East Coast Bike Ride Fueled by Pizza

By logic, most successful diets wouldn’t include eating eight slices of pizza in a day. But Matt McClellan has set out to prove his favorite food is healthier than you think.

McClellan, who owns a cycling-themed pizzeria in St. Petersburg, Fla., has received national attention for his 30-day pizza diet. Last summer he lost 24 pounds eating nothing but his favorite pie for a month, and this summer he completed a 1,300-mile cycling excursion up the East Coast—also fueled solely by pizza.

McClellan created the diet to prove pizza can be healthy when eaten responsibly with the right ingredients. He believes it’s too often unfairly categorized with the fried fast food being served at drive-thru windows.

“Our problem in America is that we’re trained to eat pizza wrong,” McClellan, 34, said. “You’re not supposed to eat a whole pie at midnight with a two-liter of soda.”

Pizza Pedaler: Matt McClellan is pizza powered.

Under the supervision of doctors and a nutritionist, McClellan ate only what he could fit on a slice for a full 30 days. Each piece had different toppings—balanced for daily nutritional value with a variety of fruits, veggies, and meats. He also managed his portions and exercised, eating one slice every three hours and working out for one hour per day. At the end of the month he not only lost the weight and five inches off his waist. He also lowered his blood pressure, cut 10 percent of his body fat, and lowered his cholesterol 86 points.

“If it wasn’t on a slice of pizza, I didn’t eat it,” he said. “I wanted to prove that with portion control, pizza can be a balanced meal.”

McClellan admits his weight loss was largely attributed to the metabolic jump-start that comes with eating eight small meals a day. But he also points out his illness-free month of athletic activity wouldn’t have been possible without the right ingredients: antioxidant-rich fresh tomato sauce, plenty of garlic, and green vegetables. Already a casual triathlete, his workouts mixed running, swimming, and cycling with light weight lifting.

Then this past June he tested the diet again—this time on a month-long bike journey from Florida to New York. Along the ride—named Tour de Pizza—McClellan stopped at 21 pizza shops, mostly in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, to spread the word about healthy pizza eating.

With support crew in tow, McClellan attempted to follow the still-developing East Coast Greenway, which is slated to be a traffic-free path from Florida to Canada. But currently only about 20 percent of the trail is completed, so he was often forced to pedal on unnerving busy highways. Despite the occasional rough road, McClellan finished each day with a friendly welcome and a fresh pie from independent pizzerias like Terrazzo in Wilmington, N.C., and Bottoms Up in Richmond, Va.

“The spirit of the cycling community and these mom-and-pop pizza shops feels the same,” McClellan said.