“I have a lot of candy in the kitchen … but mainly for my friends!” the dedication of Jeffrey Herlings
One of the strongest and fastest motocrossers on the world stage lifts the lid on what contributes to that fierce power on the racetrack.
Last year the KTM BLOG asked MXGP World Champion Tony Cairoli to talk about his diet and how the then-31 year old was seemingly slowing the effects of time to set the pace at the front of the most physically demanding motorsport. The Italian (and Carbonara lover) is a renowned fan of the Mediterranean/Italian diet and has worn the butt patch #gofastaeatpasta frequently in the last few Grand Prix seasons.
Motocross athletes burn an incredible amount of energy both through their constant training and a grand prix weekend with two thirty-five minute motos at full-gas to consider. Over the past two decades nutrition has become more prevalent and vital to maintain optimum physical performance. While Cairoli is quite open and simplistic about his dietary considerations his chief rival for the 2018 crown (the pair are tied on Grand Prix moto wins, second positions and points after three rounds) Red Bull KTM teammate Jeffrey Herlings is a little more mysterious.
At 23 years of age and with 69 GP triumphs and 3 world titles the Dutchman is one of the authentic powerhouses of 21st century motocross. He is pushing to dethrone Cairoli while keeping the main prize in Austrian hands. The story of Herlings’ season so far has involved some stirring comeback charges to pass and demote Cairoli; exciting wins in Argentina and the Netherlands proving to be some of his best and most watchable. Since making his GP debut as a skinny fifteen year old in 2010 #84 has become renowned for his strength and conditioning, so in the interest of revealing insight we pushed for some more details on the normally secretive factory racer’s work.
Fittingly for us – perhaps not so for Jeffrey – the subject comes up while we chat at the Red Bull Hospitality rig at the Grand Prix of the Comunitat Valenciana and he has just received a plate of white rice and grilled chicken breast. Our line of questioning disrupts his intake but Herlings willfully explains some of his routine.
“I’d say I’m on a ‘working’ breakfast from January until September,” he smiles. “In the mornings I’m usually eating porridge with fruit. During the day I used to eat three square meals and pretty big portions but I’ve moved to eating more frequently but not so much; I find that if my stomach stays calmer then I feel better for work.”
As one of the taller riders in MXGP Herlings is aware his bulk and weight are issues that could count against him. This factor was more pronounced in his MX2 ‘rout’ from 2010-2016. The KTM 450 SX-F and the rigors of the MXGP allow more flexibility but he is still mindful.
“I’d prefer to eat more variety of food but I know when I go into the gate that some guys are just 70 kg and I’m way-more,” he reasons. “If I don’t look at my food and almost every single thing I put in my mouth then I know I’m at a disadvantage. I know I have the best bike and I know I have to be as light as possible but without losing any strength. I need to always find the balance.”
Herlings’ work rate on and off the bike (he apparently is a prolific rider during the week) and reluctance to use a single coach or trainer means he has had to self-educate himself on many aspects of his physical program and his nutrition in-take. The former world champion is a classic ‘magpie’ athlete: picking pieces of information and advice from others to adapt and use to his own requirements. A visit to talk and briefly train with famed specialist Aldon Baker while visiting the U.S. last summer is a case in point.
“I do get scientific about it … but maybe not as much as some trainers would do,” he says. “I’m looking at the ingredients and contents of food, watching out for sugars and calories. I just eat as much as possible – and I’m always hungry! – but as healthy as possible so I don’t have to worry too much about how it is affecting me. Google helped me a lot! I’d say that even two years ago I wasn’t watching my diet too much. I’d eat carefully but whatever I wanted. Now, and since I visited Aldon last year, I’ve been looking into it much more and have gone through a few books. Just looking what food contains and what I can take out of it. I know quite a lot about it now.”
He smiles when we ask what ‘illegal’ food calls and teases him from the fridge at night. “I have a lot of candy in the kitchen … but they are mainly for my friends! It can be hard. I see them sitting on my couch, drinking coke and they’ll be eating crisps or ordering a pizza. I’m just watching or I’m having a zero percent, sugar-free, zero fat milkshake and I’m still hungry after! You think ‘oh, well … I’m putting all this in to win on the Sunday’.”
Getting organized in the kitchen can be a time-consuming activity. Jeffrey is lucky to count on the support of his mum in this instance. “I can cook … and I do the easy stuff … but my Mum does it also! Especially if I’ve had a long day of training. She lives just five minutes from me so I’ll call and ask if she can prepare something for me and be specific and around I go.”
We remind him of his first years in Grand Prix where the ‘wild child’ and pressurized days of growing up in the public spotlight and not always adhering to the professional ways of the sport prompted some strange behavior. He almost winces when we recall former teammate Jeremy Van Horebeek’s fond anecdote of seeing Herlings walking around the paddock eating French Fries (but still being able to do the job on the track). “I did that!” he laughs now. “And when I was sixteen-seventeen I was the same height I am now and with the same weight … and that was through eating all the bad food! [All the effort now] must be something to do with age and trying to avoid the fat.”
The chicken and rice are slowly disappearing; the food looks good and – as ever in the Red Bull Hospitality – is customized for the MXGP athlete’s requests but it does make us wonder how JH would blow his diet out of the water after a championship win. “I would go straight to the Frituur!” he claims. ”A big fat portion of fries, ketchup, onions and all those fried sides.”
With the way Herlings is tackling 2018 then some of those famous Dutch eateries had better watch out.
Photos: Ray Archer | Simon Cudby