The subject of nutrition and what athletes eat is one that has seen shift in consideration over recent years. With the evolution of sports science and a better knowledge base, the role of team chef for many cycling teams has become crucial.
This has led Kevin Daems and the Kookeiland team that run Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s mobile kitchen to become familiar sights at the team hotels during races, especially stage races where diet places a huge part in our riders’ recovery, helping to keep them racing hard day after day. Kookeiland are a catering company that specialise in working with sports teams and athletes to meet their nutrition needs and have partnered Deceuninck – Quick-Step for a number of years now.
Kevin’s love of sport and a passion for food led to him training in the art of food preparation for athletes, as after playing football for many years he saw how seriously nutrition was being taken: “There has been a shift in the way that we think. People used to believe that sports nutrition was just energy bars and protein shakes, but now we are really thinking about what we put on our plates at dinner time.”
“In a normal day at a stage race I would get up at 6:30 am and start preparing breakfast for the riders. This year we have started to work with the team on preparing recovery meals for the riders too, meaning that they can begin their recovery as soon as they arrive back at the bus. I also make a special lunch for our VIPs if we have guests with us. After breakfast we clear the kitchen thoroughly, with hygiene being vital in that kind of environment”, says Kevin.
“We are lucky that the team work closely with the supermarket Lidl that have stores across Europe and we can always find one on route to our next hotel, where we will pick up all of the fruit, vegetables and fresh produce that we need. At the next hotel we will introduce ourselves to the kitchen staff and work out a plan to make sure everything runs smoothly, before starting our preparation for that evening. When we are shopping, we are looking for fresh fruit and vegetables. Most of the meat and fish that we use we buy fresh before we leave Belgium and freeze it in the kitchen, as we want it to be consistent with what we have available.”
“I look at the stage ahead and I work with the team’s nutritionist on the types of food and quantities that we serve. If it is a flat stage, we would make something different to a mountain stage. The process is always evolving with the team looking to vary it from rider to rider and tailoring the mean and nutrients to meet their individual needs. It makes sense – if you look at Enric Mas and Tim Declercq, their bodies and also the way that they ride are very different and they will have different needs.”
“One of the biggest challenges that I face is making what most people think of as quite boring foods more interesting. I always try to experiment with flavours, but what I think is really important is to make it look good. Part of the appeal of a meal comes with the eyes and by using colours and presenting its well, you can make most meals more appealing”, Kevin concluded.
Photo credit: ©Sigfrid Eggers