Hong Kong is a place with many temptations and it can be tough to maintain a structured diet, but for star jockey Chad Schofield and Hong Kong rugby captain James Cunningham succumbing to the city’s delights is not an option.
Not too often, anyway, and especially not for Schofield, who rides as light as 115 pounds (52.1 kilograms) and has to be ready to race twice a week for all but six weeks of the year.
It’s not quite as stringent for Cunningham, who weighs in at around 108kg but can regularly fluctuate between 103kg and 110kg, but he still needs to be on the ball to make sure he is ready for his role as a forward for Hong Kong’s 15s team and the South China Tigers.
The rations of a rider
While eating like a jockey is not something many would be too keen to try, the discipline of Hong Kong’s highest-paid athletes is something we could all learn from.
While Schofield admits he doesn’t count his calories, his love for good food results in a lot of hard yards in the gym and on the trails.
“Because I do it quite tough, I crave the good food. The bad food, I should say,” he says, adding that his intake is based around Wednesday’s Happy Valley races and Sundays at Sha Tin.
“I waste quite hard but then I like to refuel on days I can eat. Days I can eat are Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday night’s after races.
“I have to cut quite a fair bit of weight the day before and the day of the races, so my intake is pretty low, but I’m pretty hungry by the time I’m allowed to eat again so I put it back on.”
While stories are rife of jockeys starving themselves and sweating to within an inch of their lives to make weight, Schofield prefers to stick to a more sustainable approach.
“I like to train it off. Baths and saunas are my last resort, I don’t really feel that good in there and I can’t sweat that well,” he said.
“I like to get out and run, I’ll put lots of jackets on and go for a run up the hill or do a big hike, I like to do it that way. When I eat bad foods I make sure I burn that off by running.”
So what does Schofield eat to ensure he keeps his weight in check? “I like curries, I like steak, chicken and a bit of pasta now and then. I love fish,” he says.
“I will pretty much refuel nicely with lots of water and on days I’m wasting I might have maybe a banana for breakfast and then a little chicken salad or a little piece of fish.”
When food is not an option, Schofield turns to supplements to keep his energy levels up.
“I have these energy gels, little sachets that triathletes have. They obviously put on no weight and they are full of nutrients and all of that. When I am wasting and throughout the day at the races I’ll snack on them so I don’t put on any weight,” he says.
“And depending on what weight I am riding, on average I might sip away on a bottle of water throughout the day.”
The fare of a forward
Cunningham has made a name for himself as a versatile forward for Hong Kong, playing in the back and second rows, and says at the age of 29, he is pretty much left to his own devices by the coaching staff when it comes to diet.
“I’m one of those people that if I’m hungry I eat. I manage what I eat, I’m relatively healthy with the foods that I choose but I don’t have a set plan, I don’t count my calories,” Cunningham says.
While the Hong Kong Rugby Union has a nutrition expert on hand, Cunningham says it is mostly the young players who are closely monitored.
“They trust that I know what I’m doing and they are happy for me to go about what I’m doing,” he says.
Cunningham ensures his daily intake remains relatively consistent by working to a structure based around his training schedule.
“It would normally be between four or five meals including snacks. For breakfast I’ll have a smoothie – a berry and banana smoothie,” he says.
“At training, normally if we have got weights in the morning I will have a protein shake after that then quite a substantial lunch. It might be a chicken wrap or a pasta with chicken, something along those lines. Normally in the afternoon I’ll have a bowl of yogurt with some fruit and muesli.”
Then it’s time to look forward to dinner, where Cunningham opts for the likes of spaghetti bolognese, Thai green curry or meat with salad or vegetables, with steak and a salad of spinach, red onion, avocado, tomato, sweet potato and capsicum with balsamic dressing being a particular favourite.
So while Schofield and Cunningham are vastly different athletes with vastly different food intakes, there are plenty of similarities in their diets.
Schofield is proof you can keep weight off and maintain a healthy, balanced diet, while the fact neither of them count their calories suggests eating healthily certainly isn’t rocket science.