Dean Downing: diet, discipline and getting serious about rest

One of the most experienced British pro racers takes time out from life, training and a new baby to answer our questions this week - Age: 39 - Team: NFTO - Best result: British elite circuit race champion 2002 and 2008, Lincoln Grand Prix 2007

Dean Downing is in his final season as a pro racer. He’s had a long career, with his roots in the pre-British Cycling champion production line, so he is mostly self-taught.

Still, he’s been on the national track squad, medalled at World Cup level, and had a long career as a domestic pro road racer, winning many of Britain’s best races. But Downing is more than a set of results, he’s one of the most respected British pros, a role model, a family man, and someone who takes time out to help others.

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What’s more important, nutrition or training?
DD: You have to get both right. Eating healthily alone won’t get you fit, but on the other hand, eating rubbish won’t support your training and allow you to make progress.

What’s your favourite pre-ride meal and why?
DD: Before training I have Dorset muesli with natural yoghurt and a couple of coffees. Before a race I have the same, only a bit more, and I also have poached eggs on toast for extra protein and carbs.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given and who gave it you?
DD: I’ve had such a lot of good advice from so many people it’s hard to pick one thing. Ken Matheson helped me a lot when I was younger, and I’ve picked stuff up from the teams I’ve been in. My advice, though, to anyone, would be try enjoy cycling first and foremost.

When it comes to nutrition, what do amateurs tend to get wrong?
DD: They forget to eat, especially in a race. It’s easy to do, you 
get involved with what’s going on, but you’ve got to remember. It’s crucial.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when starting out?
DD: That cycling was 
bloody hard.

What’s your favourite naughty food?
DD: Have you got enough space? I think basically, if you want it then have it and don’t beat yourself up about it. Try to eat healthily but there’s no sense in going without something if you really enjoy it.

Tell us about a time when you got your nutrition wrong. What happened?
DD: I get it wrong every year in the early stages of winter training, but I do it on purpose. If you deliberately blow it can enable you to ride further and harder on less food. Last time was this winter. I was riding with Russell [Downing, Dean’s brother], coming back from training, quite close to home. We were riding on a flat bit of road, chatting, but then I said, “Sorry I’m going to have to sit behind you now.” And Russ says, “Why, we are only doing 20kph?” But I’d blown, totally.

Do you prefer real food or supplements when you are racing or training?
DD: I don’t eat a lot in 
training, more in races, but 
it’s always bars and gels, 
never normal foods.

What’s the key to 
always improving?
DD: Taking advice from lots of people and listening to your own body. You have to take rest seriously, if you are tired then rest. You don’t get better by pushing a tired body.

If you packed up riding right now, what are the three most important things you have learned from participating in this sport?
DD: I’ve got good at planning, you have to be as a pro. You’ve got to get your training done, eat the right things, keep your kit clean and take the right kit to races. There’s lots of things involved, more than most think.

How much they have to do comes as a shock when some riders turn pro. You learn how to get on with people in cycling as well, how to get on in the team and with people outside of it. But the big thing for me is that cycling has given me a lot of self-confidence. I’ve had lots of set-backs, but working to overcome them builds your confidence a lot.