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1,500 Calories a Day – Could You Eat Like a Professional Jockey?

If you, like many others do, sit down to watch the Grand National on TV, just take a moment to think about the diet and nutritional sacrifices that the jockeys involved have had to make just to get into the saddle.

Leading the way in many of this year’s Grand National free tips is the bookmakers’ favourite, Snow Leopardess, an 8/1 chance looking to become the first mare to win the famous race in more than 70 years. 

And her regular jockey, Brian Hughes, once revealed in an interview that he only eats “when I need to” in order to retain his riding weight of around 10st.

His is a tale not unlike many others in horse racing, with flat jockey Nicola Currie once revealing that there are days when she doesn’t eat anything at all in order to make weight.

Once upon a time, the jockeys’ weighing room would have a sauna in it – enabling riders to shift a pound or two to ensure they meet their obligated weight for any given ride. But the pandemic has brought an end to that practice, and now the jockeys have to find alternative ways to remain ‘in shape’.

Unlike sports like boxing, MMA and gymnastics, where the physiological commitment of those involved is clear to see, jockeys are putting enormous strain on their bodies but without the tangible reward of bulging biceps or rippling abs.

The recommended daily calorie intake for a male jockey is 1,500 calories, so would you have what it takes to make it in horse racing? Here’s a sample menu that riders adhere to day in, day out in order to keep the weight off.

Breakfast

The former flat racing champion jockey Jim Crowley relies on a breakfast of scrambled eggs and ham washed down with a cup of green tea, which he describes as “the best thing for you to get the metabolism going”. 

Others swear by a bowl of porridge with some kind of protein-rich accompaniment, but the key is to keep the weight off – on race day, many jockeys can be on the scales as early as midday. 

Lunch

With the key horse racing meetings taking place during the afternoon, many jockeys stick to a light lunch of salad with meat.

But some, including Crowley and Pat Cosgrave, have admitted to skipping a lunchtime meal altogether. Although the former has admitted to nibbling at a few Jelly Babies to help keep his energy levels up.

Dinner

Once the day’s racing has been concluded, you might think that jockeys can relax a bit – but nothing could be further from the truth.

Many avoid drinking too much water during the day to help avoid retention, and so the evenings are spent rehydrating and tucking into another protein-rich meal – carbs very rarely feature on the menu of a jockey.

And then it’s off to bed and, in all likelihood, up early to travel to the next day’s racing, such is the unforgiving nature of the National Hunt and flat racing schedule in the UK. They very rarely get the credit, but jockeys are making unbelievable sacrifices just to remain in their job.