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Athl-eat like a champion

Eurest | Health and wellbeing |  03 July 2014

Tour de France diets

Nine flat stages. Five hill stages. Six mountain stages with altitude finishes. One individual time trial stage. A total distance of 3,664 kilometres… The 101st Tour de France is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

And by the time the cyclists cross the finish line in Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, they will have endured months of rigorous training regimes, a strict exercise routine and disciplined diets. 

The latter, the diets, are almost as much of a marvel as the race itself. Tour cyclists need at least 6,000 calories a day — three times as much as a normal person — and getting that much food is no easy task. You’d need to eat 12 average-sized potatoes to get half that; more than most people can stomach in one sitting. It’s not just the quantity that’s the problem, it’s the variety. 

The athletes are accompanied by top sports nutritionists, who load them up with carbohydrates. On the menu for breakfast? Pasta, rice, omelettes, cereals AND toast. And it continues in this vein throughout the day. 

With such large quantities on the menu, it can be easy to forget that food is something to be anticipated, enjoyed and savoured. The top chefs have come up with some creative ways to provide the athletes with the nutrition they rely on. One food that the Tour de France nutritionists suggest is sweet potato brownies, with reduced sugar, increased dried fruit and walnut oil instead of butter (Mckeever, 2013). It offers slow release carbohydrate from the cocoa, fast release carbohydrate from the fruit and fatty acids from the walnuts — essential for quick recovery.

During training periods, every bite the cyclists take has to have a positive effect on their bodies and their performance. Glycogen is a type of energy that’s used up during exercise and it needs to be topped up regularly or the riders will become exhausted. And in these high-speed, high-pressure situations, becoming fatigued can be lethal. A sudden drop in energy is called ‘bonking’ — riders can lose their place in the pack, career off the track or, worse still, crash into other riders or barriers.

Transferring scientific knowledge into tasty dishes is a real skill and vital to keeping the athletes engaged, fueled up and happy. Realising the power that food can have, both restoratively and psychologically, as well as making the most of its emotional connection, can be the secret ingredient for success. 

Although we’re not looking to fine-tune your diet to such an extent, our nutritionists take the equivalent care with the menus they devise for your workplace restaurant, tailoring meals to the needs of your workforce. Either way, up a mountain on a bike or after a brisk walk from your desk, you can be sure of a winning meal. 

Mckeever, S (2013), ‘Tour de France: a mountain of calories’, BBC Food Blog, 29 June 2013 [online] (Accessed 27 June 2014).

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