Beer, milk, and pickles – the method to Lachlan Morton’s nutritional madness

EF Pro Cycling's nutritionist explains the philosophy of 'gas station nutrition' and what sets Morton's stomach apart

Clock12:00, Sunday 10th September 2023
Lachlan Morton has once again astounded with his eating - as well as his riding - on the Great Divide challenge

© Ryan Hill (Instagram: ryanhill)

Lachlan Morton has once again astounded with his eating - as well as his riding - on the Great Divide challenge

There are already countless great Lachlan Morton photographs, but an all-timer has cropped up during his latest adventure on the Great Divide route. The Australian sits calmly in the centre of the frame but all around him is chaos - unhinged nutritional chaos.

To Morton’s right, we have a can of Coors lager, a hot dog with a few dill pickles on top, two large boxes of Oreos, and a stack of unidentified snack-based products. To his left, a half-gallon carton of milk. As if that wasn’t enough, he has the pickle jar in hand, and he’s drinking straight from it.

Morton has previous in this regard. The film from his ‘Alt’ Tour de France two years ago showed him simultaneously swigging a Leffe, Coca Cola, and chocolate milk - “the chocolate’s to make me go the distance, the beer’s just for a slight buzz, then the Coke’s just to mellow it all back out again,” he says, so cool you almost want to try it, before you realise you’re out of Gaviscon.

This latest example takes that ball and runs with it, cementing Morton’s status as a dietary maverick, and begging the question: how? And more to the point: what does his stomach think about all this?

Read more: Lachlan Morton sets sights on the Great Divide record

Gas station nutrition

To help us answer those questions, we called up William Girling, nutritionist at EF Pro Cycling, who has worked closely with Morton over the past few years.

“It certainly wouldn’t be for me,” he jokes, another indication that Morton is no ordinary specimen, and that what he’s doing maybe shouldn’t be tried at home.

Read more: Lachlan Morton's Cannondale Scalpel HT Hi-MOD Ultimate

For Girling, who is simultaneously working with pro road racers at the Vuelta a España, Morton represents a unique challenge. ‘Gas station nutrition’ is how they refer to it, in what’s as refreshing an antidote to WorldTour calorie-counting as you’re likely to get.

“When he’s out on his big rides, we need to look at how we can get everything he needs nutritionally from the limited resources on offer at somewhere like a gas station,” Girling explains.

He then suggests we tackle this topic by dissecting the photo morsel by morsel, as if leading an undergraduate seminar on a Renaissance masterpiece, an approach that ends up revealing some method to the madness.

The beer

"I’m not out there saying to him ‘drink a beer mate - it’s going to do X and Y’, but there is some great research to suggest beer is more hydrating than just water on its own. Alcohol is a diuretic, which causes you to go to the toilet more frequently, but a single beer won’t have that effect. Plus, the carbohydrate content in the beer sort of makes it an isotonic drink, causing you to draw on more of the fluid compared to just water.

"Now I don’t for a second think he’s doing it for those reasons. He simply enjoys a beer. Palate fatigue is a real thing in endurance nutrition and sometimes you need to mix things up and have things you enjoy. One beer is not going to impair his recovery, so why not?"

The hot dog

"This will have minimal protein, let’s be honest. There’ll be a bit of carbohydrates, some fat… it’s not the healthiest choice but ultimately this is about calories."

The Oreos

"This will also be calories. We’ve got guys at the Vuelta at the moment and on the big days there guys are burning 4,000-5,000 calories, and that’s just a four or five-hour race. When you think about the amount of hours Lachlan is doing, even if it’s at a lower heart rate, the calorie expenditure is enormous, so it’s sometimes just a case of needing to get a certain amount in."

The snacks

"I don’t actually know what he’s got there, but I imagine they’re mostly things like cereal bars. That’s going to do the same as the Oreos: replace calories."

The pickles

"The pickles are a great example of a high-sodium food. There is actually some self-documented research about brine being beneficial for high-sodium sweaters. It’s going to be really high-end sodium and a great choice to replace electrolytes. There are also some added probiotic benefits.

"With the gas station nutrition, you can actually replicate a sports drink mix. A can of Coke has 35g of carbs so if you put that into a bottle, top it up with water, then add some sodium - for example the brine - you have the components of a sports drink."

The milk

"There is a naturally-occurring amount of carbohydrate in milk, and especially if you have flavoured milk, it adds sugar which is going to help replenish carbohydrates and fuel his next stint. It comes with all the essential amino acids to promote recovery and there’s some great research showing the recovery benefits of milk as a natural protein drink.

"In a litre of milk you’ll get around 30g of protein and around 100g of carbohydrates, which is pretty decent. In a low fat version, there’s only around 10g of fat, which won’t slow up digestion. And it also hydrates slightly better than just water, because of the carb content and how we take it on."

The 'concoction'

Girling has broken this down and made it sound a good deal more plausible - professional, almost. There is logic, it seems, behind each constituent part, but that doesn’t quite satisfy the doubts we have about how all this sits together in the stomach.

“There’s a lot of stuff there that actually works, and is real, and there’s reasonable science to say the things are going to help. Whether you should do them as a concoction, all at once, that’s down to the individual,” he warns.

“Lachlan seems to be able to stomach it. I wouldn’t. Most people wouldn’t.”

Regarding that photo, EF’s update suggests he polished off the beer, the milk, the hot dog, one of the Oreo packs, and the entire jar of pickles in one sitting. What’s more, Girling confirms that Morton never hangs around too long before getting back on his bike, giving the ‘concoction’ little time to settle.

“It’s individual, and it seems Lachlan is pretty special in that regard. But it’s also the case that the stomach can be trained,” Girling explains. “Lachlan has several years of experiences with these challenges now, so while for most people it would be a massive shock to the system, his body has sort of become accustomed to handling it all.”

Girling points out that these ultra-distance challenges of Morton’s are about endurance over intensity, meaning his heart rate is generally not exceptionally high, which allows him to digest all that food while on the bike. Another thing that comes into play is Morton’s fitness, and when it comes to the world’s fittest athletes, a key part of that puzzle is the body's ability to create output from what goes in.

“I can’t give you the most complete answer here because I’m not his coach, but from a nutritional point of view, what you have is an amazing ability to produce energy,” Girling explains.

“This is not just from carbohydrates but you’ll find he is also able to use fat as a fuel source, too. Most people simply wouldn't be able to process that amount of food, but he is just very efficient at taking it all on and getting the most out of it.”

So there you have it. Lachlan Morton, raiding gas stations for beers and biscuits, is one of us, a man of the people. But he’s also a man apart. And that, in the microcosm of his nutrition, perhaps sums up his allure as a whole - relatable yet inimitable.

To follow Lachlan Morton's Great Divide effort, which he looks on course to finish in the next few days, head over to EF Pro Cycling's tracker.

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