Promoting wellbeing in professional jockeys

Several professional jockeys in the UK approached researchers at LJMU's Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences (RISES) with the hope of finding alternatives to the current practices for making weight. Until the intervention study by LJMU, the methods commonly used by jockeys to reduce body mass for racing weight were not only ineffective but were having serious consequences on their health. The findings from LJMU’s study has the potential to improve the health and wellbeing of jockeys not just in the UK but across the world.

Professional jockeys are unique in athletic communities in that they have a daily requirement to make weight. Historically, methods of weight making have been detrimental to jockeys both physically and mentally. Unhealthy techniques include chronic dehydration, starvation, forced vomiting, and laxatives and diuretics (although recently the latter two have been banned), all of which, contribute to extremely poor bone health as well as abnormal markers of mental health in jockeys.

Under the leadership of Dr George Wilson, RISES carried out a dietary intervention study with participating jockeys for a period of eight weeks. The study resulted in a tailored diet that provides adequate energy availability for the daily demands of a professional flat jockey. Following the intervention, all of the jockeys in the study had reduced their body fat, maintained their lean mass, increased their resting metabolic rate and improved their physical fitness. In addition, the jockeys demonstrated improved markers of mental health.

"I have definitely seen a change in culture in the weighing room, I am sure that the work done by LJMU has greatly contributed to this change. For the first time in my career jockeys are no longer just relying on the sauna and sweat suits to reduce weight quickly, but arriving at the racecourse actually already on the racing weight."

Sir Anthony McCoy -
twenty times champion jockey

The study was a groundbreaking achievement as it was the first time a research group had investigated alternative methods for weight making, not just for professional elite flat jockeys, but for any group of weight making athletes.

This research has gained international recognition having been presented at conferences in different countries around the world. It has also been featured several times in the national and international press, including a feature on Channel 4 Racing and the story has been picked up by a number of newspapers. As a direct result of this research, the team at LJMU have recently received funding from The British Horseracing Authority to translate this research into practice in jockey racing schools and the head of medicine for the British Horseracing Authority, Dr Jerry Hill, is now an integral part of the LJMU research team.

The impact of this research is best demonstrated by changes in the rules of horseracing in the UK regarding minimum riding weight as well as major changes to the nutrition provision at racecourses. As a direct consequence of our research, the nutritional guidelines to all racecourses in the UK have been re-written with menus now based on the group’s research findings. The information sent to jockeys by the Professional Jockeys Association has also changed in line with the group’s guidance. Following on, these major changes and improved education will help to improve the health and wellbeing of jockeys and reduce the occupational risk of race riding not only in the UK but throughout the world.

This research was Highly Commended in the Research Project of the Year category at the Educate North 2016 Awards.

Find out more about the research taking place within the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences.

"[The team at LJMU] have undertaken much of the early research which has set the scene and help define the issues that jockeys face and the negative effects that traditional weight making practices such as calorie restriction and dehydration have."

Dr Jerry Hill -
Chief Medical Adviser to the British Horseracing Authority

"Liverpool John Moores University has given the nutrition team vital up-to-date evidence based nutrition information to support the health, wellbeing and performance of professional jockeys in the UK."

Julia Scott-Douglas -
Team Leader of the Professional Jockeys Association Nutrition Team

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