It’s Tour de France time, and for many of us triathletes that means dreaming of ascending famous alpine climbs, donning team jerseys and listening to the directeur sportif’s voice via headset. Curious about the nutritional side of the Tour, we spoke with Robby Ketchell—the man in charge of fuelling Team Garmin-Cervélo.
On individualised nutrition: As director of sports science I work in all areas that contribute to the performance of the athlete. This includes nutrition, physiology, training, biomechanics, technology, testing and race performance. Nutrition needs are highly individualised for different riders, and their diets change depending on whether they are injured, sick, resting, training hard, racing or in the off-season.
On keeping up with high caloric demands: On a race day (usually an afternoon start), the riders consume breakfast; a pre-race meal; pre- race beverage; on-the-bike race food (Clif Bars and gels, drink mixes plus “real” foods we have prepared); an immediate post-race drink; then additional post-race drinks until dinner. The caloric expenditure for one hour of racing is between 700 and 1000 calories (depending on body size). It’s impossible to consume this amount of food while riding, so the riders must try to replenish this caloric deficit once they’ve finished. Making sure that the riders consume enough calories while maintaining the proper macronutrient (fat, carbohydrates, protein) percentage is the main goal. We monitor this by checking skinfold measurements and weighing the riders to measure body fat. We specifically try to make sure that their diet is anti-inflammatory by reducing the amount of gluten and having the riders eat lots of nitrate-rich vegetables.
On personal chefs and happy riders: Travelling can create difficulties for nutrition. We provide a chef at races (Paris-Nice, Tour of California and the Tour de France). When we don’t have a chef, our staff works with race hotels to help ensure the riders get what they need. Sponsors like Clif Bar also supply products so riders have consistent training and on-the-bike nutrition.
Mood state is important for performance and can definitely change dietary demands. We try to keep riders focused on what the body needs, but sometimes we deviate a little to keep them happy. A good example is using Coca-Cola during races. While we may not choose to use this every day, it’s a favourite for some of the riders.
On the role of science: Cycling is an old sport with entrenched customs and traditions. Emerging knowledge is changing some of these in the field of sports nutrition. Our team performs studies on the riders and follows the scientific literature to take advantage of every opportunity. Research has changed the way athletes eat for recovery, during training or races, as well as the timing of diet prior to exercise. Many studies show performance advantages by adhering to anti-inflammatory diets, such as the gluten-free diet that we use.