Averaging out each day on the Tour de France a typical rider will burn between 5,000 and 6,000 calories. This is made up of 3,000 to 4,500 on the bike and 1,500 to 2,000 off the bike i.e. during massage, dinner, stretching and sleeping etc.
Each and everyday the riders diety needs are tended to by a dietician or nutritional expert. The whole object of the day is to try to get calories into the stomach without causing distress to the stomach. One of the ways to do this is simple, give the riders what they like to eat. Some like pasta at 7.00am others like cereal and others could eat some rice or noodles. The breakfast is usually eaten 3 to 4 hrs before the start of a stage. On the way to the stage start the riders will hydrate well and consume some special home-brew shakes which will provide some small amounts of protein and good amounts slow release carbohydrates. Even before the riders are on their bike they have consumed between 1,000 and 1,500 calories. The main idea before the stage is to carbohydrate load and keep protein low. Protein will sit in the stomach during a stage and take up valuable carbohydrate space, it also takes longer to digest. Protein will eventually be broken down and used as a carbohydrate but only when existing fuel has been exhausted. A riders does not want to be in this condition.
During the stage a rider will consistently process food at a rate of 250 to 300 calories per hour. If a rider is riding in the peleton he might be burning 600 calories and hour or if he is up the road in the escapees he could be burning 900 calories an hour, As one can see these numbers don’t add up. 300 in and 900 out leaves 600 deficit per hour. This shows how important it is that a riders consumes food while on the bike aswell as off. If a rider forgets to eat his glycogen levels will drop and he could see as much as 10 – 15% decrease in power output. If this happens once it is not to severe as a rider can recuperate but if it occurs again most riders in a stage race like the tour will start to lose performance for the rest of the event as their bodies can’t physically play catchup.
Lunch on the bike is normally half way through a stage or sometime before or after depending on the parcours. For those of you new to The Tour the answer to that question your thinking is no!, the rider does not get off the bike and chillout in a cafe. The nutritional experts and soigneurs make up food bags for the riders call musette’s. These contain iso-drinks, gels, food parcels (homemade rice cakes or even peanut butter rolls with ham and cheese) both salty and sweet to the individual riders choice. These musette’s will be handed out at the side of the road during designated feeding zones as indicated by the tour organisers. By lunch the riders are hovering around 2,500 to 3,000 calories consumed.
From lunch to the finish the riders will keep eating from their musette stocks or even get other food from the supporting team cars to keep them going. In the last 15 km some riders will often start to consume some recovery products such as maybe a small protein dirink and some protein bars to get the recovery started early. The earlier this begins the better for the next days racing.
Once finished the riders will weigh themselves to see how much liquids they have lost. Some riders could be 1 – 2kg lighter after a stage which is all due to liquid loss and not fat loss. The rider will then ensure that he consumes this amount in liquids and more to make sure that he is fully rehydrated for the next stage. Each kilo lost in body weight is equal to 1 liter of water so a rider losing 2 kg will need to consume 4 liters to fully hydrate. Again these volumes give us an idea of the stress the digestive system is under when these professional cyclist perform. The drinks used for rehydration after the stage will contain proteins and carbohydrates but mostly proteins for muscle repair and recovery. Egg based dishes with rice are also available in most busses post the stage.
Dinner will be consumed once back at the hotel (usually around 8:30) with most food coming from low G.I. products to avoid digestive distress. vegetables are a good source of vital minerals and antioxidants. Food content percentages will look like 30:30:40 usually. Fat, Protein and Carbs in that order. Steak, Rice, Pasta, Noodles etc.