What is a day really like for a Tour de France rider from wake up to bedtime?
As you may have heard, the Tour de France is as much an eating contest as it is a bike race. With athletes being hardly a percentage point apart in fitness, it comes down to who can manage the demands day after day and take care of their bodies. Fueling is only one piece of the puzzle, but here is what you can expect a "day in the life" to look like.
With most stages beginning around “lunchtime” in France, this gives the athletes a bit of time to stock up and prepare for the day in the morning. At first, as I imagine it, they all come down to the breakfast table nice and early – chipper to start the day. Then, as the weeks wear on, they probably start to trickle down to breakfast a bit less tidy and rushed.
“…riders will typically consume a carbohydrate-based breakfast aiming for 2-3g/kg (porridge, fruits, smoothies, juices, pasta, rice, breads etc). In this way, riders commence each stage with fully loaded glycogen stores ready for another hard day in the saddle!" (Science in Sport)
Almost all teams target breakfast to be 3-4hr prior to stage start. This allows ample time to digest and absorb nutrients while limiting the potential for GI distress. From there, they load up on the bus and get en route to the start…where more snacks are awaiting them.
“The soigneurs make race foods like paninis and rice cakes. Those are on the bus along with bananas and energy bars, and of course, coffees. There’s plenty of snacking to be done on the bus.” (Bicycling)
As has been discussed on The Feed before, high carbohydrate fueling protocols are becoming standard across the board at the pro level. While you can find a variety of products at the Tour, they’re all aiming for 80-120g of carbs per hour depending on the stage.
Riders may begin by consuming more stable “real” food on less intense or flat stages, but they stick to simple products when things begin to heat up. The Maurten Gel 100, Enervit Liquid Gel, NeverSecond C30, or SIS Beta Fuel gel are pro-favorites…but we are seeing more calories in bottles than ever before. The high-carb drink mixes like Maurten 320 and Superfuel, are helping to enhance hydration and improve fuel availability for these riders.
Additionally, we are seeing more teams advocating for higher levels of sodium (and electrolytes) than before with simple products like LMNT leading the way.
They will designate domestiques to go to the car retrieve bottles and food in addition to the Feed Zones that are placed throughout the stages. Fuel is always nearby...
While the mornings may be long, they will finish sometime in the evening (4-6pm) and this makes for a very condensed night…placing even more importance on fueling constantly.
“Depending on the stage intensity, riders will typically consume carbohydrates at a rate of 1-1.5 g/kg per hour during the first 2-3 hours [after the stage]. After a few hours of rest/transfer to the next hotel, riders then typically have their main evening meal aiming for 3 g/kg of carbohydrate” (Science in Sport)
To encourage recovery, reaching for a product like SwissRX Total Recovery can ensure that they are taking care of themselves immediately.
Furthermore, they will follow up the race with a massage and/or compression boot session around dinner time. Add in a little team debrief and you have a full day of events.
If the answer is not “yes”, then it’s at least “they try”. These athletes can burn anywhere from 3-6,000 calories a day depending on the stage demands, body mass, and environmental factors. That being said, it’s nearly impossible to stay on top of that expenditure, and the accompanying metabolic effects, day after day for three weeks…but they sure try.
The teams have their nutritional performance as dialed in as their physical. The logistics are fine-tuned to make sure athletes have adequate and proper fuel all day long, making it as easy on the athletes as possible. However, it’s not always as simple as it seems. Tough days in the saddle make eating a task and things like illness or compromised gut health can sneak in.
It’s not all about the food though, right? In the next edition, we expose some of the biggest trends being implemented in this year’s Tour de France.