How do you fuel one of the world’s best cycling teams? We asked Corinne Reinhard, International Sports Nutrition Lead at PowerBar to provide us nutrition insights of the French cycling team AG2R LA MONDIALE.
With riders spending many hours on the bike with short recovery periods, feeding one of the world’s best cycling teams during a multiple-stage race like the Tour de France is no mean feat. Professional cyclists, like the AG2R LA MONDIALE team riders, know that nutrition can give the winning edge to separate them from the rest. “The right food at the right time is absolutely crucial for top performance. Besides whole foods we also use the practical advantage of scientifically developed high-quality sports nutrition products in situations before, during and after rides”, says Romain Bardet, team rider at AG2R LA MONDIALE.
Topping up the body with fuel without causing gastrointestinal discomfort is a priority. Within the last few hours before the start of the stage foods rich in fat or very high in fibre are avoided and instead easy digestible and well-tolerated carbohydrate-rich foods (e.g. pancakes with honey) and high-quality protein sources such as eggs are served for breakfast. Additionally, the riders also ensure that they are well hydrated. They take on sufficient fluids through freshly made fruit juice, smoothies, tea and sometimes coffee.
Optimal carbohydrate and fluid intake during the stage
Competition nutrition strategies focus on optimal energy intake to meet the fuel demands and to support cognitive functions for maximal performance. The right timing, amount and type of carbohydrate intake is key. During a break-away on a mountain stage when a rider is trying to win the stage, a carbohydrate intake of up to 90g per hour via a special mix of glucose and fructose sources (e.g. C2Max), is common.
A carbohydrate mix of glucose and fructose can enhance carbohydrate delivery to the muscles. This can improve prolonged endurance performance in comparison to carbohydrates supplies with only glucose sources. “Each rider decides himself which type of food he wants to eat. They can choose between solid foods or more liquid fuel sources. The riders must be adapted to competition nutrition - this is key”, says team doctor Eric Bouvat.
Thanks to the variety of the PowerBar product range, from PowerGels to solid food such as Energize bars, every rider can find the fuel source that suits him best. Additionally, correct hydration is key. A fluid deficit is one of the main reasons for symptoms of fatigue and a decrease in performance during longer periods of riding. The only way to avoid excessive dehydration is through sufficient fluid intake.
There are many factors like body weight, weather/temperature conditions and exercise intensity that influence the individual sweat rates/fluid losses. The riders of the AG2R LA MONDIALE team have individualized fluid strategies according to their own sweat rates, nevertheless regular hydration during each stage is key. Their bottles are often filled with Isoactive Isotonic Sports Drink that combines carbohydrates, fluid and five electrolytes that are lost most through sweat. After the stage, they need to make sure to drink enough to compensate for any fluid deficits.
Nutrition to enhance Recovery
All riders begin to refuel immediately after crossing the finish line of each stage in order to kick start recovery. They mostly have a double portion of Recovery Max Advanced Regeneration Drink in their favourite chocolate flavour, providing carbohydrates, high-quality protein, fluid and electrolytes. Carbohydrates are needed to replenish glycogen stores, protein for repairing damaged muscle tissue and fluid and electrolytes (especially sodium) for effective rehydration.
Subsequent meals and snacks are carefully planned and individualized for optimal recovery. No two riders will have the same nutritional requirements. A one-size-fits-all recovery nutrition strategy does not exist! Furthermore, it’s important not to forget that sleep plays a major role during recovery and that nutrition also influences this period. A sub-optimally created evening meal can influence sleep quality and reduce night-time recovery.
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