This study is truly unique because it comes from working with elite cyclists in a Grand Tour setting. The researchers worked with nine Team Movistar riders at the 2015 Vuelta a España. Movistar won the team classification both in the Tour de France and Vuelta a España that year.
Every bite of food was tracked
The researchers were truly meticulous when tracking the food of all nine Movistar riders. They weighed every food plate of every breakfast and dinner before it was eaten, and sat with the riders to see how much of each ingredient they ate. Likewise, food and gels were weighed before each stage and the remainder re-weighed to determine how much was actually eaten. The team also recorded the number of bidons handed out to each rider.
Here is how many calories, carbs, fat, and protein per day the riders averaged during the whole tour.
- 5,415 kcal per day
- 872 g of carbs per day (12.5 g per kg of body weight)
- 230 g of protein per day (3.3 g per kg of body weight)
- 98 g of fat per day (1.5 g per kg of body weight)
These are impressive numbers. Just to compare, even if you’re fit and live an active lifestyle with a lot of cycling, you probably only burn around 2,500 kcal per day and that is typically made up of around 350 g of carbs, 90g of protein, and 82 g of fat.
Breakfast was the biggest meal of the day
The study also shows when the Movistar riders consumed this amount of food throughout the day. To start, they had such a big breakfast that it would feed a typical sedentary person for almost an entire day. Here’s what they took in on average.
- 1,317 kcal
- 199 g of carbs
- 47 g of protein
- 37 g of fat
They consumed over 43% of daily calories on the bike
On the bike, riders ate nearly half of all the calories for the whole day. They averaged 91 g of carbs every hour across all of the stages. The minimum they ate on the bike was 66 g per hour and the maximum was as high as 119 g. Don’t try this at home—you might experience digestive discomfort!
Riders shifted away from a high-carb focus towards high protein for recovery. After a stage ended, they had a relatively low 147 g of carbs and 16 g of fat but a respectable 55 g of protein. This repeated for dinners too.
Calories burned were also calculated
The other side of food intake is energy expenditure. To find out how many calories riders burned during each stage, the researchers used power data from their bike watt-metres. They used a scientifically validated figure of 20.7% when converting kilojoules of power at the crank to calories.
From these measurements, the researchers found the average energy expenditure for different stages. It varied a lot depending on stage length and intensity. Also, keep in mind, these are only numbers of calories burned on the bike, not for the whole day.
- 373 kcal during the 7.4 km team time trial
- 1,090 kcal during the 37.8 km individual time trial
- 3,107 kcal during the flat stages
- 4,707 kcal during the high-mountain stages
Their body fat decreased
Researchers evaluated changes in body composition of all riders by doing skinfold measurements before the Grand Tour and after. They found that the average rider dropped about 1 kg throughout the Vuelta. Measurements of arm and thigh circumference suggested that muscle mass was fairly well retained throughout the race. This shows that most of what they lost must have been fat.