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As chef of Team Tinkoff-Saxo, Hannah Grant knows how to fuel world-class cyclists, like Peter Sagan and Alberto Contador. Here she reveals what you can learn from her culinary philosophy.

Food is more than just fuel

“Food for athletes can be very inspiring and tasty. You don’t just have to eat a giant portion of chicken and pasta every day. Before working for the Tinkoff-Saxo cycling team I worked in restaurants so I know the importance of taste and presentation. I also worked on a kiteboarding expedition boat so I got to see how much food active athletes need to eat every day. An athlete’s food has to look inviting and beautiful. Some of my most popular dishes are things like leg of lamb with parsley and potatoes or salmon with orange and ginger. These dishes are healthy but tasty and colourful too.”

Mix up your carbs

“There is always pasta available for the Tinkoff-Saxo riders if they want it but we like to offer a wide range of alternative carbohydrates such as polenta, sweet potatoes, brown rice and risotto. It stops you getting bored of the same old foods and means you can

enjoy a wider variety of dishes.”

Fat isn’t your enemy 

“Riders enjoy a lot of cold-pressed fats like high-quality olive oil, as well as hazelnut oil, vinaigrettes, flaxseed oil and avocadoes. We step away from the idea that everyone should be scared of fats. Healthy fats are very important for everything from producing energy during exercise to your brain

health and the functioning of your nervous system. Fat also makes your body feel more satisfied, so if you completely avoid it you will just feel hungry. It’s a fine balance: you don’t want to overuse fats but you do need them.”

Become a ginger nut

“Ginger shots made from raw ginger juice are very good for athletes and we use a lot of ginger in our recipes. It is a functional food because it is anti-inflammatory so it helps the muscles and joints after a long day of exercise. When the joints get agitated and annoyed, ginger can help to keep that inflammation down.”

Cut out gluten to shed weight

“I provide a selection of wheat-free alternatives like buckwheat noodles and quinoa to help athletes lose a bit of weight. The ground rule is that the older you get, the slower your metabolism becomes. Some of the older riders find that all of sudden they can’t eat the same things as when they were

younger because if they do they gain a bit around their stomach. Even an extra 2-3kgs can be too much for professional riders. One solution is to cut out wheat products and go for wheat-free alternatives. It is a good way to monitor your weight naturally without starving yourself. You can eat the same amounts but still lose 2-3kgs because wheat can be such a problematic starch for older athletes to break down.”

Boost immunity with blueberries and broccoli 

“I am super-happy with the riders eating lots of blueberries and broccoli. They taste very good and are full of natural antioxidants which help the body recover faster after exercise. The nutritional content of food is very important. It’s not just about carbs for energy and protein for muscles. The nutrients and vitamins are useful for battling small colds and symptoms of illness too. So we don’t have many plain iceberg lettuce salads. We want everything to have a high nutritional quality, so we will have a salad with maybe rocket, spinach, vegetables and beetroot instead.”

Become an ironman with red meat

“When the riders are facing a big mountain race we pump up the iron in their diets by offering them more red meat. Your blood needs iron to transport oxygen around the body or you will lose muscle power. We work with a nutritionist Stacy Sims, so we know that we need to start iron-loading muscles about a week before the race.”

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Inject variety into your diet

“I always ensure a big variation in meals and ingredients. We change it as much as we can because if you are an athlete you will eat a lot of food so you need a good variety – both for your body and also for your mind. For example, every day there will be some sort of chicken dish but there will also be other protein options like fish, lamb, veal or rabbit. Protein is really important for athletes to help rebuild muscle fibres.”

Get your hands dirty

“If you cook your own food you will always eat more healthily. No artificial nonsense or hidden fat and sugar; just clean, whole ingredients. I like to bake different breads for the riders from scratch. If you make a good, healthy bread with organic Danish flour you will find you only want to eat two slices, not ten slices, because proper homemade food is so filling.”

Adapt your carb intake

“It is important for our riders to adapt their diets to their activities. After a short ride that hasn’t taken up much energy, they might reduce the amount of carbs on their plate and have lots of vegetables instead, so maybe a nice, crisp vegetable salad, with some chicken and goat’s cheese and olive oil. It is a fine line between making sure they are not hungry in training but also making sure they don’t gain weight. On a bigger training day or during a race they will have way more carbs, so they adapt their diet to match what their bodies need.”

The breakfast of champions

“A good breakfast for a rider would be some gluten-free porridge with fruit or some soaked muesli with chopped nuts and seeds. Then some eggs – maybe an omelette – and sourdough bread for a bit of protein. Riders tend to have their breakfast about three hours before the start of a race so they have enough time to digest it.”

Stay light on the mountains

“On the actual day before a big mountain stage we would serve more easily digested foods, such as chicken and fish, instead of something tough like red meat or a braised steak. Before a heavy day like that you want a light protein which the body can digest quickly. You have to think about the conditions all the time. For example, on a cold day we might have some soup afterwards.”

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Always snack on veggies

“It is very easy to confuse being tired or moody with being hungry and needing more food. So food is not always the answer. But when riders are hungry we encourage them to go crazy on veggies not because they will make them feel full but because they contain lots of nutrients and not much fat. Grilled veg is perfect.”

Don’t get juiced

“We aren’t into juices because when you juice things you take the fibre out of them and you just keep all the sugars. Your body doesn’t know what kind of sugar you’re taking on, whether it is from a vegetable or a cake, so you will absorb the sugar from the juice just as you would absorb the sugar from a soda. Of course, fruit also contains vitamins and minerals, but we prefer to keep the fibre in the meal by serving them whole.”

Treat yourself

“It is not always possible to give the riders what they want for dessert but we do serve some tasty options – often using natural, sweet food like honey or apples. My main rule for dessert is that you will be more satisfied for example, with a small piece of good-quality, homemade brownie than a half-hearted, weird chocolate cake full of sugar and rubbish.”

 

The Grand Tour Cookbook by Hannah Grant (Musette Publishing) contains hundreds of healthy recipes for athletes and is available now from,

hannahgrantcooking.com