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Nutritional challenges of a one-day race differ wildly from those of a three-week Grand Tour. Athletes need to repeat good performances day after day, maintain weight, and recover overnight. The fueling plan has to cover not only the time spent on the bike but also off it. It’s not just about the amount of carbs anymore; there’s plenty more to consider. Let’s look at several important lessons from Tour De France competitors that every cycling enthusiast can benefit from.

Develop your fueling strategy before the race

Training is not just for building endurance, technique, and strength, but also for figuring out nutrition. Find out what works for you and don’t make any changes close to race day. Pro teams test and tweak their approaches during off-season; there are no more experiments or secret weapons being unveiled on race day.

Well-balanced diet is a must

Cycling nutrition used to be about binging on bread and pasta, but those days are long gone. There has been a major shift when the “no needles” rule was introduced. It meant that riders could no longer get vitamin injections during races. As a result, a well-balanced diet comprised of nutrient dense foods is a must for every pro cyclist.

Start with a large breakfast

Lots of slow and fast carbs, quality protein and coffee; take in as many calories as your digestion can comfortably handle. Breakfast is the most important meal you consume in the day, and will directly impact your nutritional needs when riding. The more you consume in the morning, the less you have to eat on the bike.

90g of carbs per hour

Around 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour, or about 360 calories, is the maximum our bodies can absorb. More just sits there and does more harm than good. That’s why we should eat by clock when racing; it’s almost impossible to catch up if you fall behind, so don’t underestimate it. It is also wise to go through solid foods during flat parts of the ride and save gels or liquid calories for steeper, higher intensity sections.

500 to 1000ml of fluid per hour

How much water you need depends on the weather, the length of your ride, your sweat rate, and many other factors. It’s not easy to calculate the exact amount of fluids even for pros, but there’s a bigger problem when it comes to hydration: when the going gets tough, riders stop drinking all together. So, first and foremost, learn to keep drinking no matter what.

A cyclist of Russia's Tinkoff cycling team carrying feeding bottles for his teammates rides during a sunny day
A cyclist of Russia’s Tinkoff cycling team carrying feeding bottles for his teammates rides during a sunny day

No alcohol

If you’re coming up on your big race of the season, it might be time to steer clear of alcohol. That’s what the BMC pros do, anyway. “No alcohol during the Tour, or even during the weeks before,” says Judith Haudum, nutritionist for BMC. “Maybe if you win a stage or have the yellow jersey, you can have a glass at dinner.”