02 October 2016

If The Milk Is Free...

Just over a week ago, I wrote about Pop Tarts and other seemingly-improbable energy sources for cyclists.

I also confessed that I fueled myself through France on jambon beurre sandwiches. Turns out, I was closer to eating a diet of champions than some might expect:  In 1972, when Eddy Mercx set a new hour record (which would stand for 12 years) in Mexico, he started his day with a breakfast of toast, ham and cheese he brought from Belgium.

Today, many hard-core cyclists--racers in particular--would disdain such a diet.  Many are vegans or vegetarians; others eschew certain categories of foods they believe are harmful.  Dairy products gather particular scorn from such riders.

But, as Mercx's "breakfast of champions" shows us, dairy products were considered a perfectly acceptable part of a training regimen.  In fact, not so long ago, most athletes and trainers believed that milk was beneficial for, even vital to, cycling.

Cyclists weren't the only ones who shared the faith, if you will.  When I was growing up, our science textbooks told us that milk was the "perfect food".  Athletes were even recruited to promote milk:

Joyce Barry, in an ad for the Australian Milk Board, September 1939

In the 1930s and 1940s, Joyce Barry did a number of record-setting rides in her native Australia.  Now, while the image of Ms. Barry might have made milk seem like a good training beverage , her story is an even better testimony to the health benefits of cycling.

In her early teens, an attack of pneumonia left her with weak lungs.  To build them, and the rest of her body, up her doctor recommended cycling.  

Three years after taking up cycling, she found a mentor. Hubert Opperman--"Oppie"--was himself a record-setting cyclist who found fame in England and France.  

In case you were wondering what he ate:

Hubert Opperman enjoying, er, his training food, 1936

"The health food of a nation" indeed.  I wonder what he (and Ms. Barry) were paid. 


  1. For many years the Tour OF Britain road race was called the Milk Race...

  2. I searched the internet thingy and found this in a second...


  3. Well, I'm a vegetarian, but I can't say that I'm hard-core, or a racer, at all. I do know that if I'm feeling peckish after a particularly aggressive or long ride I enjoy a big chocolate milk (full fat if I can get it).
    Ice cream isn't a half-bad after-ride snack, either, come to think of it.


  4. Coline--Yes, I remember that about the ToB. Interesting...

    Wolf--I've seen plenty of cyclists drink chocolate milk, usually post-ride. And I'll admit to having an apres-Audax ice cream, too!