Paris-Nice, sometimes also called the Mini Tour de France, is an iconic stage race that takes riders across central France. The thing is, it’s not really all that “mini”, it’s actually a very gruelling race that puts even the very elite to test. Let’s take a look at what nutrition looks like for pros at this 8-day event.

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Running from Sunday, March 8th, to March 15th, 2020, the 78th Paris-Nice will be made up of 8 stages and will cover a total distance of 1,217 kilometres. There will be 3 flat stages, 3 hilly stages and, as usual, one mountain stage and one individual time-trial. The hardest stages have riders burn upwards of 5,000 kcal, which is about 2-3x more than what the average cyclist burns in a day. Just so you have an idea, 5,000 kcal is the amount of energy you would find in about 55 bananas, it’s a ton of food! Of course, bananas are not the only food the pros eat. It’s also no longer all about carbs like pasta, bread, and rice. The diet of the riders must be pretty diverse and full of quality nutrition throughout the whole race. Let’s check out what foods they actually eat and why.

Breakfast

In a multi-stage race, riders need to recover from the previous day as well as fuel for the upcoming stage, so their breakfast is usually pretty big. They need to ingest a lot of slow carbs, quality protein, some healthy fats but nothing too heavy. This is what a breakfast might look like before a very hard mountain stage.

A bowl of porridge with nuts, a large omelette, three cheese and ham sandwiches, 100g of pasta, 1 cup of yoghurt, 500ml fruit smoothie, 1 glass of apple juice, 1 cup of coffee.

Pre-race snack

Since stages usually start between 10:00 and 12:30, riders have a chance to get some more fuel in on the bus to the starting line.

Such a snack usually involves a piece of fruit, a couple of energy bars, a lot of water, and, of course, more coffee.

Sergio Andres Higuita of the EF Pro Cycling team crosses the finish line after the first stage of the Paris-Nice 2020 © SEBASTIEN NOGIER / EPA / Profimedia

Fuel on the bike

The trend is to eat as much as possible before a stage to limit the amount of food consumed on the bike. This makes sense because food in the stomach can slow the riders down and sometimes even cause gastric problems. Race fuelling also depends on the stage type. Flat stages where riders spend a lot of time inside the peloton don’t require much added carbs, as riders can burn enough fat for energy at medium intensities. It’s the demanding hilly stages that require a fair amount of food. Riders usually consume a mix of real foods and gels to hit between 60g and 90g of carbs per hour. This is what a hard mountain stage menu might look like.

Two rice cakes, a croissant with jam and ham, 6 energy bars, 2 isotonic gels, 2 cans of coke, 6 bidons of electrolyte drinks.

Recovery

Recovery starts the moment a rider gets off their bike. Usually, they get a recovery drink from their Soigneurs as soon as they finish a stage and they continue to eat on the bus. The key is to deliver a lot of carbs to replenish their glycogen stores and a sufficient amount of protein so that muscles can start rebuilding. This is an example of what a rider might consume in the first hour or two after a stage.

A recovery drink, a chicken sandwich, a rice cake, 500ml fruit and vegetable smoothie.

Big dinner

Evening time is when riders have a lot of colourful veggies and heavier protein foods to cover their nutritional bases because these are slow to digest and there’s no time for that earlier in the race day. This is what a race-day dinner might look like.

A large beefsteak, 150g pasta, 1 cup of yoghurt, 500ml vegetable juice or a big salad.

Evening snack

The rider’s body continues to burn a lot of calories hours after the stage has ended. That’s why riders have to keep fuelling even late in the evening. The focus is on easy-to-digest carbohydrate-rich foods to keep the glycogen reserves topped up. These are some popular choices.

A cup of yoghurt with cereals, a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit.

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