One of the most challenging aspects of the Tour for both riders and their helpers is maintaining the nutrition required to deliver optimum performance. The physical demands of the Tour are so high that even a momentary lapse in fuelling strategy could spell disaster. Teams employ nutritionists and chefs to manage the riders’ food consumption, though this is only a relatively recent phenomenon. In years past team managers had to negotiate meals with provincial French hotel-owners, and the result was usually steak and rice, or pasta. Lots and lots of pasta.
Daily calorie intake can be between 4000 and 9000, depending on the rider, the stage and the weather conditions. Fluid intake can be up to 10 litres a day. A typical day looks something like this.
For breakfast riders will have yoghurts, muesli, bread, porridge and fruit. No croissants – these are too slow to digest and sit heavy in the stomach. With breakfast three hours before the stage start, riders will top up on the transfer from the hotel, eating snacks like rice cakes and energy bars.
During the race, they will eat the food they have in their pockets, grab more at the feed zone and if necessary go back to the team car. If the racing is relaxed they will consume solid food like energy bars or bread rolls with jam, but when the pressure is on they stick to energy gels, either isotonic or caffeine.
Immediately upon finishing the race a helper will hand them a protein-rich recovery drink. Showered and changed into casual clothing on the team bus, the riders will then have a snack on the transfer to the next hotel.
At dinner there is usually a starter of soup or salad to give a nutrient boost, then the main course is heavy in carbohydrate and protein. Team chefs try to keep the meals colourful and varied, to avoid riders becoming bored of repetitive food, but there is still a great deal of pasta consumed. Dessert is often fruit, cake or a tart. Before bed riders will continue to eat small snacks to keep their glycogen levels replenished, and they will make sure to keep drinking throughout the evening.
Gluttony? No, just survival.
Photo by Marshall Kappel