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Giro 2021: Fuelling The Cima Coppi Q&A

Ahead of the start of the 2021 Giro we spoke with Science in Sport Performance Solutions and INEOS Grenadiers’ Performance Nutritionist, Ainhoa Prieto, to find out how she helps fuel the British professional cycling team’s riders for their hardest days on the bike.

You can read Ainhoa’s first interview about the importance of getting rest days right to aid the physical and mental recovery of the INEOS Grenadiers’ riders here.
Ainhoa, firstly, thanks for giving up some of your time to talk with us. Can you tell us what a race-day breakfast typically looks like for your riders?

Riders know that they need the carbs to perform at the optimal level on race days, so they’ll always have a plate of cooked white rice or pasta or a bowl of porridge or overnight oats. Of course, this is something completely individual to each rider in terms of what works for them and doesn’t lead to any GI issues. As well as the carbs, riders also have eggs for breakfast where the chefs make individual omelettes or scrambled eggs – they need the protein in order to protect their muscles ahead of a big day. They’ll also have some fresh and dried fruits, yoghurts, cold meats, and fresh fruit juices.

How many hours before starting will your riders generally eat breakfast?

It will depend on the transfer time from the hotel to the start but we always try to do the pre-race meal/breakfast three to four hours before the race starts.

Do each of your riders have their own race day nutrition, or as the team’s performance nutritionist do you prescribe a universal whole-team strategy?

All riders will have their own individual plans where they can see how much food they need to be served on their plates to ensure their nutrition demands (especially carbs) are well covered. However, there are riders that will follow each plan strictly and will weigh all their food while others are more flexible and don’t want to follow something that specific and will rely on visual portion sizes.

Will riders’ routines and breakfast food items differ before a big mountain stage?

Riders will follow their own routines, some of them will come to breakfast very early and others will come just before we leave the hotel. In terms of food, carbs are king on these types of days, so we make sure there’s a wide variety of carb-rich food options on the buffet. Again, riders will follow their dietary habits but they know they need to fuel more that day so cooked white rice is the most popular for breakfast on a day like this.

So can you give us an idea of what a typical day’s nutrition looks like on a big mountain day?

Riders will start with breakfast three to four hours before the start, and then on the transfer from the hotel to the start riders will have some snacks available on the bus such as cake made by the chefs, rice cakes, paninis and SiS GO Energy Bakes. During the race on a big mountain day carb demands will be high and riders aim to take in 100g-120g of carbs per hour, so they’ll combine solids (rice cakes and SiS Energy Bakes) with gels (SiS GO Isotonic Energy Gels and our bespoke gels) and race drinks, and they’ll use those products for different parts or moments of the race.

Their recovery process will start as soon as they arrive back at the bus with smoothies and recovery drinks ready for them as well as cooked rice and pasta, and a protein source too, either chicken or salmon. When arriving at the hotel, riders will normally split in two groups, some of them will go to massage and others straight for dinner when, again, they’ll have an open buffet which consists of hot soup, carbs, proteins, vegetables and a special dessert and/or fruit and yoghurts.

Which SiS products are most popular today with your team?

SiS GO Energy Bakes are very popular amongst all riders in the team, they like the texture and feel well fuelled with them. The dual source gels are very popular also, but these are a bespoke product only designed for the team.

The Beta Fuel drink also becomes very popular on cold days when the riders have cold hands and they’re not able to unwrap foods, so they can maintain a high fuelling approach just by using the drink.

What are these days like for the team nutritionist? Are mountain stages more intense for you?

Same as other days, we need to make sure the plans are in place and ready to go. That involves agreeing the fuelling plan with the performance staff the evening before the stage in terms of how many extra feeds we are going to do as well as the feedzone, i.e. what we are going to include in each extra feed and if we activate the cold weather protocol.

I would then forward the agreed plan to the carers team for them to prepare all the bidons, gels, bars, hot water thermos (for cold weather protocol) and so on that we need for the next day for the race cars, feedzone and extra feed cars.

On the race day, in the kitchen with the chefs, we need to make sure that all the food is prepared on time and in the right amounts for the riders. Also, if we are using them, we need to ensure any cake or any other ‘carby’ snack is prepared on time for the carers to wrap it and get it ready for the riders when they get to the bus before the race. I also need to make sure that the food for the recovery and for the podium is ready and brought to the bus before leaving the hotel.

Your role as team performance nutritionist is full-on. How else do you support your riders on race days?

With the riders, I’ll be with them during breakfast to help them if they need any support and to discuss any questions they have for that day. I would double check with them also whether they want any changes to their starting or recovery bidons. After breakfast I would send them the extra feed overview and the fuelling plan for that stage so that they have an example of how to fuel the stage based on their role and team racing strategy.

For the recovery, the bus driver or carer will have all the recovery food and drinks ready for when the riders arrive back at the bus, so I’ll be in touch with them if we need to make any changes to individual recovery plans.

How will nutrition plans for riders at the back of the race today, who’ll be hoping to finish inside the time cut, compare to the riders racing GC at the front?

Nutrition is one of the main tools that can determine the race performance of a rider, so of course all of them need to follow a plan but being stricter or rigid doesn’t mean better as it hugely depends on each individual rider. Some of them will want a very detailed plan and others something more flexible that permits individual decisions. In both cases we need to make sure that all riders are well-fuelled across the whole race, since they all have a decisive role of support, pull and lead, working as a team to win the race.

With tomorrow being a rest day, does that influence how the riders recover after the stage today?

Yes. When it’s a rest day the next day we will aim for less carbs for recovery after the stage, both on the bus and in dinner because the energy and fuelling demands the next day are much lower. This permits some changes on the buffet where we can include more vegetables and some lower carb recipes that are less calorie and carb-dense but are still high in other necessary nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre.

And finally, Ainhoa, are there any secret tips or tricks that you do with an SiS product like when you warmed Beta Fuel at the 2020 Giro?

Nothing new for now apart from the warm Beta Fuel and warm race drinks from our bespoke products.


Explore the favourite SiS nutrition products of the world’s best cycling team here and learn more about how they can help you reach your nutrition goals, whatever your sport.

Written By

The Performance Solutions Team