Joanna Mason's Blog Mick & David Easterby: Racing Syndicates and Racehorse Ownership

Joanna Mason's Blog: Nutrition

Joanna Mason's Blog: Nutrition
Sat 29 Jul 2023|Joanna Mason

Thank you to everyone who read the first blog, and I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing it! Now you all know more about me and how I got into racing, let's get down to the nitty gritty and we'll talk about different aspects of racing.

Several readers mentioned that they were interested in the fitness, diet and general well-being side of being a jockey. I've been giving fitness and diet much consideration lately in order to get back to full fitness and passed to race ride again so it seems a good time to write about it.

So here goes.

There's a lot of stigmatisms to diet with jockeys. The stereotype is that jockeys eat nothing and go to other extremes in order to maintain or to make a weight. But this seems to be changing with the help of the Professional Jockeys' Association's nutrition team and they're starting to break down the myths about jockeys and food.

I'll try address the issues and keep things simple and put my Masters degree to some use!

Jockeys are required to meet a lot of physiological demands, strength, cardiovascular fitness and specific skill for their job all this while keeping a low weight.

A jockey's day starts early! In a morning we prepare the horses and ride them out six days a week. I ride out at Mick and David Easterby's and we start at seven.

After riding out jockeys head to the races. This could be just down the road or at the other end of the country. For example, it would take over four hours to get to a track such as Ayr. Once there, a jockey could have up to eight rides.

On the gruelling Wattbike at The Jack Berry House.

As professional jockeys we face pressure to maintain a low body weight in order to ride.

It's an essential part of the job and if you can't do the weight you most certainly won't get the rides. A few pounds can be the difference between winning and losing and trainers and owners want to see their horses win.

The minimum weight in the UK is 8st 3lbs. Riding weights include the saddle, riding equipment and colours. Unlike most weight category sports, jockeys must compete at the designated weight, and weigh in after each race and still be that weight. This means were unable to consume additional food or water.

Sometimes jockeys will have more rides that require low weights. Hence little or no nutrition is taken in until after raceday. We have to watch what we eat and must eat the right things.

Many jockeys are riding at weights that are probably beyond what they should be doing, but for an extra ride from just losing a few extra pounds surely you would do it and get the weight off.

Dehydration is the main way to lose the weight quickly, to get the extra few pounds, but this is only a quick fix. This is done by sitting in a bath to sweat, restricting food and fluid intake, use of the saunas and use of sweat suits. Other chronic methods in the past have been known to be used, but due to education and more knowledge these have become used less frequently and now the emphasis is on getting the right things to eat.

In the hydrotherapy pool.

With my injury I've had a few meetings with the nutritionist at the beginning, and he was very adamant that I had to feed my injury, which made sense. I had to have the nutrition for my body to be able to fix and the bone to start knitting. I went through some meal ideas and things I should be eating plus taking some supplements of vitamin D, calcium, and omega 3 to help with bone repair.

I've tried to stick to this, but it's been hard when I've not been as busy. I've had a lot more time on my hands and meals out and a holiday as well. With the end in sight and after seven weeks of being on the sidelines I have put on some weight and I'm more than my normal comfortable riding weight.

Consequently I've had another session with the nutritionist, this time taking skinfold measurements to indicate body fat percentage. The results showed that I was slightly above what I had been pre-injury. Thankfully I do have some area to lose weight.

I discussed calorie intake with the nutritionist and we calculated that the difference between a resting metabolic rate (what your body would burn in a day doing nothing) and my activity would use about 1500 kCal. We then looked at what I should be eating to achieve this. The preferred source of energy is mainly high protein (chicken or fish) and low fat, low glycaemic index carbohydrates (wholegrain).

Getting some practice in at JBH.

A typical day would include porridge on a morning with some fruit, fruit protein shake for after training or while riding out, a tuna sweet potato salad or chicken salad wrap. Snacks including, boiled eggs or Babybel light. Tea will be high in protein and fibre and low in carbohydrates – steak and roast vegetables or salmon and steamed vegetables. Sadly there's no scope for many sweet treats.

With the idea of a high protein diet such as meat and dairy products to be filling and more satisfying and help with weight control, feeling fuller for longer and therefore not wanting to eat more often. When I have got lighter weights, I try stick to more protein and low fibre diet, such as salmon avocado salad. This works by reducing the weight of food in the digestive tract while still providing energy.

Exercising at The Jack Berry House.

One thing I learned is that I needed to be more hydrated. I wouldn't normally be a big water drinker, but I have gone out of my way to get at least two litres of water everyday and I feel a lot better for it. Initially it meant a lot of trips to the loo while my body got used to it but you soon adjust. I do reduce this a bit on the day of racing if I've got too light.

The next point I'll address is fitness. As we're riding horses it doesn’t always convey the amount of stamina and strength jockeys have, but believe me it's essential!

The strength and fitness of a jockey is down to physical prowess from training. The speed might come from the horse but to control a racing machine without falling off means you have to be fit, to balance, to be flexible and also have strength. These be achieved through strength training, aerobic training (running, jogging, cycling), Pilates and yoga. These are also vital to help prevent injury.

Putting the strength training into practice: getting a flier from the stalls at York.

As pointed out above it's a busy schedule when race riding. In a morning a jockey will usually ride out at a racing yard and then head to the racecourse. It's a fitness regime in itself!

But while I've been off injured I've not been doing this and I've also had a lot more spare time. To maintain my fitness and aid my rehabilitation I've been going to The Jack Berry House at Malton, which is the Injured Jockey Fund Rehabilitation Centre. It's been paramount in getting me back to full fitness after the time I've had off racing.

Although I was doing more strength work, upper body workouts and Pilates, while I was unable to sustain too much weight on my ankle and gradually increasing this strength work to full body. In addition to this, work on the horse simulator, fitness and gaining leg strength before getting back on a horse.

Back on the gallops riding Marwari on Wednesday.

When back race riding it becomes a lot more difficult to get into the gym as much as you'd like to, but on spare days or evening racing it’s nice to have a blow out and keep up some strength. I also quite like to have a run round the track before racing, whether it’s for a bit of a sweat, a warm up and a look at the track, ground and the rail movements.

Now all the groundwork with fitness and nutrition has been done, the light at the end of the tunnel has finally come and within the last few days have got the all-clear to ride (passing numerous fitness tests) from the Highers above. My first ride back is at the York Music showcase meeting and my god I'm looking forward to getting back to what I love doing and hopefully the winners will start coming again.

Wish me luck

Jo x

P.S. Don't forget to follow me on Instagram and Twitter too!

Related content

Joanna Mason's Blog