In the light of the biggest race of the year, Head of Team Sky’s nutrition Dr James Morton provides some insight into what it takes to fuel a Grand Tour…
What will the riders have for breakfast?
Breakfast will usually be served between 8:00 – 9:00am depending on the rider’s start time. This will be a mix of carbohydrate (aiming for 2-3 g/kg) and protein, minimising fat and fibre so to aid digestion. Foods will include porridge, fruits, pasta, rice, breads etc. Whey Protein will also be available to blend into smoothies. Riders should arrive at the start line of each stage with fully loaded muscle and liver glycogen stores, ready for another 3-6 hours on the bike.
Bars or gels?
Riders will save gels until the last third of long stages or technical sections of the route (climbing/descending). This is when the pace is usually stepped up and fast absorbing carbohydrate is needed. They will aim to consume 60-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour during high intensity sections and mountainous stages. This will drop to 60 grams per hour, maybe less, for flat sections and profiles.
Will the riders eat ‘real food’ on the bike?
Riders don’t just consume bars and gels while on the bike. Foods that are high GI such as rice cakes, sandwiches and paninis are also consumed as these foods are broken down quickly and used for energy. It’s also important to provide the riders with a range of textures and flavours to avoid boredom.
How much will the riders drink?
Fluid intake will depend on the conditions that the riders are faced with. Some riders may lose up to 2 litres of sweat per hour in warm conditions. It is Important to offset this by taking in fluids to ensure that the rider does not become so dehydrated that it affects performance. Riders usually aim to take in 500ml of fluid per hour and then drink to thirst on top of this.
This fluid will contain carbohydrate and salts like that in SiS GO Electrolyte. Here, the aim is to hit both energy and hydration goals.
When will the riders consume caffeine?
Caffeine is one of the most researched aids in endurance sports, which may help improve endurance performance, concentration and alertness. The riders will rely on SiS GO Energy + Caffeine gels to give them a mental edge when the intensity steps up. Most of the riders will normally use between 2-3 caffeine gels; one around 60 minutes before the intense stage and then another around 30 minutes before an intense section e.g. a climb. Riders will also use a caffeine gel in the last hour of the race, when fatigue is usually at its highest. For sprints, caffeine will be taken 30 minutes before the race to provide the mental stimulation needed to last the shorter length. Riders will take either the 75mg or 150mg caffeine gels depending on their individual preference.
How is fuelling for a sprint different to a long distance stage?
For a Time-Trial, the riders generally won’t consume anything during the race due to the short length. Emphasis is on pre and post-race nutrition, ensuring that the riders energy stores are fully topped up. During, longer, flat stages, riders will consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour and due to the higher intensity, riders will consume 75-90 grams of carbohydrate during mountain stages.
How do the riders recover for the next stage?
Recovery starts as soon as the riders finish a stage. After a stage, riders will consume SiS REGO Rapid Recovery, which contains specific amounts of carbohydrate, protein and electrolytes. This 30-minute post-stage period is the ideal time to take on protein and carbohydrate as the metabolism stays high, quickly providing the muscles with what they need to recover.
Riders will replace 150% of the fluid lost through sweat, utilising a mixture of recovery drinks, fruit juices and SiS GO Hydro.
After flat stages, riders will consume either a REGO, or a protein shake along with a full carbohydrate based meal. Riders will replace 150% of the fluid lost through sweat, and extra to increase hydration levels; SiS GO Hydro will help the riders retain the fluid.
On the bus back to the hotel, they will eat chicken, salmon, potatoes, rice, pasta and drink fruit smoothies, this provides a dense nutritional profile and ensures energy levels are restored. The evening meal will take place between 8:00 – 8:30pm and includes more rice and pasta, the carbohydrate source is really dependent on rider preference. All of the riders are very consistent on how much protein and vegetables they consume in the evening.
We actually stretch the recovery process the whole way to the next stage by ensuring the first bottle each rider consumes on the bike is a protein drink, either SiS Advanced Isolate+ or SiS Whey Protein, this ensures a high level of amino acids are readily available.