Nigel Mitchell reveals Team Sky's nutrition tricks

Protein, pineapple & agave nectar are tools of the trade for Team Sky & British Cycling's head of nutrition

by John Stevenson   July 16, 2013  

Team Sky chef Soren Kristiansen (copyright Scott Mitchell for Team Sky)

Nigel Mitchell, head of nutrition a Team Sky and British Cycling, will be doing talks on nutrition this weekend. The first session starts at 11am Saturday July 20 at Sigma Sport in Kingston upon Thames, followed by an afternoon talk at 2.30pm

New cycling nutrition kid on the block OTE Sports will also be there, providing samples of their fruit-flavoured gels and drinks.

Mitchell’s tips

Mitchell recently spoke to The Guardian’s cycling reporter Will Fotheringham and revealed some of the techniques he uses to help prepare Team Sky riders for the demands of the Tour de France.

Professional cyclists obsess about their weight, because success in a mountainous event like the Tour is heavily influenced by the rider’s power-to-weight ratio. You get power by training, and you get your weight down by watching everything you eat. Or, if you’re a top British Cycling athlete or a Team Sky rider, by having Mitchell do so for you.

He’s “responsible for whatever goes into the riders’ mouths,” Mtchell told The Guadian.

MItchell said he prefers to teach riders how to plan their meals and cook them, but in extreme cases, he steps in personally. “We had to get Ed Clancy to put on muscle for the London Olympics, for the team pursuit starts. He’s not a domestic god, so I was putting meals in his freezer.”

For Team Sky at the Tour, Mitchell concentrated on helping the riders lose weight without losing fitness.

“Power to weight ratio matters on the road, so you need to get the guys as lean as you can and keep them as functional as you can.”

Riders who switch from track cycling to road racing will lose weight naturally as their bodies shed unnecessary upper body muscle. “The body protects the muscles you are using – that means the thighs, calves and glutes for road cycling – hence they lose a lot of upper body weight,” said Mitchell.

And at this time, the traditional image of pro cyclists consuming mountains of carbohydrate-laden fuel takes a back seat.

“We really focus on protein and its quality,” said Mitchell. “That means omelette as well as porridge for breakfast. We push salads and fruit because of their vitamin content. We encourage certain snacks such as shakes and yoghurts in the afternoon and before bed to keep their protein levels up.

“When they are losing weight you want to cut their energy intake but make sure the quality of protein is still there, so they get leaner but still get fitter.”

But on the bike, it’s carbs all the way. “You have to make sure they keep getting the fuel in when they train – so on the bike they will take in 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate an hour.”

Fish oil, agave nectar and vegetable juice

No, that’s not the most disgusting alcohol-free cocktail ever, but three key foods Mitchell recommends.

British Cycling riders take two grams of high quality fish oil every day, an idea Mitchell brought along from his previous work in the NHS. “ I was in cancer care, and we used it to help patients keep muscle tone,” he said.

The secret is  a fatty acid  called icosapentaenoic acid that lowers inflammation, reduces muscle breakdown when the muscles are stressed through exercise and improves protein synthesis.

The agave nectar is team Sky’s sugar substitute. Where table sugar is 100 percent sucrose, agave nectar consists of fructose and glucose. It’s sweeter than regular sugar. “It’s a way of reducing non-nutrient energy – you can use half a teaspoon where you would use two of sugar,” said Mitchell.

Finally, fruit and vegetable juices play a major part in both hydration and nutrition for the team.

Mitchell uses dilute fuit juices, particularly pineapple, to help encourage riders to drink. “That way, they’re not just using pure water. You see the guys with the bottles of pale, coloured liquid. It’s usually pineapple juice.”

The team’s chef makes up a different vegetable juice every day. “Carrot, ginger and so on,” said Mitchell. “That pushes the riders’ fluid intake but also the nutrients without putting bulk in their stomachs.”

11 user comments

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Quote:
The agave nectar is team Sky’s sugar substitute. Where table sugar is 10 percent sucrose, agave nectar consists of fructose and glucose. It’s sweeter that regular sugar. “It’s a way of reducing non-nutrient energy – you can use half a teaspoon where you would use two of sugar,” said Mitchell.

Eh? Table sugar is 100% sucrose, which itself is a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule, and is metabolised as such.

Agave nectar is predominantly fructose. Sweeter than table sugar but not four times as sweet, which he seems to suggest.

If he wants to reduce non-nutrient energy my advice would be to cut out simple added sugar altogether and stick to a reasonable amount of fruit.

posted by Rockplough [9 posts]
16th July 2013 - 17:12

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archsam wrote:
Good advice generally, but I'm confused on the conflicting view on agave nectar, for example:

http://www.foodrenegade.com/agave-nectar-good-or-bad/

The article is correct in that agave nectar is no healthier than table sugar. Less 'spiky' (lower GI) but no healthier. In fact the fructose content will do more to make you fat and diabetic than table sugar.

posted by Rockplough [9 posts]
16th July 2013 - 17:20

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Good advice generally, but I'm confused by the conflicting view on agave nectar, for example:

http://www.foodrenegade.com/agave-nectar-good-or-bad/

posted by archsam [5 posts]
16th July 2013 - 17:27

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Rockplough - typo, one zero too few. Now fixed.

John Stevenson's picture

posted by John Stevenson [827 posts]
16th July 2013 - 18:17

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"British Cycling riders take two gras of high quality fish oil every day,"

Is that grams? I'm interested rather than being pedantic.

posted by Charles_Hunter [52 posts]
16th July 2013 - 22:45

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Fructose bypasses the initial metabolic steps glucose goes through, so its metabolism is less readily regulated in the body. Hence high fructose corn syrup being a bad thing.

Agave nectar, on the other hand, is really expensive, so it must be good for you.

PJ McNally's picture

posted by PJ McNally [560 posts]
16th July 2013 - 23:06

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Charles_Hunter wrote:
"British Cycling riders take two gras of high quality fish oil every day,"

Is that grams? I'm interested rather than being pedantic.

I think it is grams, although that sounds like quite a high dose.

posted by Ultraman [6 posts]
17th July 2013 - 8:38

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2000 mg day.

mingmong's picture

posted by mingmong [177 posts]
17th July 2013 - 9:05

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Lance eats Leeks and beans every day ! Cool
Glad I'm not on the SKY starvation diet !

"Leeks" is fast and aero position with no strain on the pedals, just fluid movement. "Beans" is a comfortable climbing effort- not going into to the red, instead a slow, comfortable pace- all designed to keep the joints in use, without adding to any strain or injury already incurred.

Keep on gettin'on.
Lance

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posted by Lance Bumstrong [20 posts]
17th July 2013 - 9:18

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Play 'spot the cyclist' game at the grocery store! Look for the pineapples. No points if person is in lycra.

posted by TeamCC [146 posts]
17th July 2013 - 13:24

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Chef!

Now please tell me why the food sold in British supermarkets lacks nutrition and is prohibitively expensive?

Agave Nectar, Pinapples, Pumpkins, Watermelons, Onions, Green Beans, Peppers, Vegs. Seems Elite to me. I would be more impressed if the team rode on Tescos!

posted by dogcc [70 posts]
19th July 2013 - 19:40

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