THEY WERE LIKE, "WHERE'S THE KETCHUP? WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS BROWN RICE?"
Every year 22 teams of nine professional cyclists embark on Le Tour de France, riding 3,540 kilometers through four European countries. They summit mountains and push their bodies to extremes. They also need to eat. That's where Hannah Grant comes in. The Danish chef, who has done stints at Noma and The Fat Duck, has spent the past six years fueling cyclists with healthy—but still interesting—grub. This year she embedded with Team Orica-Scott and a crew of 24 to showcase her culinary expertise in an upcoming, yet-untitled Amazon Studios series.
I worked as a full-time chef for a cycling team for five years straight. When I first started, if a team had a chef it was making sure there was enough food, making sure it was hygienically safe, and making sure it was served on time. But my team owner had the idea of, "What if we can change things with the food that we serve now that we have a chef? How can we change the idea of how food for athletes works?" I talked with a lot of the nutritionists and experts. They wanted more vegetarian options and less wheat, more gluten-free options. Basically whole-food, healthy cooking. That was a major shock for the riders. They were used to white pasta, ketchup, and grilled chicken every single day. They were like, "Where's the ketchup? What the fuck is this brown rice? What is this quinoa thing?"
I didn't realize in the beginning that just because someone tells them "this is what you should eat" that they'd want to eat it. I had to win their trust. The first year was a tough year trying to find the balance between what the riders felt like eating and what they needed to eat. I found the Golden Rule of how to introduce new things to a bike rider: If you take two-thirds of a dish with ingredients they're comfortable with, you can add one-third of something that's new and interesting. And they need to be able to see what it is so they're not suspicious. It took a while to build up that trust with people.
There are general rules to keep in mind when you cook for endurance athletes and performance sports people—the amounts, the combinations of different types of protein and fats—but for me it's important to keep it as local and seasonal as possible. And food is not just fuel. It can be anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory. You can speed up recovery or kick down beginning colds and small illness. There's a lot you can do with food without the riders feeling like they're eating something super healthy and hippy-style.
It shouldn't be a punishment to eat right and fuel correctly. The riders are people, too, they have minds and they have emotions, so there's a lot to take into consideration when cooking for a bunch of guys who are pushed to the max at all times. The visual part is very important. The comfort food part, of course, towards the end of the race. When they go halfway through the tour they start to lose their appetites, and you've got to keep them eating. It's about making it interesting. The variation is super important.
Jay Astudillo of Amazon Studios
Nine bike riders, which the team consists of, eat like 30 people. It's more than you think. We shop as we go, depending on the length of the stages or the intensity of the stages. But when I started, I was very shocked to see how much they ate. On a quiet day, they eat 5,000 to 7,000 calories. If you walk up with a dinner in a regular portion for a normal human being, you're going to be in the shit.
It's kind of like having nine kids from different countries. They all have different tastes and likes due to where they're from, what they're used to, where they train. I try to accommodate everyone as much as I can with different servings. But it's kind of like when your mom cooks for you and your siblings—it can't be your favorite dish every day.
I'm strangely obsessed with heat-resistant rubber spatulas. I love them! I cook eggs with them. I do everything with them. I always have two or three with me. I use them for omelets, and I've developed a very special technique. I remember as a chef apprentice years ago thinking, "This is weird. Why would I use that?" I didn't really get it. But now it's all about heat-resistant rubber spatulas.
There's no quick fix into a healthier life. You won't change your body or your mind in two or three days. If it takes a long time for someone to gain weight, it's probably also going to take a long time to get rid of it. The main thing is to change small things at a time. Don't go extreme. Assess your diet. If you have a sugar addiction, that's the one you should deal with first. And then think about how you combine your meals to extend the amount of energy you get. You want what you eat to last for as long as possible. Endurance athletes are very similar to the normal person—it's just an extreme version.
Breakfast is also super important. With the riders, it's three hours before they get on the bike. Once they're on the bike, they have to eat something every half hour to be proactive to not lose the energy. And then the recovery is super important. You can scale that down to a regular human being. Be proactive about fueling yourself for the right things. Think ahead and plan ahead, always. In the morning try oats and skip refined cereals. Add a bit of protein to all meals. Eggs, Greek yogurt, nuts. And eat until you'll not hungry, not until you're full. There's a very big difference. Eventually you'll learn to listen to your body's signals.
From: Esquire US