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What does a rider eat to get through a stage of the Tour de France?

We spoke to Ineos Grenadiers’ Performance Nutritionist James Moran to find out how the team fuels a tough day in the mountains
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How on earth do riders fuel a tough stage of the Tour de France and how do they stay on top of their nutrition for three long weeks? We spoke to James Moran of Science in Sport (SiS) Performance Solutions, who is Ineos Grenadiers’ Performance Nutritionist, to find out. 

Naturally, you can expect references to SiS products here because these are what Ineos Grenadiers use. Other teams work with different nutrition brands, of course.

Mountain stages are typically where the Tour de France is won and lost. Today’s stage 18 represents the final mountain stage of the race which tackles two giants of the Pyrenees: Col du Tourmalet and a summit finish on Luz Ardiden.

Tadej Pogacar looks set for overall victory, but who knows? Things can change fast in the mountains. Recovering from stage 17 and fuelling stage 18 at the end of an arduous three-week race is critical.

Breakfast 

Around three to four hours before the race starts, riders will have their breakfast. Typically, this consists of a large portion of cooked white rice, pasta and sometimes a small bowl of porridge or overnight oats to load up on carbohydrates and top up glycogen stores before the race.

Apricots - 1

Breakfast is usually functional, easy to digest and light in the gut. This is something completely individual to each rider in terms of what works for them and has been well tested over many races to avoid any gastro-intestinal issues.

Greek yoghurt - 1

Aside from carbohydrates, eggs and Greek yoghurt are a key part of breakfast, with the protein needed to help with recovery from the day before and protect riders’ muscles ahead of a big day. Team chefs will make individual omelettes or poached eggs.

Eggs in bowl - 1

Aside from that, riders will have some typical breakfast foods such as cereals, fresh and dried fruits, yoghurts, cold meats, fresh fruit juices and pancakes.

The transfer

The transfer from the hotel to the start allows riders to take on more carbohydrates in the form of snacks on the team bus. This can range from cakes made by the chefs to oat energy balls, rice cakes and paninis.

Energy during the race

Because of the high carbohydrate demands on a mountain stage, riders will aim to take in 80-120g of carbs per hour. To be able to absorb and digest high amounts of carbohydrate above 60g per hour on the bike, riders will use ‘dual source’ products containing a blend of glucose (maltodextrin) and fructose. At Ineos Grenadiers this will come from SiS Go Energy Bakes, Beta Fuel Gel and Beta Fuel Drinks.

Typically, in the early parts of the stage and in the valley transitions between climbs, riders will eat more solid foods such as rice cakes, oat energy balls, small paninis, and energy bakes.

Ineos Grenadiers on the go - 1

As the road starts to go upwards, the effort needed to race up steep inclines makes it more difficult to chew solid foods. Riders will typically switch to easy to swallow gels, chews and drinks when climbing to deliver high amounts of carbohydrates at regular 15–20-minute intervals.

Caffeine is taken at specific times; usually 45 minutes before wanting the caffeine boost to ‘kick in’. For Ineos Grenadiers this will typically be in the form of a Double Espresso GO Energy Caffeine Gel or the new Beta Fuel Gel + Nootropics. These also provide carbs while the nootropics are to enhance mental focus and alertness.

Hydration during the race

Although we’re in July, stage 18 could see rain and cold conditions. The weather can change quickly in the mountains.

During warmer stages, riders drink up to 10 litres and can lose up to two litres of fluid per hour through sweat.

Ineos Grenadiers drinks preparation - 1

To account for different weather and hydration needs, riders use different concentrations of drinks as well as hydration tablets and plain water.

Water and fruit juice drinks are consumed before and after stages and on the bus to ensure riders start each stage well hydrated.

Post-race recovery

A riders’ recovery process starts as soon as they arrive back at the bus with smoothies and recovery drinks ready for them as well as cooked rice, pasta and cake. Every hour counts as the riders need to fully recover and replenish their glycogen stores before the next stage.

Pasta in packets - 1

The quantities and types of carbohydrates are individualised and will depend on the energy demands of the stage. Protein is really important for repair especially over a 21-stage race where the muscles undergo a lot of damage, so dishes will usually include chicken or salmon.

Fresh pasta - wikimedia commons

When arriving at the hotel, riders will normally split into two groups. Some of them will go straight to massage and others straight for dinner when, again, they’ll have an open buffet which consists of hot soup, fruit juices, carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables and a special dessert or fruit and yoghurts.

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