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Racing on 04.12.2022
Racing on 05.12.2022
Two jelly bears for lunch - on the diet of jockeys.

From heavyweight boxers to lightweight jockeys, top athletes come in all shapes and sizes. Boxers and jockeys may be far apart physically in many cases, but they have one rare thing in common - they have to make weight before they go on stage. Yet there is a crucial difference.

While a boxer may have to make a certain weight four times a year, for jockeys the battle against the scales takes place every day. It is often pointed out that racing is the only sport where athletes are accompanied by an ambulance, and similarly, racing is unique in that its participants are known to perform hungry and dehydrated.

Food and water are the fuel for the body. For many years, however, these essentials were considered enemy number one for jockeys who are under pressure to meet weight requirements that contradict physiology.

This has led to a jockey`s life consisting of a diet of fresh air and not much else, with lots of sweating to boot. In 2010, legendary show jumper Tony McCoy revealed his strict diet, even saying that eating 12 grapes "felt like an act of rebellion".

McCoy often contented himself with a sugary tea for breakfast and two jelly babies for lunch, before eating fish and steamed vegetables with a blob of mayonnaise in the evening, his secret favourite. Three nights a week he went to bed hungry.

Jockeys have been known to try to lose weight quickly by vomiting on themselves, known in the industry as "flipping", and taking diuretics, also called water pills. These methods sound extreme, but unfortunately they are much more common than you think, especially in America.

Racing has been slow to advance the science of nutrition and exercise to enhance performance, but more recently the Professional Jockeys Association, in collaboration with the British Horseracing Authority, has forged close links with the Research Institute of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University, led by Dr George Wilson.

The team`s work at John Moores University aims to help jockeys lose weight safely. "The general consensus was that you had to sweat and starve yourself to gain weight and I wanted to change that because I did these stupid things as an amateur/professional rider, like losing 7 pounds in a short period of time, and it was terrible," Dr Wilson said. "We give jockeys the knowledge that they can eat the right food several times a day if they exercise at the same time. The math is very simple: if energy expenditure is greater than energy intake, you should control and maintain your weight.

And further: "Dehydration and rapid weight loss affect strength and reaction time - and these are the two things you must have to be a top jockey. In the past, a lot of jockeys would eat one big meal in the evening, often consisting of high-energy foods like burgers and fries and a couple of cans of lager, because that`s convenient when you`re on the road a lot. Our point is that you can break these calories into small meals of better nutrition throughout the day: Breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and a meal in the evening."

The PJA website gives a guideline of 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day, which is well below the NHS average [2,500 per day for men and 2,000 per day for women] but is considered sufficient for healthy weight maintenance.

"We measured the energy expenditure of jockeys and found that flat jockeys consume an average of 2,500 calories a day, even when riding six times a day," said Dr Wilson.

"We had to dispel the myth that jockeys use a lot of energy because they finish races exhausted. They don`t play football for 90 minutes or run a marathon. So if they eat 1,800 calories a day, they have a 700 calorie deficit."

The saunas at England`s racecourses, which were closed as a result of Corona, have been permanently closed and the minimum weight for riders was raised in spring 2022.

At 1.70 m, Adam Kirby is one of the tallest jockeys in both sports and rides at a minimum weight of 1.90 m on the racetrack. The 33-year-old Derby winner has long struggled with the scales and admits it takes its toll. "It`s a mental ordeal," he said. "Hours and hours of work every day and no one seems to realise that. We`re left to deal with it, and that`s what we have to deal with."

A similar struggle drove showjumper Ryan Mania to ruin when he retired shortly after winning the 2013 Grand National because he kept having to deal with weight problems. "The worst part of my diet was breakfast, which was Red Bull and chocolate - that was a very bad start to the day," Mania said. "Then in the evening I would have some kind of meal, but it was never very nutritious."

After a five-year break, Mania returned to the saddle and, with the help of a sports dietician, changed his diet and fitness regime, which helped him make a successful comeback.

He says: "Now I eat three 500-calorie meals and a 200-calorie snack every day. For breakfast I eat a bowl of Weetabix or porridge, for lunch a jacket potato with tuna or a chicken wrap and for dinner chilli con carne or chicken breast with vegetables. For snacks, I eat a protein bar and drink at least a litre of water as well as tea and coffee. The food is prepared very healthily and it`s all about keeping the calories to a minimum and combining it with a good amount of exercise without killing myself. But I`m not a robot and I allow myself a `cheat night` with a glass of wine and chocolate every fortnight, because you need that time out."

The racetrack spy
29.11.2022 - Split screen seems to be a foreign word
22.11.2022 - Dominance has a name: Peter Schiergen
16.11.2022 - Retiring at the peak: Flightline calls it quits
08.11.2022 - Regular and varied programme, also in winter!
01.11.2022 - They showed it to everyone: Iresine and Marie Velon
25.10.2022 - A "mental ordeal" - jockeys and their struggle for weight
18.10.2022 - Zac Purton - an Australian makes history in Hong Kong
12.10.2022 - Luke Morris - England`s busiest jockey has arrived on the Olympus
03.10.2022 - English dream couple also want to conquer Japan
27.09.2022 - Murzabayev: This jockey is worth every penny
21.09.2022 - Punctuality is not too much to ask
14.09.2022 - Why not send along a pacesetter?
07.09.2022 - Pat Smullen charity initiative with great success
30.08.2022 - Better prospects - ex-champion from England prefers Hong Kong
23.08.2022 - Cheltenham: Code of Conduct under discussion
17.08.2022 - Again and again: rule violations after the top races
09.08.2022 - Investments and no outdated equipment
02.08.2022 - Sensational result even without group races
26.07.2022 - "We are both empty and at the end of our tether".
19.07.2022 - Please no more 44 kilo horses in group racing!
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