How do our Etixx - Quick-Step riders eat during the season? What do they eat? Etixx Sports Nutrition gives the explanation in the text below!
"How do they do it?": everyone who sees professional cyclists at work in the Tour de France, the Vuelta or the Giro probably wonders about this. How is it possible that such tendril and slender athletes are able to deliver such great performances? Undoubtedly, the body of a rider suffers during such a multi-day stage race. The non-stop racing, the difference in weather circumstances (during the last Tour de France the riders event went from 30° C to 4° C and snow in a single stage!). The alternation of rest days, followed by heavy mountain stages, then back to flat stages... Only those who are in excellent shape, can come out of this unharmed!
Being in good shape starts with an excellent health and a good immune system. Nutrition plays in important part in this. All that the riders eat, has a direct influence on their overall health, their performance level, but also on the speed of the recovery afterwards. And this can be of crucial importance during such a multi-day race. Nutrition has an important contribution to the shape of the riders. Weight and body fat are also important parameters in this context. During the Tour de France 2015, this issue was a hot topic: "How low can one go in body fat percentage?" was the subject of many discussions and articles.
The Etixx-Quickstep cycling team was not mentioned in this debate. This article gives the reader more insight into the general nutrition principles of the team.
First of all, during the preparation period, the riders have to aim for a balanced diet with a variation of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins. Carbohydrates fuel the muscles, they deliver the energy that is needed for the performance. Proteins are important for the muscle build-up and for the recovery of the muscles afterwards. Fats will be taken in to a limited extend, especially when the riders seeks to have a low percentage of body fat.
The daily energy need of a professional cyclist depends of many different factors. Especially the nature of the effort (intensive or not) and the duration of the effort are important in this context. Generally, it can be stated that the energy-intake of a professional rider is high. During the Tour de France for example, a rider can use 6500kcal during a stage. A mountain stage can raise this amount to 10 000kcal. For comparison: the daily need of a normal man is 2500kcal.
Sufficient variation in the nutrition program is appropriate to have the necessary vitamins and minerals. Some cyclists prefer a bit of support in this area, because of nutrition preferences or unilateral eating habits. They make sure to supplement their diet with multi-vitamins and/or iron. During heavy training periods, or in an intense preparation period, these supplements are standard used.
Nutrition before the stage
Before the performance, it's extremely important to maximize the glycogen reserves (reserves of carbohydrates). In case of races during longer than 3 hours, it's necessary to start with this maximizing several days (2 to 3 days) before the race. The training sessions are decreased and the level of carbohydrates increased. All this in combination with limiting fats and fibers in the nutrition. This is what they call 'carbo-loading'. Professional riders need to carbo-load, because their body fat percentage is very low (6%-10% max), so they don't have any fats in reserve to burn during the performance.
During multi-day races it is essential to replenish the burned nutritional elements. To do so, the riders take in decent portions of carbohydrates and proteins. In between, riders often eat or drink snacks like Carbo-Gy, Isotonic or an Energy Sport Bar.
The day of the race
When the riders get up in the morning, they start loading up the carbohydrates that are needed for the race of the day. Most of the times, the race starts before noon, so then the riders' breakfast will be their race meal. Breakfast usually consists of white bread, toast, pancakes, cereal, jam, honey, bananas... And this is big portions! Some riders eat pasta or rice at breakfast, but this is not necessary, it's more about personal preference or tradition. After breakfast, they drink Isotonic or Carbo-Gy, these are fluid carbohydrates which are easily ingested. This can be in combination with an Energy Sport Bar and this until just before the start.
During the race
Considering nutrition, the most important task for the riders during the race is to replenish carbohydrates and fluids. The amount of carbohydrates that is taken in, is dependent on the duration and intensity of the stage. On average, the intake of carbohydrates is about 60 gr per hour, but in longer races, they aim at 90 gr per hour. In the professional cycling world, the majority of the races are longer ones, except for the time trials. Making sure they take in those 90 gr of carbohydrates per hour, is a difficult task. It's only possible by using a special mix of carbohydrates. For this purpose, Etixx has developed the Isotonic, recently with the new watermelon flavor. Etixx follows the scientific developments within the world of sports nutrition closely, and works in close collaboration with the riders to get detailed feedback. Products that taste good and are accessible, are more often used. Most of the time, at the beginning of the race, the riders use Energy Sport Bars, combined with Isotonic. Towards the end of the race, the riders will limit themselves to the use of fluid nutrition, because it is easier to ingest. If the rider is in need of an quick energy boost, he opts for the Ginseng & Guarana Energy Gel.
Every riders has his personal preferences. Some riders prefer bars, others prefer using gels. Next to carbohydrates, the replenishing of fluids is another important aspect for the riders. The riders go get the bottles at the team car and bring them to the front men. The average fluid intake is 500-750 ml per hour, depending on the weather conditions.
After the race
After the stage, the rider immediately receive a Recovery Shake, which consists of proteins and carbohydrates. After all, is still takes a while for the riders to get to the hotel. The recovery drink provides a first recovery for the muscles and already replenishes a part of the burnt carbohydrates. In the bus on their way to the hotel, there are some sandwiches, Energy Bars and Isotonic for the hungry riders. Furthermore, it is really important to replenish the lost fluids after the performance. The riders need to refill, this can run up to 2 or 3 liters. At the arrival at the hotel, the riders have a normal meal. An enjoyable meal is not only good for the morale, but also great for team spirit!