‘An army marches on their stomachs and cyclists ride on theirs.’ So said Napoleon(-ish). With professional cyclists burning up to 8,000 calories a day and recreational riders firing through a still-huge 3,000 calories over a long Sunday morning ride, it’s clear that what you eat matters. Throw in the fact that weight clearly matters, too, especially on hills and mountains, plus how important fuelling is to recovering strong for the next session, and you can see why we’ve tapped up EF Education-EasyPost team chef (and top amateur cyclist) Owen Blandy at his Somerset abode to serve up his culinary masterclass…
IMPORTANCE OF INGREDIENTS
"Source the best ingredients you can and enjoy searching for them. Speak to local producers – the butcher, the baker – and engage with them. I’ll do that when I shop for the team. I’ll speak with the fishmonger, even in the supermarket, and say what I’m after, whether that’s something lean or something high protein. They’ll be receptive as they’re probably not asked much.
And yes, it’ll cost a little more but I guess that’s weighed up against the societal cost. And it’s clearly the most important thing you put into your body and gives you the energy to do these activities. If you’re passionate about food, why not?"
"Invest in good-quality saucepans and frying pan; don’t fall for these deals of three pans for £20. Just buy a nice big saucepan, a small one and a good-quality frying pan. Look for pans that have a thick bottom of a centimetre at least. It’ll mean the heat will transmit slowly. If you have a thin bottom, the heat will go straight through it so it’ll heat up quickly but will just burn the bottom. Something that holds the heat better will enable you to cook things slower and more controlled. I feel that a good part of what makes a good home cook is heat control.
Stainless-steel pans are really good. Copper pans are good, too. You’ll see those in high-end kitchens but you don’t really need them for home as they’re expensive. Cast iron’s good. It retains the heat well but doesn’t transmit it too fast, and some say it also holds the flavour better."
THE PERFECT OMELETTE
"I cook omelettes for the riders every morning over an induction hob that I’ll take into the hotel’s dining room. So tips? For the team I use spray oil. Olive or sunflower or avocado. It disperses oil around the pan rather than a glug in the middle. Then whip the eggs – the riders will have two or three – until fluffy, which takes a couple of minutes. I saw someone on YouTube do it in a blender and it was almost like a souffle. It had that much air in it. But a fork is fine.
Keep the pan at six out of 10 heat and take off when it’s cooking too much. Once you see a skin of egg, you can roll it around the pan from one side to the other and just keep cooking slowly. When it’s cooked, ideally it should be pure yellow with no browning; it should be like a pillow on the outside and a scrambled-egg finish on the inside but some like it cooked more.
If adding a filling, don’t go overboard. A tablespoon of grated cheese and half a slice of ham is fine. Any more and you might split the egg."Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
TIMING IS KEY
"Don’t feel you’ve got to take everything out of the oven for dinner at 7.30. You can half cook many things: vegetables, rice… You can even half-cook pasta and keep it in the pasta water. Then, when you need it, bring it up to boil or throw it in a saucepan. You should be in control of your cooking. Own it and use the oven to keep food warm. That’s what they do in restaurants."
"Smoothies are a big hit with the team. They’re packed with antioxidants and calories. Say you’re riding a 100-mile sportive. A couple of hours before, you could have an easy smoothie with oats, banana, peanut butter, milk and Greek yoghurt for extra protein. Blend it up and drink it. It’ll digest quicker as in liquid form and, as you’re nervous, that might be a good thing.
For the team I’ll also use bananas, watermelon and berries. These can be frozen. That applies to peas for omelettes and fried rice, too. The smaller something is, the quicker it’ll freeze, so frozen peas can often be fresher than fresh peas as the nutrients are locked in. I don’t have a freezer on the food truck but maybe next year."
"We’ll have plenty of ginger and turmeric. They’re both anti-inflammatories. That said, to really benefit, you have to take in pill form as there is no way you can eat the amount of ginger or turmeric needed to enjoy the benefits.
It’s the same with beetroot. It’s a great vegetable, very tasty, and is good for the riders as it is quite low fibre and high in sugar. Pre-packed is really good, too, and I’ll use that on salads. Again, though, if you’re looking for nitrate and nitrate-oxide delivery, you’d need to eat kilos of it, so buy the shots as well."
"When I started cycling, I’d do these sportives and eat far too much at the feed stations because I hadn’t eaten enough on the bike. So, little and often is best. Oat bars and flapjacks are good as they release carbs slowly. And rice cakes. You don’t need a rice cooker but a good saucepan helps. You want to cook it to a risotto texture and then let it solidify overnight. Sweets like gummy bears and Haribos are also good as they’re almost all sugar, and often a mix of glucose and fructose.
For a multi-day event, definitely consume protein in the day. You don’t need protein on the bike for a single, long Sunday ride."
"The riders will always have a post-ride recovery shake. A couple scoops of protein and some milk, water or plant milk. In fact, dairy milk on its own is a good option because there’s a natural balance between protein and carbs. For protein, it’s about 1g per kg of bodyweight but that’s without exercise. So most riders are looking at around 100g protein a day."
BENEFITS OF FISH
"Eat fish. And lots of it. Salmon is good. Not too bony. It doesn’t have as much protein as tuna or cod, but it’s still a good protein source and has good omega oils. I’ll often cook salmon, and with the team I’ll usually rotate meat (chicken), fish, meat, fish… I’ll cook it in the oven on a bed of vegetables like courgettes, peppers and onions. Throw in some garlic, lemon and herbs, and it’s really nice.
As for other fish, I like cooking cod. It’s a clean flavour, plus the bones are quite big so easy to pick out. You can ask a fishmonger to remove the bones for you, though. And the skin as cod skin doesn’t crisp up, so remains soggy and flappy. It doesn’t have oil like salmon skin.
Tuna’s a great protein sauce but don’t overcook it as it’ll be like cardboard. Swordfish is the same. And go for mackerel as it’s good for bones and skin."
OPTIMISE YOUR TINS
"Tinning is a great preservation method and I often use tinned tomatoes. Ideally buy really good-quality ones. This comes back to buying the best you can. It doesn’t mean you need to buy the best-quality beef and ruin your budget for a month. A good-quality tin of tomatoes, preferably from Italy, will use much better tomatoes and is a much nicer flavour. And for a little more expenditure. It’s the same with flour. When I teach people to bake sourdough, it’s hardly anything more for organic flour, so it still works out at 70p per loaf.
I use tinned tuna, too, though it’s a little dry and bland on its own but nice to put in a recovery meal with tomato sauce or sweetcorn. Which ones to buy? Stay away from sunflower oil. Olive oil, brine and spring water are fine. And good quality. There’s much more of a tinned-fish culture in Spain, Italy and Portugal. Tinned octopus, tinned scallops…you’ll have aisles of the stuff. In England it’s almost frowned upon.
Also, chickpeas and legumes are good tinned as cooking from dry can take a lot of time. you have to soak them and they take a while to cook. I don’t use beans that often because of the fibre content but will occasionally whizz a tin of chickpeas to make hummus."