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How to gasoline a Grand Tour: one rider’s every day carbohydrate consumption, documented – CyclingTips

It takes a hell of quite a lot of vitality to trip a Grand Tour. We’re speaking about three weeks of racing, greater than 80 hours and three,400 km within the saddle, and one thing like 50,000 metres of climbing. That’s quite a lot of pasta and rice.

But how a lot precisely? And to drill down additional, how a lot carbohydrate are we speaking about? After all, in the event you’re going to do any type of intense train, not to mention race a Grand Tour, you’re going to want carbohydrates.

A new research paper sheds mild on this very topic, following one rider all through the 2021 Vuelta a España. It’s apparently “the first report to detail the distribution of CHO [carbohydrate] intake on a meal-by-meal and stage-by-stage basis during a Grand Tour.”

Let’s discover out what the research confirmed.

The rider and the information

As is often the case with research like this, the researchers don’t determine the rider concerned. But there are some clues:

“The male athlete was 26 years old with six years’ experience as a professional cyclist, the last three years at UCI WorldTour level. The athlete’s role within the team at the 2021 Vuelta a España (his 6th Grand Tour) was as a ‘domestique’, supporting the team’s general classification leader during hilly and mountain stages.”

Reckon who it’s? Keep studying for the reply in only a second.

The 2021 Vuelta comprised 21 phases with two particular person time trials, six flat phases, 4 hilly phases, and 9 mountain phases. For all however the last stage, our thriller rider collected a bunch of information which he despatched on to the researchers every day.

Every morning he measured his mass in a “voided and fasted state with minimal clothing”. After every day’s using, his energy meter information was used to calculate his whole on-bike train vitality expenditure. (The researchers assumed a “gross efficiency” of 21.7% – that’s, as per previous research, the inefficiencies of the human physique imply a rider burns roughly four to five times as a lot vitality as they find yourself pushing by means of the pedals).

The rider additionally accomplished a every day meals diary, recording how a lot he ate and drank throughout the day, together with for breakfast, pre-race snacks, throughout every stage, and after every stage. The quantities he ate have been rigorously monitored. In the phrases of one of many researchers, Dr Samuel Impey: “the rider would take a photo of all the rice cakes, gels, bars etc. that they started with. They would then let us know any other foods they took on-bike after the stage. Diet was assessed by the rider, weighing all their foods at meals.”

All of that data was then collated by the researchers, certainly one of whom is definitely a employees member on the rider’s workforce.

Before we go on, did you’re employed out who the rider was? If you guessed Nick Schultz of BikeExchange-Jayco, you’d be proper. So how did Schultz really feel concerning the effort of recording all his food and drinks consumption intimately?

“For me it wasn’t very difficult to take note of everything in so much detail,” he advised CyclingTips. “The only meal that required much thought on my behalf was breakfast. Otherwise it was just weighing out the guidelines provided by the nutrition team and a few snacks here and there. I also really believed in this method and was motivated to participate as I saw benefit on the performance side.” 

So what did the researchers discover from all of Schultz’s information?

This desk exhibits Schultz’s every day vitality expenditure (far proper column). Why no information from the 33.8 km stage 21 time trial? According to Schultz: “[Given there was] no stage 22, I was less concerned about documenting anything from a performance standpoint [on the final stage] and more about enjoying the previous three weeks and the feeling of finishing a Grand Tour.”


On a mean day, Schultz burned roughly 3,500 kCal (14,640 kJ) on the bike, together with his best day being 560 kCal (2,340 kJ) on the second relaxation day and the toughest being 5,830 kCal (24,400 kJ) on stage 20 – the ultimate mountain stage. For context, an lively grownup male would possibly burn one thing like 2,400 kCal (10,000 kJ) in a whole day (Again, Schultz’s vitality expenditures above solely relate to his time on the bike – only a fraction of his day.)

On common, Schultz consumed a complete of 812 g of carbohydrate per day of the Vuelta, or 12.2 g per kilogram of physique mass. That’s the equal of about 20 cups – or greater than 3 kg(!) – of cooked pasta, per day. 

Unsurprisingly, his highest absolute and relative carbohydrate intakes occurred on mountain phases, adopted by hilly phases, then flat phases, then the time trials. And as you’d anticipate, his carbohydrate consumption was significantly decrease on the remaining days.

The breakdown of Schultz’s carbohydrate consumption all through every day is attention-grabbing too. On common, he consumed 197 g of CHO at dinner, with an analogous quantity (189 g common) instantly submit stage. Perhaps surprisingly, his breakfast common was decrease with 124 g. 

As for meals he consumed in-race, Schultz’s CHO consumption ranged from 185 g to a whopping 508 g per stage. That breaks all the way down to a mean of between 41 and 106 g/hour of CHO. Ingesting 100 g of CHO per hour is getting in direction of the higher restrict of what most professional athletes are capable of tolerate. (Notably, Mathieu van der Poel was taking in as much as 120 g/hour throughout his Tour of Flanders win earlier this yr). Your common beginner athlete – and positively non-athletes – would definitely battle to course of 100 g of CHO in an hour.

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Here’s how a lot CHO Schultz was ingesting every stage on the bike.

If you’re questioning about what Schultz ate on the bike, right here’s a breakdown of the forms of meals and their contribution to his CHO consumption:

  • Whole meals (e.g. rice truffles): 37%
  • Energy bars: 21%
  • Energy gels: 14%
  • High-concentration CHO drinks: 15%

Those high-concentration CHO drinks are notably attention-grabbing. During “strategic sections” of the Vuelta, Schultz elevated his carbohydrate consumption through concentrated CHO drinks that included roughly 90 g of CHO per 500 mL. For context, a bottle of Gatorade solely has a 3rd as a lot carbs: 30 g of carbohydrate per 500 mL (36 g for a 600 mL bottle).

As the researchers write, generally the depth of the racing makes it arduous to drag out, eat, and digest stable meals. “This strategy delivered additional CHO during parts of the race where energy expenditure was high and the athlete’s opportunity/ability to consume foods was limited,” they wrote.

Interestingly, and as you’ll be able to see in desk 1 above, Schultz’s weight really elevated all through the Vuelta. It began at 66.8 kg and dipped to 65 kg by stage 4, however after fluctuating and reaching as excessive as 69 kg, he ended the race at 67.8 kg – 1 kg heavier than he began.

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This chart exhibits Schultz’s every day carbohydrate consumption (bars, left axis) and on-bike vitality expenditure (line, proper axis) for phases 1 by means of 20 of the 2021 Vuelta.

What to make of those outcomes

Take a have a look at the chart instantly above. Note that simply as Schultz’s vitality expenditure different every day – in keeping with the calls for of the terrain and the racing – so too did the way in which he fuelled (and refuelled) for every day’s racing.

As the researchers write, these findings “highlights the application of a periodised approach to CHO intake to match the highly variable event demands.”

You might need heard of periodisation earlier than. Indeed you might need examine it right here on CyclingTips. In essence it’s the concept an athlete ought to modify their meals consumption to match their anticipated vitality necessities, quite than sticking to a set (or arbitrary) consumption every day.

So if a rider has a very arduous day arising (an enormous mountain stage, for instance), they could enhance their vitality consumption relative to a standard day. An simpler day (like a time trial or flat dash stage) would possibly immediate a discount in every day vitality consumption. In the phrases of nutritionist and long-time CyclingTips contributor Dr Alan McCubbin: 

“By providing the appropriate amount of carbohydrate before the longer or harder sessions, you’ll be able to maximise your performance in those sessions and achieve the desired intensities. But by reducing the carbs and total energy on the rest days (or even lighter training days) you can help reduce the total energy eaten across the week. This can help enormously for those struggling to balance the need to reduce body fat whilst still having enough fuel to get through their bigger rides.”

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Olive oil on plain rice? Yummo.

The magnitude of Schultz’s CHO consumption all through the race is noteworthy. Depending on who you take heed to, present sport vitamin tips counsel athletes ought to eat between 8-12 g/kg of carbohydrate to gasoline 4-5 hours of reasonable train. Schultz’s consumption (12.2 g/kg on common) is according to the highest finish of that vary, however in keeping with the authors of this newest paper, the present tips “fail to capture the substantial day-by-day variation in CHO intake employed by athletes during these multi-day events.”

For instance, you’ll be able to see from the vary of Schultz’s CHO intakes at his numerous meals that the quantity was various from everyday quite than staying fixed:

  • Breakfast: 71-152 g (1.1 – 2.3 g/kg)
  • Post stage: 70-267 g (1.1 – 4 g/kg)
  • Dinner: 80-326 g (1.2 – 4.9 g/kg)

As the researchers write, “this variation was dependent on the physical demands of the current stage in combination with the anticipated demands of the next stage.”

The least carbohydrate Schultz consumed in sooner or later was 340 g (5.2 g/kg), on the primary relaxation day. His largest day was the mountainous stage 18 with practically 5,000 m of climbing; a day during which he consumed a complete of 1,118 g (17.7 g/kg) of CHO. That’s round 150% of the really useful quantity and the equal of roughly 28 cups of cooked pasta. More than 4.2 kg of the stuff.

Here’s how his consumption broke down throughout that large day:

  • Breakfast: 123 g (1.9 g/kg)
  • On the bike: 462 g (6.8 g/kg)
  • Immediately post-stage: 267 g (4 g/kg)
  • Dinner: 323 g (4.9 g/kg)

For context, a mean grownup male would possibly eat someplace within the vary of 225 to 325 g of carbohydrates in a whole day

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Schultz in motion on an enormous stage 18 of the 2021 Vuelta.

The researchers spotlight that, throughout the Vuelta, Schultz bought most of his every day CHO consumption post-stage and at dinner. Interestingly, that is in distinction to findings from earlier research on the Vuelta. One study from 2018 confirmed the riders bought most of their CHO at breakfast (we broke this research down across the time it got here out). That research confirmed that the riders ate a mean of 199 g of carbs at breakfast. By distinction, Schultz’s largest breakfast included 152 g.

Another paper from back in the late ‘90s, discovered riders ate comparable quantities of CHO at dinner and breakfast.

Perhaps Schultz’s numbers are proof of fixing attitudes to fuelling in elite biking; a push in direction of fuelling for the current and following day, quite than merely counting on breakfast to supply a lot of the day’s essential gasoline. Or possibly it’s one thing else, because the researchers be aware: “These observations potentially relate to individual rider and cultural preferences surrounding meal provision.” Maybe some individuals simply desire to eat extra at breakfast.

The researchers proceed: “additional research [is] required to determine which feeding pattern is optimal for Grand Tour performance.”

Nutrition recommendation might need modified through the years, but it surely’s nonetheless not fully clear what the good fuelling technique appears to be like like.

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So what can we take away from this? For starters, because the researchers reiterate, real-world CHO intakes can vary properly past best-practice suggestions, and a single determine for these suggestions doesn’t actually work throughout the board. Those suggestions ought to actually be tailored to replicate the dynamic nature of racing. Most, if not all, skilled biking groups will likely be doing this already.

While the 2018 research talked about above checked out an entire workforce (Movistar) quite than only one rider, it could be attention-grabbing to see extra analysis with full groups, taking a look at CHO necessities for various riders throughout these groups.

I requested Impey what he thought they could discover from such a research.

“The major difference between riders would likely be their role in the team,” he stated. “So a climber would have barely totally different necessities than a sprinter for instance, relying on the stage kind.

“For instance on a flat stage a GC rider will likely be sat within the bunch out of any wind and many others. which suggests their whole kCal output for the stage goes to be a lot decrease than a domestique who might have to take a seat on the entrance to guard a GC rider – that means they may have a a lot larger kCal output for a similar stage. A sprinter should guarantee they’re within the entrance group in the precise place to have the ability to dash. The dynamics of how this occurs will be very changeable – relying on the workforce they’ve round them.

“In the same way, a sprinter coming over a climb in the grupetto will have a lower kCal output compared to the climbers who are chasing a result.” 

Future analysis apart, it’s simply attention-grabbing to get a way of the amount of meals the professionals have to eat in a given race day and extra particularly, how a lot carbohydrate. In brief: an entire lot.

While Schultz hasn’t appeared by means of the printed paper, he can actually see the worth in an in depth method to race vitamin.

“I haven’t had a detailed look at the study released,” he stated. “I do however pay close attention to the advice provided and am constantly asking questions and learning from the nutrition team. Feedback from the experts helped me understand what was happening with my sensations and provided me with a platform to fuel correctly which I strongly believe contributed to my consistency throughout three weeks of racing.”

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