A seven-time competitor on eating 7,000 calories from morning to night
Cyclists are 11 days and more than 1,100 miles into the Tour de France. In this year’s race, 22 teams of eight cyclists each traverse a route that climbs the Pyrenees and Alps, crosses Basque Country, and finishes on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
While endurance training and recovery are essential for cyclists of all types, they also need the correct nutrition to fuel six hours a day in the saddle.
As top contenders like Chris Froome, Peter Sagan, and Fernando Gaviria ride across Europe, Furthermore spoke with seven-time Tour de France competitor, 2010 Green Jersey winner, and Amgen Tour of California spokesperson Freddie Rodriguez about how he consumed enough calories to make up for what he burned each day.
“As a pro cyclist, you have to stay lean as our biggest advantage is the power-to-weight ratio,” says Rodriguez, who retired in 2015, adding that riders have little to no upper-body muscle. “There’s a fine line between getting enough fuel and not gaining weight.”
Most teams have their own chefs who cook easily digestible, carb-heavy meals and nutritionists who calculate the best hydration strategies and combinations of macros. “Your diet usually stays consistent because you don’t want to try something new on the Tour,” says Rodriguez, a Colombian native who now lives in Oakland, California. But as the race goes on, repetitive diets get stale, eating becomes a chore, and riders often resort to their favorite foods to encourage them to get enough calories. For Rodriguez that meant Nutella-slathered baguettes.
On the Tour, his daily diet consisted of up to 7,000 calories (he ate the bulk of those at breakfast and dinner) with a macro breakdown of 70 percent carbs, 20 percent protein, and 10 percent fat. Post-Tour, he usually had some time off before his next race. During that break, he ate a typical 1,800-calorie diet. “That felt like nothing,” he says. “They were the hard days.”
Here's how he managed to fuel his body for each stage.
Breakfast: Coffee and a baguette with Nutella, rice or pasta with olive oil and salt, and a protein shake with complex carbs, protein, and amino acids to restore energy and help the muscles recover. “We always tried to time our big morning feast about three hours pre-race, giving us time to digest,” he says. “It was a good-sized meal, but not so big that it made you feel heavy.”
Throughout the stage: Every hour, he'd have two or three energy gels added into two bottles full of water and electrolyte drink mixes, for a total of about 70 to 100 grams of carbs. “You consume fuel every 20 minutes,” says Rodriguez. “Some teams also make rice bars so riders feel like they’re chewing real food.”
Post-race: Recovery protein shake within 30 minutes of finishing each stage. “After that you’re snacking all the time on the way to the hotel and before your massage,” he says, on things like apples, nutrition bars, and sandwiches. Snacks don’t end until well after dinner.
Dinner: Lots of rice with a healthy balance of protein and fat like grilled fish and chicken with sauce, olive oil, and salt. "Dinner was probably our biggest meal of the day as it was also a time to socialize with our teammates and relax," he says. Imagine a regular adult meal, times three. Some performance nutrition brands provide teams with salt tablets as part of the recovery process. “I did years on the Tour as a vegan, so I would carry my own vegan protein shakes and eat lentils, nuts, and peanut butter,” he says.
Dessert: Pastries, tiramisu, cookies, or any other sweets to up calorie intake. “My big craving in life has always been coffee, so I’d have an espresso after dinner,” Rodriguez remembers.