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Eating disorders in cycling a serious problem, dietician says

Joe Robinson
2 Jan 2020

A leading sports dietician has talked about the rapid rise in eating disorders among young, male cyclists

A sports and eating disorders dietitian has warned about the rapid rise in male cyclists suffering from eating disorders. Renee McGregor has seen a five-fold increase in the number of male road cyclists being referred to her and says that unmanaged disorders are becoming a serious problem where 'performance is often prioritised over health'.

In 2019, McGregor, who has worked with multiple Olympic and Paralympic teams, said that every new male client referred to her was a cyclist.

Talking to Sky News, McGregor said: 'It's a very fine line between being light enough to perform optimally and being so light that it starts to affect mental and physical health.

'I don't think enough coaches and sporting teams and sporting bodies have the information and the education they need, so when that line is crossed, it's often crossed at the expense of the athlete.'

She also highlighted the issue of 'irresponsible and ill-educated' coaches promoting a win-at-all-cost mentality, the influence of social media and competitive nature found among groups of young males for fuelling the problem.

In the report, 19-year-old Oscar Mingay told of his dark eating habits that saw him drop to a weight of just 45kg when aged 14.

'When it was at its worst, I would have a small bowl of porridge, like 20g of oats, go out on a three-hour ride, maybe with a banana, by this point I'd have had at most 400 calories, get back from the ride, miss lunch and then just sleep because I was knackered but I thought if I sleep then I'm not going to be hungry,' said Mingay.

'I had very low self-esteem, if someone told me I was looking healthy, I would think "oh, I need to lose more weight, I look normal". If someone told me I was looking unwell I would think "great, I'm doing everything right".'

The dramatic loss of weight and strength saw Mingay suffer a dip in hormones that has since led to osteoporosis.

Mingay also admitted to being happy when people told him he looked underweight and unwell, often being inspired to look like his idols.

'You want to be the best cyclist and you see the way these WorldTour riders look, how sculpted their legs look and how lean they are,' said Mingay. 'Any day-to-day person would look at that and think it looks grim, but when you're in the sport it's all you want, that's all I wanted.'

The issue of eating disorders in the professional peloton hit the headlines in 2019 when former Tour de France top 10 finisher Jani Brajkovic admitted to an on-going battle with bulimia during his career.

Having now retired after failing a drug test for stimulant methylhexaneamine, the Slovenian told the UCI that it was found in his system after he used a contaminated meal replacement powder. 

Brajkovic said he was taking the replacement powder as it was the only thing he could keep down when battling with bulimia.

Earlier in 2019, Bradley Wiggins also spoke about the issue of eating disorders in cycling after admitting his race weight of 69kg (10st 12lb) was 'severely underweight for a 6ft 3in man'. 

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