Have you ever wondered about the bags the cyclists reach for on-course? I’ve explained the importance of nutrition and refueling in this article for Versus’ The Training Room. Check it out:
The riders at the Tour de France have to eat to race and they eat a bunch! They eat big breakfasts and big dinners, but their lunches happen when they are on the road. It also takes place for over five hours a day. The stages start around 10am and last until about 3pm on average. This is the timeframe during which normal people eat lunch. Cyclists do the same, but they eat way more and over a longer period of time.
The reason these athletes eat over a long period of time is actually very important and twofold: digestion and calorie absorption. Riders working that hard can only absorb about 300 or so calories an hour. The remainder of the calories are wasted. So when the riders are burning more than 800 calories an hour on average and only processing 300 to 400 an hour, they end up at a deficit in terms of caloric balance. However, these riders store about 2000 calories of glycogen before the race gets going and that helps make up some of the deficit as they pound out a six-hour stage. The bottom line is that they have to take in the maximum every hour in an effort to keep their tanks as full as possible. They do this by eating and drinking constantly during the stages, even though they might not always be hungry.
And what do they eat? The answer is: pretty much anything they want. Some riders are much more particular about what they eat, but many eat things simply for the taste or if it agrees with their stomachs. You can bet that none of these riders will try anything new at the Tour. The last thing anyone wants to do is try something untested. They want to know how the body will react.
Generally a feedbag will contain the following:
• Isotonic energy drink (like Gatorade®)
• Candy bars
• Energy bars
• Pastries, chocolate, fruit (like cut bananas)
• Paninis, small turkey or ham sandwiches
Now, you’re probably thinking that’s a lot of food–way more than 300 calories–and you are correct in that, but these riders only choose what they want from that selection and either give the rest away to teammates or discard it. Often they will eat some stuff right away and store some things in their jersey pockets for later.
You can also see by the selection that there are some very healthy things and some tasty things. Whether it is made with simple sugar or maple syrup, the important thing is the calories. After 20 races and over 2,500 miles, the palate might change a bit. Variety becomes super important! You will often see teams trading race food halfway through the Tour to give their riders continued variety throughout this brutal race.
Here’s a video with more information:
*Note: italicized text reprinted from versus.com