The Tour de France is one of the most gruelling and prestigious cycle races in the world.
This year’s Tour will be the 104th edition of the race and runs from July 1- 23 made up of 21 stages, ranging from 14 km to 220 km, and will cover a total distance of 3,521 km.
The first event was held in 1903 and has only taken a break during the two world wars. This year’s Grand Depart starts in Dusseldorf, winds its way to the south of France before finishing down the Champs- Elysees in Paris.
But it’s various stages, including time-trials, tortuous mountains and long distance stages, all require different fuelling needs for the riders.
Dr Rob Child, chief scientific office for SiS, who previously worked for Katusha, Qhubeka and the Cervelo Test Teams at the Tour de France, takes a look at the nutritional requirements required to keep the competitors in the saddle.
He said: “The Tour is a huge challenge, you are talking about 21 stages, with only two rest days, and the nutrition varies depending on the length of each one.”
The opening time trial is the shortest stage this year.
Typically riders would have a standard breakfast, oats porridge, muesli, some fruit, omelette.
Rob said: “In the two hours beforehand they would typically have a light meal of white rice or white pasta without sauce to be sure they have sufficient glycogen in the muscle. Most riders also have a small omelette.
“They will also make sure they are hydrated, numerous teams use SiS Go Hydro tablets to achieve this in the pre-race period.
“They might only be racing for 15 minutes in the opening time trial but all the riders will do a warm-up of at least 45 minutes. So the warm up will be more demanding than the opening time trial in terms of total calories burnt even though it is performed at a lower intensity.
“It’s quite important to do a bit of fuelling during the warm up, and traditionally riders go for a carbohydrate electrolyte drink with caffeine gels.
“So, traditionally, the guys use Go Electrolyte during the warmup and Go Energy Caffeine Gels, or Go Energy Double Espresso Caffeine Gels.
“They’d take those normally one in the beginning of the warm up, then another one 15 minutes before they are going to do their effort.
“However, earlier this year SiS launched its award winning GO Caffeine shot. Uniquely this contains 150mg caffeine, in addition to citrulline malate, magnesium and several B-vitamins. These work in combination to provide major improvements in mental and physical performance, and are ideally taken 30 minutes prior to big efforts. From the outset feedback from pro riders was unanimously positive and the GO Caffeine shot has now become part of the pre race nutrition strategy.”
Nutrition immediately following the first time trial is also of vital importance for the riders.
Dr Child pointed out that riders may have a small measure of recovery drink, being mindful of not consuming too many calories before hitting the mountains.
Then a little bit of rice, cooked pasta, mixed with a bit of sweet corn or sardines which is pretty light and easily digestible.
They then would have a proper evening meal ahead of a tough road stage the following day.
Rob said: “For a typical road stage the guys will eat more of pretty much the same thing, just increasing the respective amounts according to the energy demands of the stage.
“The breakfast is pretty standard, with most of the protein coming from yoghurt, omelettes and poached eggs or cooked meats. Many riders replace meat and eggs with a high quality protein powder like SiS Advanced Isolates, to maintain protein intake with minimum fat.
“A lot of the riders have a coffee at breakfast then a second coffee about an hour before the race starts.
“If it was going to be a hot stage they would use the Go Hydro tablets starting at breakfast and on the bus on the way to the race start to make sure they start each stage fully hydrated.”
And the fuelling doesn’t stop once the stage gets under way with some riders taking a Whey 20 protein gel at the start of the stage before moving on to protein or energy bars and finally energy gels.
Dr Child added: “Towards the end of the stage riders will use more gels especially caffeine gels.
“They would be taking hydration drinks all the way along, such as Go Electrolyte or Go Energy, but if there are key obstacles ahead like mountains then they will be thinking about taking caffeine gels before the major climbs in addition to the finish, just because it is going to be more physically challenging and they need to be alert.
“So that’s how the stage is laid out starting more on the solids and then graduating to the liquids.
“If it’s a mountain stage the the last gel is consumed 20 minutes before the finish. When riders take gels after this time it is a sign they are struggling.”
After the stage, the riders often crave fizzy drinks because they refresh the palette, before getting on the team bus and having a recovery drink, such as REGO Rapid Recovery.
Dr Child added: “REGO provides 20 grams of protein which covers the first stage of muscle repair.
“Then 20 minutes later they take on solid carbohydrates to refuel such as white rice, white pasta or potatoes and slow release protein in the form of meat or fish. Fruit salad is also a key staple providing antioxidants and phytonutrients, which also help muscle recovery.”
The riders will also drink water on the journey to the hotel, adding in several GO Hydro tablets if its been a hot stage or if they feel they are a little bit thirsty.
On arrival at the hotel, most riders immediately have a one hour massage before heading down to dinner. This will typically comprise of salad , pasta, rice or potatoes with meat or fish. After a mountain stage some riders reward or console themselves with chocolate or a dessert.
Dr Child added: “The final call of the evening is the delivery of the night recovery drinks and REGO Overnight Protein is very popular as it provides a concentrated source of casein. This slow digesting milk protein releases amino acids which is important to muscle recovery. If you take 20-30g of casein it will take 6-8 hours to digest so there will still be amino acids repairing the muscle at 6am if you went to bed at 11pm.
“The immune system also uses amino acids so if the riders are fighting some kind of infection you are providing fuel for that to.”