Taking place over the course of three weeks, a Grand Tour is a true test of endurance, and nutrition is absolutely central to the challenge.
To make it from Fossacesia to Rome to complete the 2023 Giro d’Italia, each rider will have to cover 3489.2 kilometres, which based on typical average speed and pedalling cadence, would require in excess of half a million revolutions of the pedals.
To make this happen, your average rider would take on and burn through more than 100,000 calories.
“A Grand Tour is a huge challenge for the gut,” says Aitor Viribay, exercise physiologist and head of the nutrition department at the Ineos Grenadiers team.
“Some of the quantities we’re talking about are insane. It’s hard to actually get through that much food, but it’s something you have to do.”
The figure of 100,000 calories is based on the average intake across 21 stages, plus two rest days (which are never all that restful).
Certain stages are more energy-demanding than others. A big mountain day with huge elevation gain will clearly require more fuelling than a flat stage where most riders can shelter in the peloton. Meanwhile, there are three time trials in the 2023 Giro, the shortest of which, at 19.6km, sees the riders racing for less than half an hour.
“On a TT day, you could be down to 3000 calories per day,” says Viribay. “For your average steady day – and there are no real easy days at a Grand Tour – it would be more like 7000 or 8000. Then for a high mountain stage it could be around 12,000.”
A balanced diet?
A key part of the overall equation is how these calories are broken down by food group. It’s no surprise that the biggest share goes to carbohydrates, with the likes of pasta and rice, along with a range of sugars, providing the lion’s share of the fuel that powers the engines.
“With carbohydrates, we always talk in relative terms, which is grams per kilograms of body weight,” says Viribay. “A normal amount is 10g/kg, which means 600 grams for a rider who weighs 60kg, and 700g for a rider who weighs 70g, and so on.”
The other key component is protein, best known for its muscle-repairing qualities.
“Protein is very important, not only in recovery but also glycogen resynthesis,” says Viribay, referring to the process of replenishing energy stores that have been depleted by exercise.
On top of those two big building blocks, there are a number of other ingredients required to see a rider through. Fat might be a skinny cyclist’s worst enemy but healthy…
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