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Pro Cyclist Mark Cavendish’s Diet Rules

Cycling’s fastest sprinter’s approach to nutrition is more everyday athlete than superhuman speed demon.

British cyclist Mark Cavendish stormed the cycling scene at age 22 when he won a prestigious European race called the Grote Scheldeprijs. The former track cyclist, known for explosive sprints, was quickly picked up by the British National team and began competing for the coveted yellow jersey in the Tour de France in 2007. 

After a slow build of impressive finishes, but no wins, Cavendish began dominating, winning the final Tour de France stage four times in a row—as of this writing, he holds a total of 25 stage wins. 

Now, on the heels of a ridiculously busy summer race schedule—the Tour of Switzerland and British Championships in June and the 2015 Tour de France in July—Cavendish is in full-on training mode and focused on eating right. Fueling up for endurance sports is a tricky science, but, as Cavendish himself says, you can’t let diet consume you.

We caught up with the “Manx Missile” to get his advice on how to eat smart during training without being a slave to nutrition labels.

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1. Don’t follow the crowd

“A lot of riders like eating oatmeal for breakfast, but that’s not something that works for me. But rice does, so I’ll have an omelet and rice for breakfast in the morning—it’s such a simple carb to digest, and it has a lot of fluid. I also don’t drink much dairy—a lot of riders say drinking milk before riding increases phlegm in their chest. Instead, I’ll take an alternative, like almond milk or sometimes soy milk.”

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2. Snack Your Way to Recovery

Never go completely synthetic—your body needs real food. Instead of concocting recovery shakes all the time, choose a snack that’s packed with good stuff. I’ve always loved pistachios, which have a lot of protein—more than 12 grams in a typical 50g serving—and tons of vitamins and minerals, like potassium, so I eat them between race stages. I even had my nutritionist create an energy bar with them. Now practically the whole cycling world eats it.”

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3. Learn to Eat Just Enough

“One mistake athletes make when they’re training is eating too much. They think carbo-loading is the way to go, but you don’t need to overeat to do that. For instance, they say Tour de France riders burn 8,000 calories a day. I don’t think that’s right. If a normal person did a Tour stage, they might burn 8,000, but our bodies become so efficient, I think we burn about half that. It’s worth fine-tuning your diet to account for that.”

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4. Avoid Trans Fats

“The one thing I stay completely away from are trans fats, or hydrogenated fats—and now, with the new federal ban that phases out trans fats over the next three years, that should be even easier. The body can’t take them—it can’t break them down. Fat’s important to the body for recovery, but some fats increase stress and some decrease it. Good fats are what you want.”

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5. Know When to Relax

“I believe athletes who say they’re absolutely, biblically strict about their diet are either lying or sick in the head—you’ve got to have some fun. You’re not really living if you’re weighing every bit of rice on your plate. Especially when I’m not competing, I’ll relax with the odd bar of chocolate or glass of wine. I also like a dessert now and then, though I tend to go for a plate of fruit.”

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