What does European Champion Thomas Van der Plaetsen eat in preparation for the decathlon season? And what during the competitions, which take two days? Lots of proteins, fats and vitamins. And the racing pigeons? They get the exact same thing in order to win an important race. The key to success for both: The right food at the right time.
A good preparation will make or break the pigeons' success
In preparation for the racing season, the youngsters learn to fly around the loft in the first month. This is how they explore their surroundings. They are fed a high-protein mixture (e.g. Plus I.C.+ Start) to grow and to develop their bodies and they get some dietary supplements to increase their resistance (e.g. Herbolan). The second month is when the real training starts. On the menu: feed with more fat than proteins (Plus I.C.+ Gerry) to stimulate their interest in flying. They also get water-soluble vitamins and amino acids a few times per week. And, just like top athletes are checked over by doctors, vets check the pigeons' health regularly.
The same goes for top athletes
Thomas Van der Plaetsen: "It looks like I have more in common with pigeons than I thought (laughs). A doctor checks my bloodwork regularly during my preparation. I need to make sure that I ingest enough vitamins, because I need to keep my natural resistance as high as possible and avoid fatigue. Before my trainings, I follow a high-fat diet, just like pigeons do. Afterwards I eat and drink proteins to recuperate."
Compensate for what you lose
After the first training flights of about 50 km, the pigeons immediately get a mixture of animal fats and electrolytes (e.g. Hemolyt 40) in their drinking bowl. This helps them recuperate quicker, they strengthen their muscles and they quickly get the right acidity level back in their bodies. They eat their fill with a high-protein feed mix. Thomas: "During the trainings and competitions of the decathlon disciplines, salt and electrolytes are all that matters. This is how I compensate for the minerals and salt I lose through sweating."
Recuperate with proteins
Racing pigeons eat a high-protein mixture even after the longer training flights of up to 350 km. As from the second day, they get a mixture of high-fat feed (Plus I.C.+ Gerry) and supplements to build up their energy and muscles (e.g. Plus I.C.+ Base). The final two days before a training flight, they again need sufficient proteins as fuel for the body (e.g. Muscle Power caps). Thomas: "For me, too, everything comes down to recuperation after a training or a competition day. Immediately after the final effort, I drink a protein and amino acid drink. And I eat a dinner packed with proteins to recuperate even better and to build up to the next day."
Fats to perform
And the last days before the big race? Then the feeding bowls are full of seeds rich in oil and fat (Plus I.C.+ Champion and Plus I.C.+ Energy), so the pigeons can get their energy from burning said fat. Thanks to a mix of vitamins, amino acids and L-carnitine (e.g. Carmine Mega Forte) in their drinking water, they produce less lactic acid and they get muscle cramps less quickly. Thomas: "My breakfast as prep before the competition or training: fats. Whole yoghurt with muesli, sometimes eggs with bacon or avocado."
The right food at the right time
Is there a difference between what pigeons eat and what a top athlete eats? Yes, there is. Thomas: "During competitions and trainings, I need to keep my energy levels in check. I do this with energy bars, nuts, sometimes fruit. I get extra energy from water-soluble energy tablets. Right before the track disciplines, I eat energy gels with sugars, which the body immediately absorbs."
Pigeons cannot eat during a race, of course. However, for both them and for Thomas, it all comes down to this: the right food at the right time makes the difference between winning and losing.