Top 5 Pro Cycling Nutrition Tips With Sir Chris Hoy
TRAINING TIPS FROM SIR CHRIS HOY
It's been three years since Sir Chris Hoy hung up his cycling cleats. And you'd forgive the eleven-times world champion and six-times Olympic champion for taking it easy. But champions are cut from a different cloth. Since his love affair with the boards ended, Sir Chris has turned his hand to motor racing and has already conquered the notorious Le Mans 24-hours race and the gruelling Circuit de la Sarthe.
He's in great shape, too. At a lean 92kg, Hoy has a physique most men could only dream of. You wouldn't think he's 40.
MH sat down with the British cycling legend — after countless sweaty circuits of London's Lee Valley VeloPark— to pick his brains on training, Le Mans and more.
If there's one person who knows about leg day, it's this guy.
Men's Health: Now that you've retired from cycling, how are you staying in shape?
Chris Hoy:I'm just trying to squeeze in workouts and exercise when I can. [Since retiring] I’m busier than I thought I would have been. I thought I’d have loads of time to do what I want, but I’m still doing all sorts. It's seven days a week, but there’s no normal week like the old days.
MH: What's changed since those days?
CH:I'm writing kid’s books, I'm doing endurance racing with Le Mans and designing bikes. I've also got my own range of cycling clothing. There are lots of different things! In the old days, it was all very structured – all very routine – you knew the structure of every week and knew what was going to happen in 6 month’s time, but now I live off my diary in my phone.
MH: What motivates you to exercise when you're this busy?
CH: I might only have half an hour when I get home after a long day, and the last thing I want to do is exercise. But you feel if you don’t do that, tomorrow you’re going to miss it again. That’s 48 hours of doing nothing. It’s all about training efficiently and effectively. Have a clear plan in your head before you start the session – what do you want to do? What do you want to get from it? Even if it's just reducing the rest time. 60 seconds rest in the gym has a massive effect even outside of it – your heart rate is still going afterwards and your metabolism is elevated for a long time after that. You might just be training for a short while, but you’re burning fat.
(Related: MH's cold weather training tips)
MH: How are you staying mobile, especially with Le Mans training?
CH:I’ll look ahead to the week and look at the windows of opportunity to get out and do something on the bike, or a gym session, or a turbo session. When you do it, do it effectively. Don’t waste time. For Le Mans, you still have to keep fit, it’s endurance. It’s a different type of fitness. You want to actually fit in the car – the seats are ridiculously small. It’s just about having personal goals and feeling good. If I don’t do anything for two or three days in a row, I feel really grumpy. My mood changes.
(Related: How to train for a 24-hour endurance race)
MH: Talk us through your leg day workout.
1. Overhead squats:"They’re a good warm-up exercise as you’re not using a heavy weight, but you’re working through a full range of motion. It's a really good move for your posture. As a side-effect [of cycling], you can get this side-curved back and shoulders. You get shoulder and neck pain, as you spend years hunched over the handlebars. So it’s good for your neck and my physio recommended that. I used to do it a fair bit, but now I do a lot more of it. A good warm-up exercise.
2. Squats: "Go heavy on these, squatting anything between single reps and 10 reps. In terms of hypertrophy training, reducing your recovery does have a benefit. But, it’s also just time efficient."
- Squat down and grasp a barbell with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your chest up, pull your shoulders back and look straight ahead as you lift the bar.
- Focus on taking the weight back onto your heels and keep the bar as close as possible to your body at all times.
- Lift to thigh level, pause, then return under control to the start position.
4. Romanian Deadlifts:"Really focus and engage your glutes and hamstrings and don’t put too much strain in your lower back. Technique is so important here. If you have a sore back at the end of it, you’ll realise you’re being sloppy with your technique. I try and remind myself every time about being really tight and keeping good form."
5. Lunges:"They’re a good unilateral exercise."
6. Calf raises:
- Stand upright with a barbell supported on your upper back.
- With your toes pointing forwards, raise your heels off the floor and contract your calves.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
MH: Pretty gruelling. What can the average guy learn from your routine?
CH: For a leg day session, it’s so important to work through a full range of motion and to keep good form. For me, I could do squats and nothing else. Do your warm-up, get yourself ready and hit them hard. Keep your posture, a solid amount of weight. But, don’t lift more than you can, before you start compromising on form. You’ll see guys stick an extra plate on — just because it makes them feel good — and then you’ll see their back starting to go and they’re not going to full depth. It’s just a recipe for disaster! Good form, keep it nice and tight and slowly work up.
(Related: Leg day mistakes you're definitely making)
MH: Where does the love for the squat come from?
CH:The squat is such a good exercise because you’re using big muscle groups. It’s a full-body exercise, the core stability and the stabilization muscles that are required for that, you’re ticking loads of boxes. They're the king of exercises, especially if you’ve not got much time.
(Related: The reasons your squat isn't working)
MH: When you were competing, what did your diet look like?
CH:Now, protein is much more universal. When I was training with sprinters and power athletes, we’d all have a lot of protein in our diet – a higher percentage of protein in our diets than endurance athletes probably would — but now people are realising its importance. The fear that if you drink a protein shake, you’ll develop muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger is now gone. People are far more aware and properly educated.
MH: How would you get yours?
CH: Protein for me was an important thing. Every couple of hours I’d have some form of protein. Whey isolate was always a good one but, sometimes you want solid food as well. With the shakes, it's all about getting it in at times you need it in quickly. You could have a chicken breast, but it takes so long. So you have the supplements post-training – when you need to digest it quickly – and then you have your meal at night and at lunch between the sessions. Or at breakfast. But it’s just about eating regularly and not letting yourself get hungry. Or, when you’re hungry don’t just eat anything. It’d be high in protein, trying to reduce sugars — simple sugars — trying to stay hydrated. Basic things, really. But it’s amazing how many athletes make basic mistakes even up to the highest level.
(Related: The most common protein shake mistakes)
MH: How so?
CH: You’ll see them sitting around, and you think “why aren’t you drinking your protein shake? You get off the bike, stick the water in, shake it up, get it into you as soon as possible. It’s the same with racing, even in endurance, you’re racing sometimes 14 times a day for five days in a row, so if you want to be at your best on the final day — in an event that somebody may have targeted solely — you have to really maintain that discipline in your diet.
MH: What's changed now?
CH:Alcohol! I wasn’t drinking at all when I was training. I wouldn’t have any for 18 months before the Olympics – complete abstinence. I always thought 'What's the point, if it's not going to help you?' Now, a glass of red wine with a meal is a nice thing to have. It’s having moderation – I think – in your life. You have to enjoy it in moderation and also be aware of little changes in habit. These can set you on the right course or on the wrong course. If you’re always choosing the wrong way, you’re never going to get where you want to be.
MH: How are you finding the change to Le Mans?
CH: Physically, it’s a different challenge. Your physical output isn’t what determines how you finish. You could go out there – to an endurance event – out of shape and unfit, but it’s not necessarily the fittest driver that wins. It’s a part of that overall package as a driver. It’s a different challenge – the fatigue comes from concentration and it’s the strangest thing to explain just how drained you are after a two-and-a-half hour stint... when you’re on the limit and every single breaking point and every apex has to be precise. A split second of being distracted or going off on a thought process and the race is over, or worse, you could die and have a serious crash.
(Related: How to boost endurance like an Olympian)
MH: Does the discipline in your diet still apply?
CH:There’s this huge amount of fatigue when you get out of the car and you’re going back in three hours. You’ve got to get nutrients back in your body, before you even chat to the engineers to discuss and debrief, it won’t happen until you’ve had your bottle to get the fluids back in. In many ways, the discipline in your diet from competing is just the same as it is in cycling. It’s an endurance test.
MH: What about the physical demands?
CH: It’s not the same. For a bike race, it’s a pure physical warm-up, combined with this mental rehearsal and everything else. In the car, it’s about staying very calm. You stretch, keep yourself warm but you need to keep your heart rate nice and low. It’s a different approach to cycling.
MH: Now it's winter, a lot of guys are shirking the gym. How can you motivate them?
CH:It’s about understanding that if you have an end goal, it doesn’t take much to come off that path of where you want to be. One missed session isn’t going to have a massive influence. But, one can link to two, which can link to three, and before you know it, you come in and try to do the session you were planning a week before, and you get injured because you’re lifting a weight you thought you could lift. That’s how bad things happen and you end up getting injured and missing training for two weeks or a month. That’s when it can become a proper issue. Remind yourself why you’re doing it – what’s the goal?
(Related: MH's mood-boosting workout)
MH: Is that what motivates you?
CH: I still do it now, you know. Sometimes, it’s just about manning up and gritting your teeth and going for it.
MH: What's the best training advice that you've ever been given?
CH: Write it down. Without a doubt. Write it down. Have your goal – write it down and having stepping stones. I had that when I was 14, my first proper cycling club I joined, with a guy called Ray Harris. I wrote down that I wanted to be Olympic champion.
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