For professional cyclists on the Tour de France, a typical day might consist of eight hours of grueling toil on the bike, climbing mountains, hurtling back down, careening round corners and the numbing, incessant grind of keeping the wheels turning for that day and weeks to follow.
Yet the work doesn’t end there for racing’s elite. At the end of each day comes another feat of endurance; finding a way to pack as many of the 7,000-plus calories that they have just expended back into their bodies.
“It is like a race within the race,” renowned chef and ERW co-founder Hannah Grant said.
It was a race that was a life-changing and unexpected career shift for Grant, who gave up Michelin-star life in the kitchen of NOMA, based in Copenhagen and then the world’s top-rated restaurant. She’d quit the high-cuisine life when the incessant hours and demands left her with racking joint and hip pain, only to find an even more intense environment in road racing.
“When you work with a cycling team, you basically join a moving circus,” Grant added. “You live in a suitcase, drive sometimes 200 miles a day, go from hotel to hotel to hotel. Being a chef in a team is not just about sourcing, cooking, and serving the food. You're a chauffeur and you're an entertainer, so many things.”
Within two years, Grant also became a pioneer, her unique methods and intrinsic creations changing forever the outdated notions about how cyclists should eat. No more pasta with ketchup.
Originally hired by the Saxobank cycling team in 2011 to feed its riders for their exhaustive summer at cycling’s three biggest Tours, she quickly learned that the only way to gain the athletes’ trust was by matching the commitment and drive they put in on the bike each day
Her challenge was to convince some of the world’s finest endurance cyclists that her imaginative, carefully sourced and strategically crafted nutrient-rich foods could boost their performance and provide an edge.
First, she had to listen – and learn.
Grant had no background in cycling, but dived into the psychology of the pro racer to figure out what made them tick. Some athletes might be coming off a good day, others trudging in from a tough slog where simply getting to the end was an achievement. Some were struggling more physically than others, and they all came from different parts of the world and had different tastes. All needed different things on their plate.
Grant had to get the riders comfortable so she began by ensuring that most of each meal was a product they were familiar with, while adding a new twist of high nutrient value. Polenta, quinoa and vodka-based sauces hadn’t previously seen much of a place on the Tour de France, but soon became favorites.
“In 2012, we did the Tour and I documented everything,” Grant said. “I wrote down everything that I cooked, took pictures of it all and I was one of the first chefs to adapt to Twitter. I would post the riders’ meals every night. People loved it because no one had seen something like that before.”
Grant was soon generating as much attention as the team’s cyclists and, almost by accident, discovered there was a market for the recipes and concepts she was feeding cyclists.
Her first publication – the “Grand Tour Cookbook” – was spotted by an American producer who partnered with Grant in turning the book into the Amazon Prime Emmy award-winning docuseries “Eat. Race. Win.” That series title was also the name of a second successful cookbook, co-written with hydration and immune system expert Dr. Stacy Sims.
All the while, Grant’s passion for food-based problem solving and the delicate balance between nutrition and optimum continued to grow. Taking the “Eat. Race. Win.” concept to a range of products with the capacity to positively influence the lives of a far wider audience made perfect sense, and Grant and Sims resolved to team up and tackle two issues as daunting as those soul-sapping climbs of the Tour.
ERW’s My Flight Pack attacks the effects of jetlag, for which more than a century of air travel had somehow failed to spawn a productive cure.
ERW Active breaks down the misconceptions in the sports hydration drink sphere, combating the sugary excesses and outdated science of rival products.
True to form, Grant has thrown herself into the venture with boundless energy. As the product line gathered traction in the early part of 2020, COVID-19 prompted adaptation rather than a slowing down of the company, despite the restriction on airline travel.
“I'm very passion-driven,” Grant said. “I have laser focus on things that I really love and that make sense to me.
“If you want to live your life at the fullest and perform at your best, whether you're a cyclist or working like you are, you can't compromise on quality. You can't compromise on what is important to you. What we do with our products is we don't compromise the ingredients and we don't compromise your health.”
That means a refusal to switch out premium ingredients for cheaper alternatives and rebuffing sugar-filled additives that turn so many “hydration” products into effectively sports sodas.
Grant believes the future of nutrition is authenticity and that the public is becoming more educated than ever about knowing what is nonsense and what is a genuine product that provides maximum benefit.
Life is no longer quite as frenetic as during her years on Tour, but she keeps up the grind and puts in the hours because she believes the public deserve to know about a product that was borne out of a ceaseless pursuit of scientific and physiological excellence. That’s an ethos that runs throughout her own life and through ERW, right down to the origin of its name.
“It’s named ERW because it’s the abbreviation of Eat. Race. Win.” she said. “Because that’s the sum of everything I’ve done.”
ERW launched ERW active HYDRATE this spring and has obtained the most exclusive certification NSF sport, that secures the major league sports teams as their clients.
If you want to learn more about Hannah Grant, check our her website.
Written by Martin Rogers