What A Pro Tour Rider Daily Diet Looks Like
What does it take to fuel a professional cyclist during a typical day on the Tour De France? How do they come up with 5000 to 7000 calories per day? Where do they eat during the Tour De France?
Starting with the where, it is important to point out that the Tour organizers are required by the UCI (Union Cyclist International) to arrange for the riders to be fed at their respective hotels for breakfast and dinner. Each hotel has a separate table for each team; usually 2 tables for each team. Depending on how many teams are staying at one hotel that’s a lot of tables! Lunch takes place during the race and the soigneurs pass out the feed bags at designated spots.
The teams are not required to eat the food provided by the organization. Some teams bring their own food and even their own chefs. Teams like Sky, Cannondale and others often have a separate vehicle that
follows the Tour and they will cook for the teams every day. Teams that do not have such a budget use the food provided by the organization. Typical hotel food is usually comprised of pasta, meats, salad, breads and soups.
Many factors play into how a rider will consume 5000 to 7000 calories. The riders will eat according to the type of day ahead of them, depending if the stage is short, long, mountains or a time trial. If the riders know the race will start off explosively, they will eat accordingly. For a short prologue, a rider may eat little and just eat after the prologue and at dinner. If it is a hard 6-hour mountain stage, the rider will eat more than usual knowing it will be a hard day in the saddle. If the riders are going to “just” turn their legs over for 150km, then they will eat something heavier. There are also times when the director sportif tells a rider they will race hard from the gun, or get in the break, so the rider will fuel accordingly.
The other thing to keep in mind is that most professional races start with a lengthy neutral period. It’s not like an amateur race where everyone goes from the gun. Most starts include a 10-kilometer easy parade lap around the ville de depart (starting village). Once the director drops the flag, and the race starts, the peloton goes hard for some kilometers and then they let a break go. Once the break goes away, the peloton will ride relatively easy and even stop for many nature breaks. When the hammer drops, you start to understand how the riders can burn so many calories. The point is, racing for the pros is a lot different from the amateur Joe’s.
Let’s follow what a typical day of nutrition looks like for a pro tour rider.
The riders like slow burning foods in the morning and during the first 3 hours of the race.
A typical table comprises of cereals, porridge oats, rice and pasta. There is also toast with jams, butter and Nutella. There is often a buffet with eggs, pasta and meats. The teams that have chefs will often make omelets and custom food orders for the riders. Some chefs make fresh bread every day. Each rider has their preference. Some riders will eat 3 to 8 eggs per day with some pasta or rice, while others will eat oats, toast, scrambled eggs and juice. On lighter days, they may eat an avocado with eggs.
After breakfast at the hotel, the riders will usually leave for the start by bus or car around 10 a.m. (assuming a 12 noon start). On the way to the race, there will be rice cakes, energy bars, water and drink mix available. If a rider eats on the bus, it is often a protein bar with little carbs because they want something in their stomachs, but not too much. Most buses are equipped with espresso makers, and many of the riders will have an espresso or two before the race.
During the Race
The soigneurs prepare the race food the night before, which include things like rice cakes, traditional paninis–bits of with ham, cheese, honey, jam, which are wrapped up in small pieces in silver foil. Rice cakes with ham are very popular. The musettes, which are passed out at the feed zones contain bars, gels, electrolyte packs, and Cokes. Keep in mind the race team car has a least 2 coolers of about one hundred bottles comprising of cold water and drink mix. The team car also has the same food as the musettes.
During the race, riders tend to consume about 30-90 grams of carbohydrate and some protein per hour, which is roughly three to four pieces of race food. That may be a panini and a bar and a bottle of energy drink. As the race progresses and it gets towards the last 50 kilometers, the riders will switch to gels and liquids. They’ll be using things like gels and chews. If you’ve got a rider whose job is to make an attack or work really hard on a climb, then they might use one of the caffeine gels just before it. If a rider has to go hard at the end, they will take a Coke before or during the last 20 kilometers. That being said, I have often seen Thomas Voeckler drinking a Coke on the starting line many times. During the Giro, which has some of the longest stages, riders will consume 10 gels a day if it was an eight-hour day. They mix their fuels quite a lot. The riders often get “flavor fatigue” which is code for being sick of eating processed food. The riders don’t complain about that as much as you might expect.
Finish of the Race
This is a critical period for many reasons. The riders are usually spent from racing 4 to 6 hours in the saddle and having put in huge efforts. At the finish, just after the stage, the riders are given a recovery drink. Most teams use something that has some carbohydrates, some protein, and electrolytes. It is also important to just replace fluids. Many teams will have hot rice on the bus since it is easy to have a rice cooker and the riders usually want real food at this point. That will keep them going from the end of the stage until they get to the hotel. Since the transfer to the hotel can be minutes to hours, the riders never take a chance and they eat something. When they get to the hotel, it is all they can do to get a massage, get cleaned up, eat dinner and go to bed.
At the hotel, most teams have different food available. We often stick a cooler in the hallway with drinks, yogurts, milk, etc. The riders will often eat at the hotel dining room. Most meals are a combination of pasta, meat and salad. Again, unless there is a chef on the team, the riders have to eat what the hotel provides. There will be chicken or fish or some steak and rice, potatoes or pasta, vegetables, and a dessert. Sometimes it will be quite a rich dessert, but more times than not it will be something considered very healthy. Many riders do not eat dessert just out of habit. Many teams do a lot of juicing, especially vegetable juicing; Skratch often hand out juices at the Tour of California.
And then before bed, after they have had a massage, riders are encouraged to take in some protein before going to bed. Adding everything eaten in a day, and it usually ends up being about 5000-7000 calories depending on the toughness of the stage!