176 cyclists compete in the Tour de France over the 3-week event that includes 21 stages, almost 3,500kms with a combined average of 25 million calories being burnt. So, what does an athlete need to eat to be able to compete in an event like the Tour de France?
The Tour de France is considered to be one of the most enduring sporting events where riders are continually spending 6 hours or more on a bike per day with extremely short recovery times. The event allows the participants only 2 days of rest throughout the entire event. The most important part of the Tour de France is the nutrition and food consumption that the riders need to have to be able to complete the series.
On average, the riders are required to consume a hefty 5,000+ calories per stage of the race. What does a day of eating look like for someone competing in the Tour de France?
Riders will typically consume their breakfast three hours prior to the race starting. As tempting as it may be travelling through France cities, unfortunately, this does not include croissants and other delicious pastries. Riders need to ditch any foods that will fill and sit heavy within their stomachs. A typical breakfast will include carbohydrate based foods like bread, muesli, cereal, fruit, coffee, orange juice and sometimes even noodles.
Morning Tea (Pre-Race Snack)
A pre-race snack is typically consumed on the way to the stage starting area. Riders are usually trying to ride aggressively for as long as possible during the event which requires them to eat more during the race than to consume it while riding. More carb-rich foods are consumed to ensure that the glycogen levels are full and topped up before the race. Pre-race snacks are usually raisin bread, rice crackers with honey for a natural sugar source and even sports/power bars would typically be consumed with some additional fluids to follow.
During the race
Different stages of the race will usually require the rider to consume different types of foods that are in line with their fuelling strategy. Solid foods are usually too hard for the rider to chew and swallow and continue to keep up the pace an intensity of the race. A rider will usually consume gels, especially caffeinated gels. If the rider is will be consuming solid foods then things like rice cakes, small jam rolls and energy bars would usually be the optional choice.
On large alpine climbs, it would not be uncommon for a rider to consume upwards of three energy bars, six electrolyte drinks, two isotonic gels and a caffeine gel. This quantity can easily be increased if the temperature starts to also increase.
Recovery Meal Post-Race
Before leaving the event, riders will typically shower and get changed in the team bus during their recovery period. During the recovery time the riders usually consume recovery drinks with carbohydrates and 25g of protein that usually provided at the completion of the race. Snacks would then be consumed on the trip back to the hotel. The team chef will usually prepare sandwiches, cereal bars rice cakes and other carbohydrate rich food for immediate consumption.
A carbohydrate and protein rich meal will usually be prepared and eaten by the riders. The team chef’s usually try and prepare colourful meals that prevent the rider from the dreaded food repetition. A usual meal will include fish, salad, soups and juices to provide nutrients during the recovery process. Homemade cakes, fruit and flans will usually follow along as desert.
Competitive riders will constantly be consuming liquids to start hydrated and allow for faster recovery times. On average, most riders will consume between 5,000 and 7,000 calories per day depending on the stage event. Most riders require months’ worth of diet training prior to the racing event. The amount of calories being consumed are usually extremely close to the maximum capacity that the body can actually digest. It takes an extreme commitment to the diet as playing catch-up with the calorie intake is almost impossible and riders would be extremely unlikely to finish the event without illness or injury.
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