Food + le Tour

This race — called le Tour — is not just about wheels, legs and lungs. Food and water are just as crucial to a rider’s grit, often making the difference between a podium spot and an abysmally dismal welcome to the offseason. 

Throughout the Tour, riders constantly strive to store and restore glycogen, a readily oxidized sugar, inside muscle cells. Muscle glycogen levels before and during a stage are a very good predictor of the day’s performance. So, a pivotal nutritional challenge of the Tour is not only eating to achieve full muscle glycogen recovery off the bike, but to also assuage the demands of glycogen depletion while humping—an uphill task given the intricacies of race dynamics, individual nutritional demands and tolerances, coupled with the enormous fuel demands and fluid losses that occur during just one single stage.

Those who fail to consistently replenish risk bonking.

To offset fuel depletion, Tour riders consume a stunning average of between 6,000 to 8,000 calories daily—sometimes even 10,000 calories on unusually grueling stages. Their carbohydrate intake averages about 6 grams per pound of body weight (155 lb rider = 930 grams per day). Riders conventionally attempt to get 70 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrate, 15 percent from fat, and 15 percent from protein.

(Teams even employ their own chefs to optimize their riders’ nutritional needs.)

A typical day begins with a hearty breakfast which not only raises liver glycogen stores and blood glucose levels, it can also top off soon-to-be-depleted muscle glycogen stores. The morning’s fodder can consist of cereal, dairy, rice, almond or soy milk, fruit juice, croissants or toast with plenty of carbohydrate rich jams. Riders often add protein from eggs and egg whites, protein powder, and even toss in a heaping bowl of rice or pasta. They keep nibbling and drinking up to start time.

On the bike, riders eat a mixture of energy bars, gels, pastries, sandwiches, and fruit. The soigneurs (personal assistants) prepare cotton musette bags with the rider’s fancied victuals, including energy bars and gels, rice cakes and sandwiches. Throughout the stage, riders are drinking about 2-3 bottles per hour with about half of that being sports drink—critical sources of carbohydrates and electrolytes.

After each stage, the riders immediately down a recovery drink of mainly carbohydrate and some protein. They then usually graze steadily until dinnertime on energy bars, sweets, fruits, and fluids, with a focus on constant refueling and muscle glycogen re-synthesis.

In the evening, riders dine on a full bore meal consisting of chicken and/or fish, mounds of pasta or rice, sandwiches, yogurt, vegetables, salad greens, bread and sweets. Their fat intake results from dish preparation.  Bedtime snacks may include energy bars, chocolate and more hydration.

Save for sleep, the grazing rarely ceases.

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