Island Lava Java, Kona Inn, Foster’s Kitchen, Kona Canoe Club, Humpy’s Big Island Ale House and Quinn’s Almost By The Sea. There’s also a good fish burrito at Los Habaneros in Keauhou. Another favorite is Krua Thai Cuisine; she loves the restaurant’s spring rolls and rice dishes.
Eating after the race, however, can be a different story.
Avery knows a lot of people can just dive into pizza or french fries, but the healthy options work just fine for her. It takes a couple of days for her to be able to stomach any fattier foods, but she eventually adds a few treats back into her diet.
Schad, on the other hand, is one of those who wants something from the cheat list. Her favorite is pizza, saying it absorbs any upset stomach issues and gives her belly a full sensation after a long day of eating very little. She said Kai Eats + Drinks pizza is amazing.
“It’s definitely rewarding, as I feel our society generally rewards themselves daily,” Schad said about that first pizza after the race. “I enjoy practicing delayed gratification.”