Tour de France breakfast of champions
Over the 21 stages of the Tour de France, riders need to eat 5,000-8,000 calories a day – and breakfast offers a crucial opportunity to ingest some energy-releasing carbs. However, Tour riders now intelligently manipulate their breakfasts each day for a variety of bonus performance gains.
This can mean changing what they eat before a mountain stage or an easy day; knowing when it is best to consume more nutrients and vitamins to avoid illnesses; and learning how to avoid ‘food fatigue’ from dull daily repetition of meals.
Here are some strategies used by Tour riders to build bespoke breakfast plans every day.
Mix up your morning carbs
Tour riders need to eat plenty of carbs at breakfast time, but consuming a wide variety is important or they will suffer from food fatigue. Popular choices at Tour de France breakfast tables include cereals, porridge, rice, bread, quinoa, pancakes and pasta. Many riders will also try to eat steamed rice at breakfast, which is an easy-to-digest form of carbohydrates.
But riders’ carbs come in smaller forms too. A few simple additions, like adding raisins and honey to porridge, chopping banana slices into muesli, or spreading jam or Nutella on bread can freshen up the flavour, improve appetite and crank up the overall carbohydrate intake.
Manipulate your volume
Tour riders have to decide not just which carbs to eat, but also how many. A rider’s carb volume will change according to the demands of the stage ahead and the gradients and the terrain to be covered. Flat stages and rest days have lower energy requirements than longer or mountain stages. The consistency of food also has to be considered here: for example, soaked overnight oats are much softer and easier to digest on the morning of a mountain stage, whereas bread and rice work well ahead of a long, flat stage.
Remarkably, Tour riders have to be careful not to put on weight during the Tour. Unexpectedly adding half a kilo of weight through excess carb consumption could be decisive in the mountains, and that is why riders tailor their carb intake each day. On one rest day at the 2016 Tour, four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome had a low-carb breakfast of avocado, poached eggs and salmon – which is high in muscle-repairing protein and healthy fats but relatively low in carbs – in order to stay at his optimal race weight.
Choose when to have fibre
Before a mountain stage, Tour de France riders will often switch to a low-fibre breakfast. The reason is that fibre – a vital nutrient found in fruit, veg and wholegrain foods – hangs around in the gut for longer, and can make a rider feel heavy or bloated when riding uphill. Riders therefore often have less fruit and veg before a mountain stage.
This is not a healthy long-term strategy, as fibre is vital for general health, so if riders do cut down on the fruit and veg before a mountain stage, they usually top up their fibre intake with a fruit or veg smoothie or extra veg at dinner time. But ahead of a day of climbing, switching to a low-fibre breakfast can be a useful strategy to keep you feeling light.
Adapt your own race tactics
As well as adapting their breakfasts to the stage ahead, riders also change their breakfast choices according to their race tactics for the day. If it’s a flat stage, the riders who are going for the breakaway will need more carbs than those who plan to take an easier day.
On a hard mountain stage, climbers might add a few pancakes covered in chocolate and honey. In contrast, on a flat and easy stage, a domestique might stick to slow-release porridge to help fuel the steady effort they will require during the day.
Pump up the protein
Tour de France riders need to drip-feed protein into their bodies to support their muscle function and to repair their damaged muscles. That is why riders often start the day with a protein-rich ham and cheese omelette, or a high-protein yoghurt.
Poached eggs are a popular Tour breakfast choice, too. Smoothies made with milk, oats and protein powder also offer a simple way to take in protein, without having to eat big portions of meat.
Enjoy healthy fats
Riders tend to have low-fat breakfasts because fat slows digestion. But fat is still an essential nutrient and a good source of fuel. So Tour riders might have some avocadoes on eggs, some olive oil on bread, some smoked salmon on a bagel, or some nuts with yoghurt in order to bank a healthy source of fat. Fat metabolism mostly comes into play during mid-stage, low-intensity periods when a rider might tick along at a steady speed.
Know your nutrient
If a Tour de France rider gets ill, their performances will tank and the race will be lost. So however important carbohydrates may be, riders still have to think about their daily vitamin and nutrient intake too. Many Tour riders will take a multivitamin supplement during the Tour, but they can also boost their nutrient intake by sprinkling berries onto their muesli, adding strawberries to their pancakes, or putting seeds and nuts in their porridge.
Riders focus more on their nutrient intake during the breakfasts before easier stages, as they can afford to take on a bit more fruit without impacting their performances.
Juices are also an easy way for Tour riders to take on essential vitamins and minerals, without having to eat lots of high-fibre whole fruit. Team chefs make fresh juices, such as carrot and ginger or a nutrient-dense green blend of spinach, kiwi and apple. A glass of cherry juice can help to soothe aching muscles too.
Some riders also enjoy nitrate-rich waffles made with beetroot to aid their endurance powers and enhance their recovery speeds.
Enjoy some pick-ups
Suppression of appetite and meal boredom are serious problems, so having a few treats is important. Whether it’s some chocolate and banana pancakes or a slice of banana bread, the occasional treat will lift a rider’s spirit and ensure they eat the calories required. Most riders tend to finish their breakfast with a coffee, which boosts their mood and helps to break down fat for energy during the race.
Every rider has their own favourite strategy. Double Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar likes porridge with fruit and honey, a sandwich with peanut butter or prosciutto and some pancakes. The 2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas prefers a bowl of porridge and a three-egg omelette, washed down with some fresh juice made from ginger and apple.
Don’t forget the pre-race snacks
If you are a Tour de France rider, breakfast is not finished when your leave the dining table. On the bus to the start of the stage, riders will typically top up their energy stores with a rice cake flavoured with cream cheese or honey, an energy bar or a banana. It offers one last chance to take on board some fuel before the big day of racing ahead.
By Mark Bailey