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Craig MacLean withn medal

Eat like an athlete - Craig MacLean


Scottish track cyclist Craig MacLean is one of only a few athletes to have won medals in both the Olympic and the Paralympic games, where he took part as an able-bodied pilot. We talk to Craig about his typical training diet, his top tips for the amateur athlete and how a diagnosis of coeliac disease in 2009 changed the way he ate for his sport...

What is your typical daily diet when training for a big event?


Usually I'll have gluten-free porridge oats with honey and yogurt or a gluten-free bagel with jam, plus coffee and water.

Sandwiches with gluten-free bread, ham and cheese.

Rice or gluten-free pasta. Good quality chicken or beef with vegetables or a salad.

Roast chicken traybake

How does a coeliac diagnosis affect your training diet and needs?

It just means I have to be self-sufficient when it comes to refuelling. The majority of sports supplements contain gluten so it requires a bit of forward planning. There are gluten-free alternatives for pretty much everything now. Cross-contamination is the biggest problem if I’m away at an event or training camp.

What have been the biggest challenges when dealing with coeliac disease as a professional athlete?

You can't just eat anything. I was never a fussy eater so to start having to be meticulous about what I was consuming was the worst part initially. Once you know the safe products and foods then it's easy, but I still struggle to trust anyone who’s catering for me. I’ve been ‘glutened’ on several occasions, its just so hard to get people to comprehend how strict I have to be and why.

A nice rice pudding

Are there any particular gluten-free foods you’ve found helpful when training/competing?

There are some great companies out there and more are popping up all the time. When it comes to eating on the go or on the bike I usually opt for Eat Natural, 9Bar or Perkier for a quick energy boost. I get through quite a lot of rice pudding at certain phases in my training, it's cheap, easy to digest and you can stock pile it in the cupboard.

What snack do you always have on hand for an energy boost?

usually have a few emergency packets of jelly sweets stashed in my kit bag or car (provided the kids haven’t found them first!)

How do you keep your diet varied and do you ever get bored with eating for your sport?

It’s possibly my failing but we tend to eat the same menu from week to week. When training/working you don’t have lots of time or energy to be creative in the kitchen, on top of that you have to cook something the kids will eat too. My daughter Harriet was also diagnosed with coeliac disease last year at the age of four.

What super food/juice/meal helps you get out of bed and motivated on those particularly dreary mornings?

I'd probably be hopeless if it wasn’t for coffee!

Coffee in white cup

When competition season is over what are your favourite food indulgences?

I never restrict any particular food at any time really. The training is so intense and calorie consuming that I can't afford to. Sometimes it's hard to eat enough so you have to go for calorie rich things like chocolate or ice cream, just one of the many benefits of training hard!

What would be your top diet and exercise tip for the amateur athlete?

Learn from the pros! You don’t have to be obsessive about diet or exercise, just make it count when you do train. Above all else have fun doing it.

Aside from your speciality, what is your favourite sport/exercise?

It would be nice to be able to ski more often, having been brought up near the Cairngorms I was skiing from an early age. As track cycling has a winter season it's too risky to take the time out. I also really enjoy mountain biking, it's probably the only form of cycling I’ll do when I retire from competition.

What is your favourite recipe from

Probably the flourless chocolate & pear cake - a great gluten-free option!

Flourless chocolate and pear cake

More in the Eat Like An Athlete series:
Eat like... Mo Farah
Eat like... Jessica Ennis
Eat like... Liz Blatchford
Eat like... Lisa Dobriskey
More nutrition and fitness tips...

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