Breakfast of champions: what our sporting heroes eat

As Great British Menu goes Olympic, Duncan Goodhew, Dai Greene, Geraint Thomas and more talk fuel vs fancy food...

Duncan Goodhew – Olympic gold-medallist swimmer

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What do you have for breakfast?

My favourite indulgence is cooked breakfast. It’s the best meal, with a swim behind you and the rest of the day in front of you. I have porridge cooked with skimmed milk and served with crushed walnuts and a dusting of demerara sugar followed by kippers – lightly grilled, served with a mustard butter and lemon. Or else smoked haddock with poached eggs.

At one time all I did was swim, eat and sleep. When I was at university in America I’d have the full breakfast — eggs then pancakes. I’d have two long sessions in the pool every day and a session in the gym. I’d be swimming anywhere from 10 to 20 kilometres a day. Then I needed fuel and I ate enormous meals. I’d finish with a late supper – a 22-inch pizza and a beer before bedtime.

Has your attitude changed?

If you want to get your best performance in anything you have to fuel yourself and you have to exercise. I’m no monk; I love food. But as you get older you have to make adjustments. For me, that means moving away from sugars towards more complex carbohydrates, so fewer desserts and more porridge.

What sort of food did you grow up with?

My family owned and ran hotels as well as nightclubs and restaurants. It was all silver service when I was growing up in the 1970s. The perfect menu featured prawn cocktail with melba toast, steak and chips and Black Forest gateau.

Where would you go for a celebration meal?

Koffmann’s at the Berkeley Hotel. My brother trained with Michel Roux at the Waterside and then fronted La Tante Claire for Pierre Koffmann.

Pierre has the most exquisite twist on a spaghetti bolognese — instead of spaghetti he cuts squid to look like spaghetti and his bolognese is like no other. He is the master! His signature pig’s trotter is absolutely superb. Another dish is curried mussels with mashed potato and I’ve yet to wheedle out of him the secret ingredient. There’s something in there that gives you little explosions of flavour. I just can’t work out what they are.

What have you cut out of your diet?

I love cheese, but I limit how much I eat since it’s very high in fat. Yes, I exercise but I would like to live to 100 and still be able to do up my own shoelaces. To have any chance of doing that, I have to make better decisions. One of my favourite dishes is Sussex pond pudding. It’s a whole lemon cooked in a suet pudding so it marmalades and then the pudding is thumped on the top to make a little pond that is filled with cream. You cannot imagine the combination of flavours. Just thinking about it furs up my heart. I haven’t had it for years.

What would you choose for your final meal?

I’d start with mussels and Beluga caviar. It’s a major extravagance, but if this is my last meal, I’ll allow myself. I’d move on to beef wellington, with the finest, aged beef. I love Sunday lunch but beef wellington takes Sunday lunch on to the next level. All this nostalgia makes me think I’d have a proper sherry trifle for dessert. I’m also very partial to the classic violet and rose creams.

Dai Green – world champion at 400m hurdles

What do you have for breakfast?

I have a healthy breakfast because my big training session is in the morning. So, I’ll have toast with peanut butter or muesli with fruit and a cup of tea. I then head to the track or the gym for a 9:30am start. I do four days of running two days of weights, snacking throughout the session on fruit and carb gels to keep me going. As soon as my session’s over, at about 1:30pm, I’ll have a protein shake, then I’m ready for a big lunch.

How many meals do you have on an average day?

Breakfast, pasta for lunch, then I’ll have another meal about four hours later, and probably half a meal and a snack in the evening. But that’s in the winter months when I’m doing a higher amount of training and I need a lot of calories to keep going. I run at about 77.5kg, sometimes a little below or above, but not over 78kg. And my skin cell readings — which check how much body fat you are carrying — well, at my best I do 6 per cent and at worst 7 per cent.

What’s your favourite food?

I love food so it is hard to choose, but I do like a carbonara. I’ll often have it for lunch and dinner. I normally have some in the fridge — I eat so much it’s nice to have it on demand.

How do you treat yourself after a race?

I might have a dessert with my evening meal. I prefer a chocolate cake. I can’t have too many of them though as I have diabetes.

What would you choose for your final meal?

My mum’s chilli con carne with rice and chips, which she then puts into a Yorkshire pudding! It’s amazing but Yorkshire pud isn’t the best for you, so I try to stay away from them apart from special occasions.

Geraint Thomas – track cycling world champion

What do you have for breakfast?

Some fruit or yoghurt. If it’s a big day some slow-release energy like porridge or muesli. But generally it’s quite light as you don’t want to
feel heavy in the saddle. We normally go out at 9:30am and don’t get back till 3:30pm, when again I’ll have something light – a salad, tuna. Dinner is my biggest meal and I snack quite a bit on the bike.

What do you snack on?

Energy bars and gels for immediate energy. We also have little sandwiches or cakes in our jerseys that are specially designed to store food. I like a jam, or ham and Philadelphia sandwich and they make us these rice cakes that are a bit like rice pudding but solid.

Who prepares these?

We have carers who give us a massage at the end of the day and a chef who bakes his own bread in the morning and makes us porridge and omelettes.

Do you have an indulgent treat?

Tesco’s Finest Cookies — the chocolate chip ones, not the double chocolate chip ones.

What’s your perfect riding weight?

I rode the Tour de France at 69kg but on the track you can be three kilos heavier as you do a lot of standing and starting.

Your perfect last meal?

No contest. My mum’s roast lamb with loads of mint sauce.

Steve Backley – triple Olympic medallist, javelin

How has your diet changed since you retired?

Pretty drastically. When I started competing I was 100kg and when I retired I was 102kg. I stopped competing but my body didn’t seem to realise, so my appetite remained the same. I was eating about five times a day — a big bowl of porridge or muesli with a protein drink for breakfast, nuts, shakes and sandwiches during the day, a hefty lunch and a big dinner — more than twice as much as I eat now!

How many meals do you have now?

Sometimes one, normally two, rarely three, but I do crave food a lot. I’ve tried to cut the carbohydrates out — I have totally bought into the Atkins principle. Back then my diet was very carb heavy because I needed the energy. I reckon I would have been a leaner, better athlete if I had discovered that sooner.

How important was diet when you competed?

I never bought into nutrition being important in my preparation for competitions. As a student at Loughborough University, I lived in halls of residence in my first year and ate hall food. It was mass produced — lots of fried stuff — and yet I went from being ranked 50th in the world to number one. I never cared about my diet. But looking back, I was always tired as an athlete and that is possibly why.

Do you have an indulgent treat?

You can’t beat a bar of Dairy Milk.

Dan Greaves – Paralympic gold medallist at discus

How many meals do you eat on an average day?

Three solid meals a day, plus protein shakes and energy drinks. Breakfast is porridge with one per cent fat milk with 50mg of Maximuscle Cyclone, whey protein powder with a coffee and fruit. Lunch is a high-protein spinach salad, mainly chicken or turkey, with sweet potato. On hard training days, I’ll have pasta to give me additional energy. Dinner is a Sunday dinner-ish meal. Plenty of meat and veg.

Do you see food as fuel or as an indulgence?

Definitely as fuel. I think of my body as a sports car. If it needs high-octane premium fuel, I can’t be eating fast food and takeaways all the time.

What food can’t you resist?

I’m a massive fan of Mexican food, so I love fajitas and nachos. And my grandparents used to make Stilton on a farm, so I’ve definitely been brought up with a love of strong cheese.

What’s your favourite meal?

Sunday roast with all the trimmings. My dad was a chef for more than 30 years and it reminds me of his Christmas dinner.

Do you weigh yourself?

Every day. I monitor my weight and food input and my resting heart rate and blood oxygen level. I need to maintain weight but also my scales work out my body fat percentage. It’s vital for performance.

Is there any food that you miss?

Chocolate. I’ve given it up for Lent and it’s killing me!

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The new series of Great British Menu starts on Monday 9 April at 7:30pm on BBC2