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Over a number of seasons, we’ve worked closely with Dr James Morton, Head of Nutrition at Team Sky, to understand the goals and requirements of sport nutrition and Science in Sport products across the team. Nutrition plans for grand tours will be mapped out day-by-day and Team Sky have three main goals for sport nutrition during a grand tour:

  1. Fuelling & recovery around each stage
  2. Driving optimal body composition
  3. Maintaining athlete health

Here we look at what fuelled Team Sky and Geraint Thomas to Tour de France victory, from the meals on the bus, to the gels on the bike.

Fuelling

Pre-Stage: When it comes to breakfast, Thomas wouldn’t have anything different to a normal diet, what does vary is the portion sizes and carbohydrate content. This is determined based on the day’s stage, fuelling and body composition goals. Breakfast will usually include eggs, rice, pancakes with jam, fruit juice and green tea with honey, Whey Protein is also available to mix into smoothies.

During: Team Sky riders will often consume a high-quality protein source early into a stage, either through an Advanced Isolate+ shake in the first bidon or a WHEY20. With the demands of stage racing and time spent in the saddle each day, riders must take every opportunity to include a protein feeding so to maintain lean muscle mass.

Energy intake on the bike is then planned stage-by-stage, with flat-stage fuelling targets of 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour and hilly/mountainous-stage fuelling targets of 60-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour. In this way, the careful management of energy intake on the bike can help to achieve both fuelling and body composition goals.

Thomas will use a range of carbohydrate options to meet these targets, including rice-cakes, gels, energy bars and carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks. Solid food is often consumed during the lower intensity sections of a stage, isotonic gels and Beta Fuel are then used when the intensity rises, such as key climbs. Caffeine is also planned before these high-intensity sections.

 

Hydration

Pre-Stage: Riders will aim to start each stage in a hydrated state, by monitoring fluid intake volumes through the tour and urine output markers. This usually means drinking 5-10 ml of fluid per kilo body mass, in the 2-4 hours before the stage starts, coming from fruit juice, shakes, green tea and electrolyte drinks.

During: The volume of fluid taken on by Thomas will depend on stage conditions and sweat rate. Both sweat rate and sweat sodium concentrations will have been tested in the laboratory well before the tour, so to allow for individualised hydration strategies to be developed. This usually equates to 500 ml per hour, with additional fluids taken on as required. Depending on the needs of each bidon, these will vary between water, electrolytes and carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions.

 

Recovery

When racing a grand tour, riders will usually have around 18-hours between finishing a stage and starting the next. Recovery nutrition becomes crucial in this window. Food and fluid will be provided to ensure complete recovery, the main goals are glycogen replenishment through carbohydrate intake, protein to aid muscle repair and fluids to effectively rehydrate.

As soon as Thomas cross the finish line he will have a REGO Rapid Recovery Plus, providing carbohydrate, protein, electrolytes and fluid to kick-start the recovery process. Riders then have a recovery meal on the bus back to the hotel, usually containing white rice and a lean protein source, some jelly sweets and fruit juices will also be available here.

Team dinner will be served later on in the hotel, cooked by the Team Sky chefs. Main dishes would comprise of rice, pastas, chicken, fish, potatoes, vegetables and salads. Fruits, yoghurt and flans would then be available for dessert.

 

Athlete Health

Maintaining rider health is a crucial component of sport nutrition during a grand tour. Working in combination with the food provision from the Team Sky Chefs, riders will also have access to the Athlete Health range. These will be prescribed on an individual rider level to ensure that health and performance needs are met.

Ben Samuels
Written By

Ben Samuels

Ben is a Performance Nutritionist at Science in Sport