How Pro Cyclists Manage Weight And Health


– Diet is so incredibly important
for professional cyclists, it can’t be underestimated. And it’s for that reason
that World Tour teams invest heavily in nutrition. They will all have at least one chef that travels with the team, plus at least one nutritionist. It’s pretty clear what a chef does, but what about a nutritionist? Well, I am going to find out by pretending to be a
professional cyclist again, and asking Nigel Mitchell
who is Nutritionist at Team EF Education First, and also a friend of GCN,
’cause he wrote our book, The Plant-Based Cyclist. (door creaking) (heavy bass) (whoosh) I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous going into the GCN studio before. All right, Nigel? – Hiya Si, I heard that. There’s no need at all to be nervous, you should know that, you’ve known me a long time. – Well that is true, that is true. But still, the scales never lie and I think that’s going
to be part of this. – But it’s interesting you say that, because your focus as an
athlete is about weight? – Yeah.
– Whereas my focus as a nutritionist is
much broader than that. My focus is around your
general health and performance, and weight’s just a small part of it all. – [Simon] Right, well, that’s interesting ’cause that was going
to be my first question. What does a nutritionist
do for a World Tour team? – Well, that’s a question
that a lot of people would like the answer to.
(laughing) No, being serious, it’s really quite a busy and in depth job and it works on a lot of different levels. So, there’s very much a strategic level, where what we’re trying
to do is really develop a positive culture
around food and nutrition and health and performance. And so that includes
working with the chef, working with the hotels,
with the soigneurs, also working with the nutrition
partners with the team. And what I believe is, if
you’ve got the right environment and the right type of culture, then the riders actually
learn from that experience and that has a big influence on then how they eat and how they behave. And part of the work I
will do, is I’ll always do individual meetings with riders, especially at the training camps. And when we’ve got a new
rider coming into the teams then I’ll do a little one
to one induction with them which is usually between
one and two hours, so it’s quite in depth.
– [Simon] Yeah! – [Nigel] And what I’ll look to do there, is really try and understand, have they got any food intolerances? have they got any preferences? have they got any clinical history issues that relate to nutrition? Such as iron deficiencies, vitamin D, things like this, so we
may look at some of the historical bloods what they have there and how the diet and
nutrition can effect that. Have they got any problems
with any particular foods? Also, talk to them about the philosophy within the team, what we do with food. I’ll talk about how
fantastic the team chef is and how they’ll need to
communicate with that chef around the foods they’re
being provided at the races. And one of the other things I always do is looking at benchmarking where we are from a body composition point of view. – [Simon] Okay. So, should we crack on and have a look then at body composition? – Well, interestingly Si, what I’ve done, I’ve dug out my notes from you from 2005 when you were a mountain bike rider. So we’ve got some historical data, so we can actually see how you’ve changed over the last 15 years. – [Simon] Yeah, so as well as finding out what a world touring nutritionist does, today we’re also going to find out how I’ve declined over
the last fifteen years. – So what I need you to do is
to strip down to your pants. – Well it’s your lucky day isn’t it? (laughing) (boxing bell rings) Now, as interesting as it would have been to have read the comments were
I to be sat here in my pants, I have found some gym shorts, which I think Nigel
probably could be from 2005. – Yeah I think they could
be looking at the fashion. The other thing is I hardly recognize you without your GCN hoodie,
you’ve got a t-shirt. – I have, it’s got GCN
written on it as well. I suspect I need to get
rid of this though don’t I? – Yeah, so basically, what we do here is I’m going to be taking some
measurements on your body, and we’re going to measure
eight sites on your body and what we do is, we just
look at the total number, we don’t work out a body fat equation, or anything like that, even though people are often
used to having that done. I don’t like to use it because you have to use certain
regression equations and if you do not use the same equations you come out with completely
different figures. And it’s much more objective in that, if we’ve got just a total figure, we don’t say this is good, or this is bad, we say this is just where you are. And what we do over time,
is we can monitor that, so we can then look at, you know, at different stages in the
season where the athlete is. Sometimes we will work on targets for people who are needing
to have specific weights. But it’s as much around
protecting the rider, as what it is about
meeting performance goals because it’s really easy
to push the weight too far and then if we push the weight too far, we have both health and performance issues with an individual rider. – [Simon] Okay. – [Nigel] So, if we’re going to start, need you to take your t-shirt
off and stand up please. – All right. Woohoo! (wolf-whistling) – Right, so first things first, we need to weigh ya. – Okay. – [Nigel] So pop yourself on the scales. – [Simon] Wow! – [Nigel] 72.1. – [Simon] Yeah! – Now, interestingly, on the
eighth of August in 2005, you were 70.9. – That was probably my biceps, I reckon, that have grown since then.
(laughing) I can tense everything Nigel, but I suspect that’s
not going to fool you. – No, in fact I need you to relax. So all we’re going to do here is I’m using this pair of skinfold calipers, so these are a scientifically engineered piece of equipment that’s got a certain gauge on there on the springs that puts a certain pressure on the skin. And all we’re doing there is just measuring in millimeters how much skin and underlying
tissue we have there. And so, the thing that’s constant, the thickness of the skin
really remains constant, it’s the stuff below that changes and it’s the stuff below
that represents the body fat. And, as I was saying before, I would not use this to
actually make an estimate of how much fat somebody is carrying because it’s quite imprecise to do that. But what it’s useful for, helping us to map changes in weight of an athlete so we can get a good idea, are we losing muscle? Are we losing fat? And how we gauge that over time in helping to protect the rider. And, so I’m trained to do skinfolds under an organization called ISAK and if people are looking
at getting skinfolds done, then really they need to be questioning the training that people have had. Now, the way that I’m actually
going to do this with you is not how it is done in the ISAK manual and this is really just
for the brevity of time. – Okay. – But the first thing that I’d do is I would, like, have a
look at you, visually, and I’ve got a photographic
memory for men’s bodies – Oh, that’s useful.
(laughing) – So actually, you don’t look
massively, massively different back to 2005 to be honest with you Si. – Whew! – So, just having a look at you there I can see that you started to get that sort of middle aged type of spread going off a little bit round the back, round the kidneys there.
(laughing) – Right, okay. – There’s nothing too dramatic, nothing too dramatic, so, I always– – You heard it here first GCN viewers. The age thing is an interesting one Nigel, you know, a rider like Valverde, you know, in his forties,
– Yeah. – You know, is he going to be battling, and I appreciate we can’t
talk about specifics, but is he going to be
battling middle age spread? Like, is it harder for
older elite athletes? – I’ll tell you, what I
find quite interesting, I don’t necessarily think
it’s that much harder, ’cause I’ve worked with people in their forties, fifties, and they’ve been really, really lean. I think it’s the consistency
– Right. – So, I think if people have maintained themselves like Valverde has, then it may get more
challenging for him each year, or he may have to adapt things each year, but he’s not, sort of, let himself go, gained 10 kilos, then he’s
trying to correct that. So, he’s maintained himself throughout. So, I do think it can become challenging, but I think if people maintain, then it’s much easier trying to re-fight. So, what we always do is we measure the right hand side just as a, that’s the standard side we’d measure. – Okay. – And one of the things that’s often really interesting with
bike riders is that when we’re doing on the side, quite often when they’ve crashed they’ve got a lot of scar tissue, and so we often have to try and measure around that scar tissue ’cause that actually
adds quite a bit to it. Now I’m looking at how
your bodies distributed, but I’m also seeing if you’re a bit wonky, ’cause if you’re a bit wonky, like a lot of riders are, then I’ll say please make
sure you go and see the chiro. So, we work quite integrated as a team. And I’m just going to find the
mid point on your arm there, then that’s where we’ll
take a circumference, and we’ll just do those
measurements through there. – Okay. – So, let me just take
this measurement there. Quick mental calculation. Okay, so we’ve marked your arms, so I’m just going to take
the skinfolds with it now. What I do is I take three
different measurements and basically just take a mean. So again, under the strictest protocol, I’d write each single
different measurement down, but again, for time, I’m just going to take
these and measure them. So, what I’m doing here is just pulling the flesh off the arm, let the caliper on, just let it settle, take it off, doing the same again, same again, that’s great. (relaxing music) You can put your t-shirt
back on to keep warm. – You can all breathe
a sigh of relief then. (laughing) – Then we’re going to do your legs, so I just need you to sit
on the chair over there. Now, 15 years ago you didn’t have such hairy legs, did you? – No, it’s true. Three months ago I didn’t
have such hairy legs, but it’s a winter thing. – It’s a winter thing, is it? So, all I’m doing here is just going really from the hip to
the apex of the knee and just going for that mid-point there. And, so this just gives us, when we’re taking the girth, if somebodies girth increases
and the skinfold goes down, that’s suggestive that they’re gaining more muscle on the thigh–
– Yeah. – If the skinfold goes up
and the leg reduces in size, that means they’re gaining
more fat and losing muscle, which isn’t what we want.
– [Simon] No. So these type of measurements
can be very supportive for the rider because it’s just helping us to understand some of
the changes with them. – [Simon] Yeah, I can imagine
it being actually like a bit of a marker for training
effectiveness, can it? – [Nigel] It is, yeah. I mean, a lot of the riders
are really keen once they, the way that we use this, are really keen for this
data to be collected on a regular basis so
they can just monitor and just see where they are at different stages of the season. So when I’ve got riders who I’ve worked with for several years, who go back and say, “Ooh, where were I last May Nige? “Ooh, oh yeah, I were
going really (beeps) then.” Or “oh yeah, I were going really–” And so, they just use it as part of their matrix with it. – So, might you do this at a race then? – Yeah, absolutely! So races can be really good place to collect some of this data, but what’s really important with it is that we’re not making really, sort of, subjective, sort of, calls around it. It’s that we’re going
okay, this is where it is. We’re not saying this
is good, this is bad, or it’s a success, or a failure, we’re just using it as monitoring tool. But I also find it can be quite protective to prevent riders from
going really too light and too skinny–
– Yeah. – And, like, in a Grand
Tour, we tend to measure this at the start, the middle, at the end. Again, it’s really about, that helps us to understand
the energy balance. So again, the riders are ensuring we’re getting enough calories in them. I have been at races where riders have been losing weight too quickly so we’ve then been able
to put an intervention in, to help feed them more and they perform better in the last weeks. So, you know, everything’s
around the support and not the judgment.
– Yeah. I have a hunch that the
skinfolds will have gone up and the muscle mass has gone down. But, I’ll be quite interested. All right then Nigel, how are we looking? – Well, what does it all mean? It’s like I was saying before, I’m not saying whether
things are good or bad, it’s just where we are at the moment. We’re interested in what we can do, is compare this with the data that you had 15 years ago
nearly, and interestingly, there’s not a massive change in weight, you’re only kilo heavier, but what does that mean as
far as your body is concerned. So, if we just look down this, then actually, the girths
are not massively different, so they’re in, sort of, within the error of
measurement, the girths, but the thing that’s really interesting is that the skinfolds have
gone up quite markedly. So, back in 2005, the
whole seven added together was 36 millimeters, and today they’re 53.4 millimeters. – [Simon] Okay. – So, what does that mean? – Hopefully not that I’m 80
percent fatter than I was (laughing) – It’s like I said, I don’t
do a body fat percentage. But what it does mean is that because the weight is
pretty much the same, the girths are pretty much the same, but the skinfolds are
really quite a bit higher, then that means, really that, what you’ve done is that
you’ve lost muscle mass and you’ve gained some fat mass. And when I’m looking at, like, the levels that you’re coming in at here, then within a team you would probably find two or three riders in December that would have similar, sort of, skinfolds to what you
have now in December, and when they’re coming
in to the racing season, they’d be very much like yours were. So actually, if you
look at the timing now, we’re doing this in the winter, and we did them before in the summer, it may be that in the summer these are back down to 36 millimeters. – Okay, so I’m just six months
away from peak condition. – But to be really honest, you know, we’re not talking about from where these are at the moment, that this is something that is a negative impact on health, or for the type of
riding that you’re doing is going to have any negative
impact on your riding either. So, you’re in an okay zone. – Okay, that’s cool, from a
personal perspective obviously, but what I’m really interested to think is actually that you
wouldn’t make a judgment on a rider when they walk
in, in terms of like, okay, we need to sort you out right now because your skinfolds are higher than all your teammates. So, there’s none of
that, kind of, judgment. – No, potentially it’s quite dangerous, to make those type of judgments, and I really try and counsel the riders away from comparing
themselves to other riders. And I don’t really like
to make a real judgment until we’ve got a series of data and we’ve been able to see how athletes have been progressing. For sure, if we have a rider that comes in in December and they’re got
really high skinfolds then, you know, we’ll say that we’ll be quite honest with them and say look, you know,
for the time of year where does this normal sit
to how you are in the season? And then they’ll normally go, well actually yeah, I’m
a couple of kilos heavier then where I should be, and okay, let’s support you with that, so when we see you back in January this is something to work towards. So then, again, it’s a supportive process, rather than, you know, you’re
just really overweight, go away and sort yourself out. – Some of those, kind of,
methods of getting someone to start losing a little bit of weight, I can imagine under, like, close supervision be incredibly effective, and after all, weight is really
important for a pro cyclist. But equally, a rider will be on their own, looking after themselves for
a large portion of the year. I can also imagine it being quite easy to not only get it wrong, but to start getting it wrong regularly. So is part of your work as well, actually, looking after, you know, nutrition from that perspective as well?
– Yeah. – Like, disordered eating? – Yeah, so when we look at cycling, not just cycling, you know, I’ve got experience working
with a lot of sports, and disordered eating
is really quite common in the majority of sports. My approach and my
thoughts really around it is actually, disordered eating, so if you think about
it, what we’re asking athletes to do is not
actually quite normal, so, you know, if people are doing something like
some faster training, or they might be going out on really quite restricted
energy for a long ride, that’s not quite normal, so there’s a disorder to that. But that doesn’t mean to
say that it’s pathological, and what I mean by that, is it’s when it’s becoming, from an emotional or a
physiological point of view, negative on the athlete. So, when we’re looking
at bringing in changes within the diet and the training to help support them
for performance gains, then that disordered pattern is not necessarily unhealthy. It’s when the athlete is
driven by emotional aims and making these disordered patterns without any real logic from a performance or a physical point of view, is then when we start to
get into some danger areas, when people then start to be coming more in to eating disorders. And by providing more
support around the athletes then I believe that we can prevent that disordered eating
becoming an eating disorder. (door creaking) – Well, I’ve got to say, a huge thank you to Nigel, firstly for easy going easy on me, I’m pretty sure he lied
about my skinfolds, but anyway, we don’t need to know that, but also for his amazing insight and knowledge as always. If you would like to watch
a little bit more of Nigel, and I’m sure you would, why not check out one of the recipe videos
that we filmed with him, based on the Plant-Based Cyclist book. If you want to watch one,
you can get through to it by clicking on screen now, otherwise, please give
this video a big thumbs up.

100 thoughts on “How Pro Cyclists Manage Weight And Health

  1. Chapeau to Simon for exposing himself publicly in the name of scientific education.
    I also wonder if maybe an average NHS doctor would suggest to Simon to gain weight instead of losing any. To me anything like height in centimeters – 100 = "good weight in kg" (+/- 10%) is a good rule for normal humans (non-pro cyclists).

  2. Started a plant based diet mid December 19, diagnosed with diabetes Jan 2020. Awaiting to see a nutritionist, what advice can you give for a plant based rider who can no longer eat carbs ? Yes, I know, where do I get my energy from ? Would be great to see some videos/content on T1 & T2 diabetic cyclists. Big fan. 👍🏻

  3. Key to recovery after training or race are amino acids especially amino acids that are found in higher amounts in the muscles like BCAA, glutamine.. Best source of amino acids are animal products like meat, like eggs or dairy products. That'' why 99,9% of PRO riders is eating eggs, yogurt, ham for breakfast, after training or race whey protein shake and for dinner meat.. Nobody wants to eat things like legumes as a protein source. Since nobody wants to be bloated and fart all the time LOL.. End of story dummy vegans..

  4. 7:35 "middle-aged typed of…" Good sport Si. And Nigel is so sharp, another amazing video with this all-star fellow. Thanks GCN.

  5. Great video and great insight on how it’s not just about losing weight but also keeping performance targets in check. Hearing about the eating disorders in the pro peloton is heart wrenching for what these athletes are doing to their bodies. EF sounds like they are approaching it as a performance first methodology rather than hoping there’s enough caffeine in a bottle to get a rider to the finish line.

  6. Salbutamol is the perfect remedy for weight management, which allows riders to burn fat and preserve muscle mass. I am not sure, if it works for the teams without "special relations" with UCI and WADA, but the secret phrase "functional dehydration" works like an official indulgence for this kind of doping.

  7. This is by far the most interesting type of content. I can listen this guy answering questions for another 3 hours. Thank you

  8. Hello everyone, hopefully I can get some answers here. I'm looking for a used city bike, nothing fancy, but I'm 6'3"-6'4" so it's not easy to find a 23" or 24" frame and I'm wondering if I could settle for a 22" and raise the seat? Or is the difference too much too compensate.

  9. Nice bloke, but he's only a nutritionist and not a proper dietician? "Nutritionist" is the term any wanker can use to describe themselves. Only registered dieticians can call themselves "dietician". It doesn't mean he's wrong, just not properly qualified. Probably not as bad as cyclists seeking help from chiropractors (don't get me started).

  10. That shot of Si in front of the door saying he's nervous at 0:40 gave me a mini panic as the light above him made me think he'd frosted his tips GCN Red. It may work on the bikes and gear, but not for hair. I think it's even too horrible to be a suitable "loser's reward" for a challenge lol.
    And yes I know he didn't have it in the previous shot, but Ollie's hair and beard have changed completely within a single video before so, you know…

  11. That's a lot of scars on Si's back. One is obviously surgical. I don't know about the others, but I don't envy how he got them. 🙁

  12. Highly recommend the new GCN plant-based cookbook by Nigel, which is pretty much all nutrition advice of this sort, plus recipes.

  13. Si, you're sucking your belly in, and are those Cartmans pubes on your chest 🙂 Oh, sorry the vid, very good again and I wish I wasn't looking down at something Nigel couldn't get his fat gauge around

  14. I still believe every teams winter training camp is like the scene in the movie Heavyweights where Ben Stiller's character is weighing all the campers

  15. Nobody noticed that weigh device cannot give accurate measurement on carpet , its need a hard surface for sensor to detect correct weight. Please try if someday has doubt. That means weight shown is wrong.

  16. Would Si have the same body if he had not been a competition cyclist ie his upper body muscle structure etc. is he over lean? So really, we all see that tour competitions only have super lean riders to minimise weight on the bike but that to me doesn’t reflect the normal range of healthy body weight in normal competition. Competition now seems to be more about everything but the human rider. Should there be weight classes?….

  17. Very good discussion, gents. Thanks! Would be great to see one on riding in your 50's comparative to your 30's say… And how some of this data, or perhaps approach, comes into it. For those of us trying to "stay fit" in mid-life it would be cool to see.

  18. Very good info at the end about disordered eating. Very easy and detrimental to the health in obsessing and bad nutrition to get down to desired weight.

  19. Simon stop lookinfg for the quick fix. Becoming a good bike rider is putting in the miles in. You Simon need to re invent yourself and stop being so repetitive.

  20. 1:43 he isn't realy placing that bottle of ketchup on that table?! that's disgusting and shows a lack of appretiation of the chef's abilities…

  21. That slomo blinking at 1:45 and my brain shut off for a few seconds, I've no idea what Nigel was talking about there.

  22. Come on how many of you chuckled when Nigel was on his knees inspecting Si’s groin area and talking about “girth”.

  23. within 30 seconds… Si admits his past… "pretending to be a professional cyclist… again" – we realised he was pretending the first time, years ago… LOL

  24. I would love to be mentored by nigel. Rode 4401 miles last year and didn’t lose an ounce. 6 ft tall, 229.4 lbs at 61 years old on the way to Type 2 diabetes if I’m not careful. Does Nigel know anyone I can talk to in Miami?

  25. I'm a newcomer to cycling. About a year ago, I weighed about 118 kg and was completely out of shape. I had been a runner in my teens, and so I worked up from walking over increasing distances and paces to running, and was burning 750 calories per run 5 runs/week. I lost 30 kg in the process when I developed tendonitis in my left Achilles and was unable to do any cardio for 3 months, over the winter holidays, of course. As part of my recovery, I became able to cycle since it isn't an impact activity, and got a decent bike (Specialized Roubaix Sport) so I could get some cardio. SPOILER WARNING: I've fallen in love with cycling. The things I loved about running are magnified and the things I hated (sore feet and bloody toes) are gone. However, there seems to be more of a need for recovery from a solid ride than I ever experienced running. I'd rather do a 5/2 schedule than ride/recover repeatedly, but that's what I'm seeing from all these videos…my focus needs to be on calorie burn as I've gained some weight back over my non-cardio period, although I am substantially more fit than I was at my current weight when I was dropping.

    TLDR: How can I maximize my calorie burn through riding on an overall basis? 750/day would be ideal.

    I do have a trainer so I can ride indoors during inclement weather, which is beneficial here in New Jersey with temps at 30F and below not uncommon.

  26. Would have liked to know about if they do blood and gene tests to see how a riders nutrition can be altered based on those factors. I’m sure they do blood tests at least and I think that’s an interesting aspect.

  27. Lost for words before selecting “middle age spread”

    Nigel, you are far nicer than me. I would have said Si is starting to get a muffin top 😂

    Love the video guys, and love your work!

  28. 14 min 14 sec – The "I want to kill you" look on Si's face when Nigel looks at his lap top after telling Si that he has lost muscle mass and gained some fat mass – priceless

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