Simon Yates just won his second stage of the 2019 Tour de France, stage 15, on the Prat d’Albis (12 km at 6.9%). Three days earlier he had won stage 12. Yates races on the Mitchelton–Scott team, an Australian team that was previously the Orica-Scott team.
Eat, Race, Win on Amazon follows the Orica-Scott team in the 2017 Tour de France as they race to put Yates in the white jersey as the best young rider. Hannah Grant, the chef for the team, narrates the video and shows how her nutrition for the riders supports superb racing. Eat, Race, Win has the highlights of the race action and takes you behind-the-scenes as Sports Director Matthew White encourages his nine riders to victory.
Ben King (Team Dimension Data) burned 5,200 calories on stage 15 of the 2019 Tour de France. The route was 185 km (123.5 mi) with a staggering 3,800 meters (12,470 ft.) of climbing. The stage took only 5:30. (Stats from King’s page on Strava.)
What do the pros eat to fuel racing like this?
Every roadie is burning mix of glucose and fat and the harder the cyclist rides the higher the proportion of glucose. The glucose is stored in the body as glycogen. Even the skinniest pro has enough body fat to provide the fat as triglycerides to fuel a stage; however, glycogen stores are limited. The body stores just enough for glycogen for 60 – 90 minutes of hard racing. Protein provides only about five percent of the energy.
The glucose comes from carbohydrates. During a stage racers eat primarily carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (GI) for instant energy. GI measures how fast a food causes your blood glucose to rise. Glucose has a GI of 100 and fructose is 25. Sucrose (table sugar), which is made up of a combination of these two has a GI of 65. Maltodextrin has a GI of 110. You can learn more about what the glycemic index is and the GI of different foods here.
Breakfast is big.
During the race King was burning about 950 calories / hour! At race speeds a pro can only digest about 300 calories / hour. During the race King accumulated a fuel deficit of about 3,600 calories.
The pros eat about 1,800 calories at breakfast alone! For breakfast they eat food with a moderate GI for a slower steady flow of energy. They typically eat oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, fruit, eggs, toast with peanut butter or Nutella (a chocolate-hazelnut spread) and coffee. They eat several hours before the stage begins so that they have time to digest the food before the stage begins.
Riders drink a lot.
Stage 16 was a hot one 100F (38C) during the 3:57 race. You’ve seen domestiques dropping back to the team car and stuffing bottles in every available pocket to carry up to teammates. During stage 16 on average teams gave out 130 bottles of 16 fl. oz. (0.5 L). That equals 3.6 bottles (58 fl. oz. / 1.8 L) per hour!
Sports Foods and Drinks
While racing the pros consume sports bars and gels as well as sports drinks and water. When a domestique is at the team car getting bottles he may also get bars and gels depending on how far it is to the feed zone or to the finish.
Which bars, gels and drinks are best? Whatever this year’s sponsor is providing the team. The lesson for roadies is that all the products are essentially the same – there is no performance advantage to anything – so consume things you like.
What’s in the Musette
Because they are racing 21 stages with only two rest days in the Tour, they also eat real food to provide variety and additional calories. During a stage they eat boiled potatoes (GI is 85), rice cakes from sushi rice (GI is 85), panini (small sandwiches) and cut-up fruit to provide an assortment of flavors. The potatoes and fruit are 100% carbohydrate to replenish their glycogen stores. Providing a lot of variety is the key to getting through three weeks of racing without bonking.
Here’s a recipe for panini:
- ½ croissant, Hawaiian roll or other soft sandwich roll that’s easy to digest
- 1 oz. (28 g) sliced ham or Canadian bacon for interesting flavor
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) cream cheese for easy digestion
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) jam for added calories
The panini has about 300 calories (37% carbohydrate, 15% protein, 47% fat), 500 mg sodium and 50 mg potassium. Because of the meat and cheese, these should not be out of the refrigerator for more than two hours at room temperature (one hour above 90° F / 32° C). To reduce the fat, substitute turkey breast for the ham or Canadian bacon and use low-fat or fat-free cream cheese, which will decrease the total calories to about 200 / panini. For a vegetarian panini, substitute peanut butter or Nutella for the meat and cheese.
You can get something similar at the minimart, Subway or another sandwich chain. Use a different cheese and skip the jam. Personally a half-sandwich is tastier (and cheaper) than any bar or gel.
In the Pyrenees riders were grabbing bottles and pulling food from their pockets at top of the climbs. Even if you aren’t racing remember to eat before a climb. Then unless it’s an epic climb you won’t need nourishment during the climb. Eat again at the top so you can digest on the way down.
Fueling the Sprint
A rider is not allowed a feed from the team car in the last 20 km of a race. This is to keep the cars and riders apart when white line fever has kicked in. A rider plans ahead by keeping a gel or two, usually containing caffeine, in a jersey pocket. Peter Sagan (Team Bora-Hansgrohe) downs a gel with 7-10 kilometers to go.
Recovery is key.
The pros start eating and drinking as soon as they get on the team bus after each stage. Each bus is equipped with a small kitchen to cook rice, chicken and other tasty favorites. Before the stage each racer is weighed and he is weighed again after the stage. The difference in weight is a result of the unavoidable dehydration during the race. Note that moderate dehydration doesn’t inhibit performance — watch them sprint at the end of a stage! One pound equals about 16 ounces (one pint) of fluid. One kilogram equals one liter of fluid. After the stage over the next several hours he then drinks 1.5 times the fluid he’s lost. Why 1.5 times? He drinks the amount of fluid he’s lost and also fluid for the rest of the day. He keeps eating until he sits down for dinner.
Dinners are big with many different foods to whet the appetite. You can watch chef Hannah Grant and her assistants shop and prepare dinners in Eat, Race, Win.
Here’s some more detailed, targeted information about tailoring some of what the pros do to help you become a better rider (no matter what type of riding you do):
Eating and Drinking Like the Pros: How to Make Your Own Sports Food & Drink. 15 pages of detailed information from the peloton – only $4.99 ($4.24 for Premium Members after their 15% discount). Coach John Hughes describes and analyzes pro nutrition in detail and then provides recipes so that you can make your own sports nutrition.
Learning from the Pros: 35 tips on how to become a better rider is 26 pages packed with current information, available for only $4.99 ($4.24 for Premium Members after their 15% discount). Whether you ride for good health, for better fitness or improved performance Coach John Hughes translates these tips from the masters of the sport into terms that you can use.
Was this article helpful?
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.