What pro cyclists eat before, during and after a race.

Recently we posted a couple of blog posts that were extremely popular; one about how PH products fit in with other aspects of your nutrition plan and another from PH athlete Penny Barker about her experimentation with Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) fuelling. Off the back of all the interest in those two posts, we started reaching out to some of our elite athletes for insights into their own nutrition regimes and the first to respond was our good friend from pro cycling team Ag2r, and former holder of the yellow jersey in Le Tour, Jan Bakelants.

Jan has had a busy start to the year, racing in the Tour Down Under, Strada Bianchi and Tirreno Adriatico before moving onto the 7 hour beast that is Milan-San Remo a couple of weeks back. He had high hopes for Milan-San Remo and, although a podium finish evaded him in the end, he made the front bunch over the Poggio (not a small achievement in a race of this calibre!) and finished 41st just 5 seconds behind the winner Michal Kwiatkowski from Team SKY.

The night before the race, Jan sent us the following email and one thing that's really interesting is just how much carbohydrate energy he is taking on to fuel his efforts racing at such a high intensity for such a long period of time. Especially given that a 3 hour bike ride is considered an 'easy day' between races in the life of a pro! So, here’s the insight from Jan…

 

Hi guys,

It’s the evening before Milano-San Remo. The day before a race is all about carbo loading, we reduce the training volume in the days before the start. This year I did Tirreno Adriatico and I had 3 days to recover before Milano-San Remo. The day after Tirreno Adriatico I took a full day off and we traveled to Milano. Yesterday we rode for 3 hours and after that I started to increase my carb intake in my meals.

Today I started with a breakfast of 60g of oats with yoghurt, 6 rice waffles with ham,  a fruit salad and a cappuccino - we're in Italy after all. During our easy ride we stopped at a bakery for a slice of crostata, a traditional Italian jam pie. For lunch we had a risotto and some boiled potatoes together with other boiled vegetables. In the afternoon I ate some Haribo candy and a banana. Tonight at dinner I will eat a plate of pasta (about 150g in dry weight) and some more potatoes with a small piece of chicken.

On the day of the race I will get up and have my usual one day race breakfast; 50g of oats with yoghurt, 100g (dry weight) of rice. Lots of carbs because we'll need energy today! Depending on the hotel I’m in, I’ll also add some ham or I ask for an omelet consisting of 2 yolks and 3 egg whites. The omelet fills me up and it supplies me with some protein, it also goes well with the rice. I do miss my own omelettes when I’m at a race though; at home we have our own chickens and the taste of our own eggs is unbeatable! If there’s space for more after all that, I’ll eat some rice cakes with some jam. I always drink green tea at breakfast. Green tea has proven health benefits and I prefer not to add to the nerves yet by drinking coffee!

Just before the race starts I’ll have a double espresso on the team bus. The caffeine gives me just the right kick to start the race. Pretty much as soon as we start riding, I start eating. In the beginning this will be real foods that you need to chew on and that get absorbed rather slowly. A banana or two is one thing I always have in my back pocket for those first hours.

The soigneurs prepare little jam sandwiches, porridge and rice balls. I’ll always take these foods with me for the early going, after years as a pro you get tired of the taste of energy bars. Later in the race I will then switch to bars and only move on to gels in the final stages. The golden rule is to take in at least 60g of carbs every hour, but my stomach is well trained and I can get higher than that these days. In those 60g are some sugars, including those from the sports drink in our water bottles. On hot days I always have Precision Hydration 1,500mg/l tablets to hand to keep up with the sweat loss of a 6 hour race.

I rode in the team with Chris Horner in 2012/13, who had a quite different approach to in-race fuelling. During the race he only ever wanted to eat snickers and drink Coca Cola! He would ask the guy that had to stay with him in the race "hey, can you get a snickers and a coke for me at the team car”…

When the race is over I’ll have a soft drink, a recovery shake and some rice or some other carb-rich food prepared by the bus driver.

At dinner if I have a choice I’ll tend to have a steak. The long effort I’ve put in during the day needs to be compensated with the right amount of protein and I love a good steak, especially as it goes well with a good glass of red wine (my favourite reward when it all went well…)

 

So, there you have it, the full race-day nutrition plan of a top pro cyclist.  Amazing how much Jan packs away and interesting how much of it is carbohydrate, that really aligns with our approach to fuelling. Now all you need is your own chickens and you'll have everything you need to eat like a pro...

Stay tuned for more insights from elite athletes using PH!


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