What Do Professional Cyclists Really Eat? | Nutrition Insights With Nigel Mitchell


– Grand tours are phenomenal
feats of endurance and physical exertion, and
they place huge demands on the riders that race them. On the one hand, the
athletes need plenty of fuel to get them ’round the three
and a half thousand kilometers, at an average speed of
over 25 miles per hour. But on the other hand, they
don’t want to eat too much as to detrimentally affect
their power to weight ratio, which is very important in cycling. (dramatic music) To find out more I’ve
come to the Giro d’Italia to talk with Nigel Mitchell,
who is the head of nutrition for the EF Education
First Pro Cycling team, and formally worked with
Team Sky in British cycling. Nigel has worked with top athletes who’ve had tremendous
success at grand tours, one day races, pretty much
everything in top flight cycling. So, he’s an ideal person to
talk to about the subject. I just want to know if the riders are allowed to have pudding. Let’s find out. (relaxed music) Good see ya, Nige.
– Good to see you Riley. – Yeah, so let’s begin with the start of the day. – Okay.
– Breakfast. What do the riders
typically have at the start, before the stage? – Yeah, so on a normal sort of stage, a lot of people are
surprised of how normal the diets, the food is
that we do for the riders. I mean, we’re so lucky
because we’ve a fantastic chef with Olga and she’s a really
key member of the team. She’s really really important. She’s one of the first people up and one of the last to bed, but it’s super simple. We start off with porridge. We always have porridge. – [Riley] I love porridge. (laughing) – You always have porridge and the way we tend to do it is it’s just a very simple recipe that Olga uses where it’s just made with water, so it’s just very
simple, very traditional. – That’s the Scottish way. – Scottish way yeah, but
we don’t put whiskey in it. We don’t have whiskey and cream, which is, I thinks more of
a traditional Scottish one, or it is when I’m in Scotland anyway. So we have porridge and we have omelets. Always have omelets. Olga will count up how many eggs she gets through in a grand tour and it’s hundreds. Hundreds and hundreds of eggs. And then we have just
normal sort of cereals, we’ll have some cheese, we’ll have some jams. It’s just really standard, simple stuff. – Yep. – We try not to go too
massive at breakfast time, mainly because if you do
you’re just swamping the system with lots and lots and
lots of carbohydrate and what you’re wanting to do is just to be topping the system up. – Right. – But you’re also wanting
something in there that’s going to be, take
some time to digest, and that’s why the eggs
are great at breakfast because they, the eggs
are quite slowly digested, they also put some protein in the system, so that when the riders are racing it’s helping the recovery
as they’re going through. – Constantly helping the recovery. – Yeah, but it’s just really
standard, simple foods. – [Riley] Yeah. – [Nigel] People are always going “No, it can’t be that easy,
it can’t be that simple.” – Is there a sort of amount of protein, carbohydrates, that kind of macro things that you’re trying to hit? – Yeah, so what we’re looking for from a protein point of view, is
aiming for about 20 grams worth of protein, 20 to 30 grams worth. Which you just easily get with the foods that they’re having at breakfast, so you know, a couple of egg omelet, the porridge that they’re having, maybe a little bit of ham. That’ll easily give them the
30 grams worth of protein, and from a carbs perspective, we’re really looking just about a gram per kilogram of body weight, and again, that’s easily
hit without having to go super detailed with it. Just by the porridge, a bit of fruit, it’s really simple for them to do it without them thinking about it and that’s really the idea. Some of the work I’ll do with them is to try and think about those portions. Even if we’re scaling a pole down, things like the carbohydrate. We like to try and keep
the keep pretty constant. That’s about say 20 to 30
grams of that at those meals. (upbeat music) – And you mentioned its different for a shorter stage, like a TT. – Yeah. – So how does that? – So TT, one of the critical,
one of the really important things, one of the critical things is stomach comfort, and obviously when you’re on the skis that’s quite an extreme position, so the pre-race meal, what we’ll tend to do
is we work backwards, so depending when the time trials are, but you know, typically
if your time trials are at 2 o’clock, the guys will get up and they’ll have their standard breakfast, but a little bit lighter portions. They’ll go for a bit of a ride, a recon and then, three, four hours before the TT, they’ll have the pre-race meal and the pre-race meal
we always to the same. It’s just rice and omelet. – When we get out onto the stage, what are the riders eating during a stage? – So during the stage,
we tend to be aiming for, depending on the intensity,
and this is where part of the education is that the riders have got to really be
thinking for themselves, because you can’t say to somebody, you’ve got to have so many grams of carbohydrate per hour, because of the intensities
that they might be working out, so you can have guys
sometimes the come back and you look at the power files and they haven’t really
been working that hard and you’ve got other
days they’ve just been working full gas all the time, so what we’re trying to work on is if they’re riding relatively moderate is for them to be aiming for about 40 to 60 grams of carbs per hour. If they’re working harder
then it’s more like 60 to 80, even up to sort of 100 grams per hour, and the way that we deliver
the nutrition on the bike is like a modular system. In that we work on sort of
20 gram of carbohydrates sort of exchanges, if you get me. So like rice cakes
about 20 grams of carbs, a bar is like 40 grams of carbs, so that’s like two exchanges. Depending on what drink we use, we might be using an 80
gram carbohydrate drink, so that’s like four exchanges, so we just work on that type of a system. I don’t think the riders
always fully understand. – Yep, but you monitor it. – But we know, so we go you know, if you’re having a bottle of this– So if you’re having a
bottle of the 80 gram then that’s going to
supply you for an hour and what we tend to do is use more of that liquid carbohydrate
feeding when the stages are more technical, in
the mountains when it’s more difficult to eat food,
or later in the stages, so at the first start of the stage, again, depending what
the riders are doing, then in the bottles we may have just a bottle of water and
a bottle of race drink. The race drink is Scratch which has got 20 grams of carbohydrate. It may be that they’re jobs going to be getting in an early break, or they know they’re having to work, so then we’ll use like 80 grams worth of carbohydrates in their bottles, so we just sort of titrate
it around that little bit and we’re very standard with
the race foods that we use. So we use a combination of commercial bars and we also use the rice cakes. That’s the biggest, most popular, and most effective race food that I think that there is out there. (relaxed music) – So something I want to talk about is, is the residue of foods. – Okay, yeah. – ‘Cause something you mentioned before about riders avoiding foods that create a lot of water retention in the gut. – Well it’s not so much water retention, it’s more the, it’s more the fecal mass. It’s the poo, so basically in our large bowel and the bigger people are then, the more there is, so you can have a couple of kilos of fecal mass in the bowel. I mean, you have to be quite careful, because of the microbiome, the bacteria. It’s important that we don’t, that we don’t screw
about with this too much, so what we sometimes will
do for particular stages is, and we don’t do it with all
the riders all of the time, it’s really when people are
particularly going for something and is that we’ll do, we’ll support a low residue sort of plan, so this is just removing foods that the body doesn’t really digest, but what we do is still
ensure that we get in some of the soluble fiber
to help feed the bacteria, so we’re not avoiding all fiber, but we’re trying to avoid more of the– More of what we might
of think of the roughage that really really forms that bulk. – [Riley] Like, broccoli or something? – Yeah and, or oatmeal bread, so it’s a really simple type of diet which just tends to involve around eating chicken and rice, or fish and rice, and then we have vegetable juices that go along side it. – [Riley] Easier to digest. – Well that’s one of the
other things with it is that, especially as you’re
going into the final week within a grand tour, the digestive systems
are going to be fatigued, riders are eating big volumes of salad, a lot more than what
normal people would eat, and so you can get some
fermentation in the bowel with all of the fiber, so again, using things like the vegetable juices. It’s a way of, in effect,
concentrating the nutrients and removing a lot of the bulk. (light music) – Just in your time since
you’ve been involved in professional cycling and nutrition, how’s it changed? – Yeah, so I think there’s been massive changes. I mean, I were quite
lucky when I came into world tour level cycling
because I came into a team that were brand new, so I came into Team Sky where we had a opportunity
to rewrite the rules and it were a very low
risk so of situation because we weren’t held back by some of the traditions, so we were able to try and look at what we were really trying to do, and what we want to do, what currently also works, so a lot of the practices that we do now with it is what I introduced,
sort of 10 years go. Things have evolved, but what we tend to see now, most of the other teams have taken on a lot of those practices as well, and so things have just
moved along generally, so one of the big ones was previously, things like pasta was really really heavily used in cycling. Rice is used a lot more now. Again, all of the teams do this. Things like juicing. You know go to– You’re in the restaurants at races and you see a lot of
teams now doing juicing. Things like the rice cakes which I can’t take full credit for, because it were actually Alan Lib who got a recipe from his grandmother about doing these years ago and he did something similar, and it were Brad Wiggins that said to me “Oh Alan does these sort of ricey things” “which are really good on the bike.” So we adopted and adapted
some of those recipes and again, all of the teams do that now and you know, Alan tells me
that when he were working in pro-cycling, sort of 15 years ago, people used to ridicule him for him walking around
with his rice cooker. People used to take the Mickey and now every team’s got like,
four or five rice cookers. So there’s been these changes and I think that the
fact there’s much more of a concentration on the quality of food to what there were
sort of, 10 years plus ago. All of the teams now have a chef. All of the teams now employ somebody in a nutrition capacity
to take the responsibility for both the strategic,
and the operational activity of food and
nutrition within the team. The quality of nutrition products I think have really increased, but I think the intelligence around using the products has increased as well now, so I don’t think it’s a case that people just go for racing
we’ve got to use these bars, we’ve got to use gels,
got to use these drinks, we’re now thinking what is
actually the most appropriate fueling solution for
what we’re wanting to do, so we’re think about what the problem is and then how do we address that problem, not what have we got to do
that we can just throw at it and try to make it work. (light music) – Are there things that are black listed, like you can’t have? – The way I tend to work, is I don’t really like a didactic approach, good, bad. What I like to try and do is to go, okay, these are we feel supports
a performance environment, supports performance diet and so the food that we
will not provide riders, if that’s something they really want, then they can go and get it, but we don’t ban it. – Yeah.
– If you know what I mean. So if a rider were sat
there eating or drinking it, we won’t judge them for it. That’s there choice, so I think the only one
of the things that we do really avoid as a team,
apart from on like, the mountain stages, so just off the bike we avoid things like soft drinks. You know, colas. – [Riley] They’ve been
very popular in the past. – Yeah, no no, I mean
they are super popular, but the reason that we avoid them is because
drinks are very low pH and what we’re trying to
do throughout the race is protect the digestive system of the riders and if we have a lot of acidic food, then it can effect how our digestive system works, so there’s nothing wrong with a can of soda, but the
reason we don’t give it to the riders is because
what we’re trying to do is to say this doesn’t support what we’re trying to achieve. And so some of the
riders, when they get back to a hotel, they might go
“Oh God, I really need a can” so they’ll go and get one, but we don’t provide it as a team, but we do use the little
tins on mountian stages ’cause that can almost
be a life saver mentally for some of the riders, so even though it doesn’t support overall what we’re doing, but on that situation, it’s supporting the performance of the guys and there’s only so much you
can say you can’t do. – Yep, right. Well, thank you very much for that. Great talking to you as ever and yeah, really interesting. – Okay.
– Thanks a lot for that. Thanks to Nigel for his insight on what the pro riders eat. I think its really interesting and I guess the take home messages are they eat lots of variety, lots of real food that’s easily digested, but also practical for when they’re preparing things in strange places or out on the bike. It’s also really
interesting to see that the coaches and nutritionists look at the physical demands of each day, ’cause the days are often different, and also the power data and the tailor the food intact based on that. Well I hope you found
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