The Tour is one of the most demanding sporting events in the world, so we spoke to the team nutritionists to find out what the pros eat.
While the Tour de France stages wrap up every afternoon, the racers' challenge to consume enough calories only begins.
Riders burn 3,500 to 4,500 calories on a single stage, says Robby Ketchell, Garmin-Cervelo’s director of sports science. Of course, that doesn’t include the other 1,500 to 2,000 their bodies need just to function as everyday civilians like the rest of us.
So each day the likes of Thor Hushovd and David Zabriskie consume 5,000 to 6,000 calories. That’s the equivalent of six pounds of steak or, in Garmin’s case, two boxes of Chocolate-Chip Clif Bars and a half-dozen gels.
To give his riders something more appealing that a stack of sirloins or a bag of bars, Ketchell maps out the day’s calories from the time his riders wake until it’s lights out. A typical day starts with breakfast three to fours hours before the start. Morning mainstays include cereal and oatmeal along with rice or pasta. If a rider’s in the mood for noodles at 8 a.m., there’s plenty of that too.
Always stick to what your body will accept and is happy to eat when you’re trying to recover, advises Ketchell. By eating what they enjoy, the riders not only eat more but also avoid any digestive distress, which results from trying to stomach food they don’t like.
Meal and snack schedule
Two hours before the start of a stage, the team hands out their pre-race mix of slow-release carbohydrates for energy in the stage’s opening hours. Riders will sip this half-liter concoction on the bus and in the morning’s start town to bring their day’s calorie count to around 1,000 before the gun even goes off.
Most riders burn 600 to 900 calories an hour, says Ketchell, but their bodies can process only 250 to 300 per hour. Even so, a steady supply of gels, chews, and bars from Clif, a team sponsor, are on hand. Garmin cooks up batches of rice bars and starts to give riders homemade salty and sweet options. In the day’s feed zone, team assistants hand out musettes (small bags) with paninis for lunch. Riders are now up to about 2,500 calories by the end of a stage.
Robby Ketchell, Garmin-Cervelo’s director of sports science. (Matt Allyn)
Amid the carefully designed recovery beverages and energy bars, a pressed sandwich seems out of place, but Ketchell stresses that it’s important to still have a regular lunch during a long day of pedaling to maintain your body’s normal rhythm.
After crossing the finish line, Garmin-Cervelo soigneurs hand the riders cold water and soda (Fanta Orange seems a peloton favorite) to start re-hydrating. The team keeps scales on hand for riders who want to measure their sweat loss, though many have developed keen sense for what they need to eat and drink after a race after years of hard efforts.
Once back on the bus, the guys get their first recovery drink, a sweet and fruity carbohydrate mix, and containers of white rice and egg dishes sit on a counter for snacking. Riders get an optional second recovery drink that’s a chocolate-flavored and protein-packed to aide muscle repair on the drive to the next hotel.
About 8:30, after checking in at their hotel and getting a message, riders and staff head to a dinner prepared by the team chef, Sean Fowler, on a separate truck equipped with a full kitchen.
Dinners mirror the team’s usual mix 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fats from breakfast and lunch. A meal might be a light Thai curry over white rice. Fowler also adds more vegetables at dinner for their antioxidants. The chef keeps a variety of produce for the riders to satisfy tastes and keep the mix of food familiar, another way to avoid G.I. distress.
That final binge of the day adds about 2,500 calories—enough to fuel cyclists like you and me—and serves to replenish muscles’ energy stores, give muscles the necessary protein to rebuild, then start loading up for the next day’s effort.