The dos and don’ts of Tour de France nutrition
By Ea Francisco
Professional cyclists are famously known to consume calories by the thousands, roughly 4,000 to 8,000 calories a day. While racing, they’re expected to consume around 200 calories every 30 minutes, which is no surprise considering how hard they have to ride. But don’t mistake those 8,000 calories to be filled with just anything, though.
Ask any pro cyclist or team chef and they’d all say that Grand Tour riders have no less than two cups of coffee a day. We’ve talked about coffee as a performance booster, but how much and what kind do pro cyclists drink? When Global Cycling Network interviewed cyclists before the Vuelta a España in 2015, they could have one to three cups of coffee before the start and can go to as much as five to six cups at the height of the race. When asked at the peloton of the 2017 Giro, most of the cyclists also said that they usually drink espresso and if they’re going to use milk, it’s usually full fat, not skimmed since research has shown that there’s hardly any difference between full fat and skim milk.
White rice is generally frowned upon in most diets but for a pro cyclist, it’s the perfect food to eat before and during a race. While brown rice is better for normal people, it’s less ideal for cyclists because of its phyctic acid. This acid delays enzymes that allow for digestion and starch absorption according to training site T Nation. There’s also the risk of gastrointestinal problems from riding fast while consuming a lot of fiber. White rice becomes better in the sense that the outer fiber is stripped off. It makes it easier to digest while giving quick and easier access to carbs that a rider needs. Team Dimension Data’s Mark Cavendish even says that rice works better for him than oatmeal for breakfast. Personalized rice cakes are also a staple in most Grand Tour races because it’s easier to eat while riding.
Given that they ride for long hours in a span of 10 days, they burn a lot more muscle than normal and need to replace them by constantly taking in protein. Since eggs have the most protein, team chefs, including Team Sky, generally spread out the protein intake by preparing scrambled eggs or omelettes—usually accompanied by toast, fruit, and sometimes a protein shake.
While meat and protein are generally good for muscle building, it’s not something you’d expect to eat on race day. Team Cannondale-Drapac’s chefs say that they wouldn’t serve pork to their cyclists during the Tour because it’s “too heavy and hard to digest.” Pork and beef are high in fat, which is why it’s harder to digest, so they replace these meats with chicken or turkey.
It may seem strange to know you shouldn’t be eating salads before a race, but the idea is that it just isn’t ideal if you’re fueling or loading up. While salads are filled with nutrients, they’re also low on calories and carbs. It should be accompanied by other carbs and protein-heavy food. For instance, Team Ag2r’s Jan Bakelant’s salad is usually accompanied with six rice waffles, yogurt, and a crostata.
These are foods, like cabbages and beans, that give you gas. While they’re not particularly bad in itself, it’s not something you should be eating hours before or during a race. They’re going to make you feel full and bloated the entire time. This would cause an uncomfortable feeling or maybe even cramps. Fowler and Belenka of Team Cannondale say that you should only put these greens in small portions and if you’re going to have beans, soak them a day before cooking. Soaking removes the indigestible sugars that cause gas and intestinal issues.
While it’s good to follow advice from Grand Tour cyclists, you should also remember that they experience a whole different kind of training. No one is asking you to eat 8,000 calories a day. You can follow what they eat, just remember that they ride just as much as they eat.