For most people watching a Grand Tour on television, the excitement really starts as soon as the first stage is about to start. Many months before, we already started working on the most ideal nutrition preparation towards a Grand Tour. This includes not only individual preparation with riders, but also meetings with our nutrition partner, 6D Sports Nutrition, our chefs from Kookeiland and all hotels we will be staying throughout the Grand Tour.
Rider preparation & nutrition
The process towards a Grand Tour starts months in advance. Although we have 8 riders competing in the same race, their nutrition preparation can be very different from each other and depends on many factors such as Grand Tour experience, race program towards the Grand Tour, personal preferences and level of nutrition knowledge.During the first training camps before the season even starts, in December and January, we start working a detailed, structured and personalized plan.
One of the important aspects is race nutrition and training the gut. During races and training, riders burn a lot of carbohydrates which they need to refuel in a timely way, as the body only has a limited stock – enough to fuel roughly 1.5 hours of hard racing. As riders need high amounts of carbohydrates during a race (and periods of training), they cannot do so without properly training their gut system to tolerate those amounts. This means that all of our riders only use the highest quality products, such as 6D Sports Nutrition drinks, bars and gels. These products are high in carbohydrates and easy to digest, essential to refill their storages on the bike and to minimize any risk of stomach complaints.
Besides in-race food, hydration is also of crucial importance. Imagine the Vuelta a España, where temperatures are always around 30 degrees and dehydration might easily occur without a proper hydration strategy. Two factors are crucial to optimize hydration; Individual sweat rates and individual sweat sodium losses. Throughout the season, we do multiple sweat tests with all riders to learn how much they sweat in different circumstances.
Together with their sodium losses in sweat, this data can ultimately be used during the Grand Tours to optimize hydration strategies. This is very individual, for example we have seen riders only losing 500 ml/hour, where others lost more than 2 litres/hour in the same circumstances. You might already think to yourself that the second rider will have a very different drinking approach. A drink like 6D Isotonic is of key importance to keep our riders hydrated throughout Grand Tours.
Data to fuel the body
Throughout the season and towards the build-up of a Grand Tour, we also collect data via DEXA-scans and body composition measurements. These measurements are of key importance to guide riders nutrition wise towards their most optimal physique, meaning not being too lean before a Grand Tour, or too lean early in the season, where the risk of infections and sickness is high. Rather than under-fueling, proper nutrition is key, meaning learning how to fuel properly for breakfast, what to take for recovery, and how to fuel well during dinner, is all part of the preparation in order to make sure that riders can maintain body composition throughout a Grand Tour.
Grand Tour menu
Together with our chefs of Kookeiland, we develop a nutrition menu weeks in advance, planning for the entire 3–4-week period of a Grand Tour. This includes breakfast, snacks on the bus, recovery meals, and an evening meal. We start by taking a look into the parcourse info of all stages individually and decide the most optimal menu for these stages. For example, if we have a mountain stage coming up, we reduce fibre intake the day beforehand to make sure that the process of digestion is as easy as possible, and thereby lower the risk of stomach complaints during the day.
Our chefs help us to make sure that we have a menu which contains enough variety throughout the weeks, as well as high-quality, taste and attractive visually. All of these factors are equally important. Into the third week of a Grand Tour, it can be challenging for riders to eat enough and refill their losses for the next hard day again. Therefore, we also discuss nutrition wishes before a Grand Tour well in advance with all riders. These wishes might be pizza, tiramisu or beef burger. Not typical food products that you would think of as most optimal during periods of intense racing, however, they are always included in our Grand Tour menu, most often the day before a rest day. By making some changes compared to the ‘’traditional preparation’’, these meals can still be beneficial and healthy! Think about our chefs using whole grain pizza dough or bread, not as much cheese as on a traditional pizza but instead we might use light mozzarella cheese and add sufficient amounts of vegetables on top.
Photo credit: ©Wout Beel