Nutrition plays a key role in the success of a rider’s race for the following reasons:
Many teams now work with a performance nutritionist and have their own team chef who travels with the team. This ensures the food being prepared and consumed by the riders meets the above requirements, with the focus always on quality not necessarily quantity. The team chefs need to make sure the food is nutritious and varied, to avoid meal fatigue during the three-week race.
The recommended daily calorie intake for the riders ranges from 4000 – 9000kcal, while fluid intake can be as high as 10 litres. Typical daily carbohydrate needs vary from 500-700g, with approximately two-thirds of this being consumed after the race. Rider variation, weather conditions, terrain and altitude all play an important role in determining rider’s nutritional requirements. No two riders will have the same nutritional requirements.
Riders often consume a juice drink. This helps to kick-start hydration for the day, and provides them with a host of nutrients and energy, without ‘the bulk’ of eating large amounts.
This isn’t much different to what you probably eat before a ride; porridge, eggs, yogurt, bread, jam will all be found at the breakfast table. There will, however, also be rice and pasta options. Probiotic drinks are also used to aid immune function, as the riders body will naturally be under a lot of stress.
On the way to the Start
Transfers from hotels to the start of the race are often long, plus stages in the Tour de France tend not to start until around midday. It is therefore important the riders remember to eat during this time. On the team buses riders will be able to get energy bars, flapjacks or bottles of energy drink/ electrolyte drinks.
During the Race
For the first two-thirds of most stages, unless involved in a breakaway, riders tend to eat solids and then as the intensity increases the riders turn to using the technical nutritional products such as energy gels. In terms of solid food, riders will start the stage with food and gels in their pockets and pick up additional supplies and bottles from the team car as they go. Alternatively, they can pick up a musette from a team assistant on route at the designated feeds that will include duo bars, energy gels, small sandwiches, homemade rice cakes and sometimes even small pieces of cake. The gels consumed will be both normal energy gels and caffeinated ones.
Riders also need to remember to stay hydrated and will consume OTE energy drink which also includes electrolytes. As a guide, riders are encouraged to consume 2-3 pieces of race food (energy drink included) per hour and then an extra 500ml of water each hour, this equates to around 90g of carbohydrates.
As soon as the riders get back on the team bus it is essential that the recovery process begins. OTE Recovery shakes are provided along with food such as cooked rice, boiled potatoes with tuna or chicken. Getting a 20-25g intake of protein is very important, however it is the co-ingestion with carbohydrates that has been found to really optimize a rider’s recovery.
This will naturally change every night so riders do not become bored and therefore minimising barriers to refuelling. Each meal will typically start with a salad, the main course will consist of meat plus a serving of carbohydrate (rice, pasta or potatoes) and some vegetables. Riders will often have a fruit yogurt or fruit flan for dessert.
Did you know: The evening meal the night before a shorter or flatter stage is different to the evening meal before a mountain stage. Before the shorter/flatter stages a meal will consist of variety of vegetables, salad, whole-wheat carbohydrates (such as Quinoa, potatoes, pasta), a good piece of meat and a light dessert, such as fruit salad. The diner before a mountain stage contains a bigger serving of carbohydrates which is usually white rice. The aim is to consume foods with less fibre so it does not sit in stomach. The riders will get a dessert high carbohydrates too, such as pancakes or a piece of fruit pie.
Cereal and milk, yogurt and honey or protein shakes are often consumed before riders go to bed. Sleep has been found to potentially be an extension of the ‘window of opportunity’ for recovery where muscle adaption and repair can take place. Therefore having a 20-25g intake of protein before bed can be crucial to optimise recovery, especially after a long hard day in the saddle with more to follow. So something like the OTE protein bar or Super Recovery Sachet fits the bill perfectly.