Tour de France riders are known for their capacity to eat a lot on the bike, and off it too. They need plenty of fuel to compete in such a gruelling race. The team chef and nutritionist usually decide what’s on the menu. But riders also have their preferences. Here are some of the foods that are synonymous with the Tour de France.
Energy bars and gels
If you think of a cyclist eating, you probably imagine a Tour de France rider squeezing an energy gel into their mouth. This specialized sports food was invented in 1986 and quickly became a staple for any modern professional cyclist. Riders consume well over a hundred of these energy-dense gels or bars over the course of the whole Tour. You can try making one yourself. Check out our recipe for a homemade endurance raw bar. You can fuel four-hour long rides with two of these as an enthusiast.
Rice cakes are really popular because they offer a different texture and different flavours than energy gels. Team chefs fill them with all kinds of things, ranging from Nutella to nuts or strawberry jam. “Rice cakes are my absolute favourite food for the jersey. I cook them a lot for the riders. Everyone who discovers them finds them to be their little favourite,” said the head chef for Team Sky (now Ineos), Henrik Orre. If you want to try a rice cake yourself, check it out in our previous article here.
Pasta and baguettes
The tradition of Tour de France riders eating pasta and baguettes is almost as old as the race itself. Back when there were no teams or sports foods, riders had to rely on anything that would fill them up quickly. It ended up being the traditional European carbohydrate rich foods like pasta and bread. The funny thing is, as much as sports nutrition has evolved over the years, the high carb consumption from pasta and bread still plays a part.
Hot chocolate is another source of calories that was popularised early on at the Tour. Maurice Garin, the first ever winner of the Tour de France, recalled consuming 19 litres of hot chocolate during a 24-hour race. Sounds crazy, right? Here’s the recipe if you want to give it a try.
Bidons filled with sports drinks
Who can imagine a Tour de France rider who doesn’t regularly sip from a bidon? Hydration became much more important as racing was professionalised. The hot chocolate was replaced by sports drinks that give riders a perfect mix of the electrolytes they lose through sweat, carbohydrates for energy, and liquids to hydrate. They are so well formulated that they are able to deliver upwards of 90 g of sugar to a rider every hour without causing any gastric distress.
When not on the bike, riders also enjoy drinks prepared from carefully selected fruits and vegetables. Beetroot juice and cherry juice are among the most popular for their performance-boosting capabilities. The nitrates in beetroot have been shown to reduce oxygen consumption during exercise, while cherry juice has been shown to decrease symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage.
Tour de France breakfasts are something to behold! The amount of food Tour de France riders consume in their first meal of the day is crazy. Especially when getting ready for a mountain stage, they eat so much food that it would be enough for the whole day for a regular sedentary person.
A big Tour breakfast might include rice, pasta, omelettes, porridge with nuts and fruits, sandwiches, fruit juice, and coffee. And riders even top up their energy stores with gels and bars on the way to the start of a stage!
If you want to give this type of breakfast a try, you can follow our recipe for banana pancakes and porridge. See how much you can eat and still go ride hard!
Lots of caffeine
Caffeine is one of the few performance-enhancing substances that is completely legal at the Tour de France. Plus, cyclists love coffee! It’s a match made in heaven. Cyclists often get as many as four coffees, a few cans of Coke, and several caffeinated energy gels per day.