Philadelphia, PA – One of the questions many people ask professional cyclists is what do they eat and drink for a bike race like the TD Bank International Championship? Eating and drinking is crucial to performance in an endurance sport like cycling. But what some fans might not realize is that the race is often six hours or longer — and while hydrating on the bike may seem obvious the cyclists must also eat while they race too!
Starting with the pre-race meals, there are the usual suspects of foods that are traditional staples of endurance athletes, but nutrition has become a very important aspect of pro cyclists. Not long ago it was just eat some pasta the night before to ‘carbo-load.’ Yes pasta is still popular, but what many teams and athletes are turning to is what is called an ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet. This means staying away from foods that increase the body’s inflammation which can make a body more susceptible to injury and other problems. As such, gluten-free diets are becoming more popular with rice replacing pasta as the foundation for most meals.
You are what you eat, so what you put in is what you will get out. Illustrating how important healthy food is to a pro cyclist’s performance, most of the top pro teams in the world now employ chefs and nutritionists, especially for long races like the Tour de France. Some teams have even gone as far as building mobile kitchens on wheels so that their chefs can travel and cook wherever the team is. Team dinners include plenty of vegetables and protein, with enough healthy calories since riders can burn upwards of 6,000 during a race!
The morning of a bike race will find the riders eating cereals, eggs and often more rice. Some races do not begin until noon or later, but an early start time like the TD Bank International Championship will see the riders eating earlier and lighter than usual. But what is most important for many riders in the morning is their coffee! Pro cyclists are often connoisseurs of coffee and love their favorite blends — with some traveling with beans and grinder in tow.
Once the riders are in the race eating becomes much more simple, leaning towards food that is easy to digest. Energy bars and gels are popular as they are simple and easy to stuff in the jersey pockets. As well there is a designated ‘feed zone’ where team support staff can hand up special bags called ‘mussettes’ that contain more food during the race. They are cloth bags with a long strap that make it easy to grab on the fly as the race does not stop for lunch.
These bags will often contain more bars and gels and sometimes homemade items. Rice combined with eggs and bacon is popular among many teams and is formed into bars and wrapped in foil for ease of use. If you are looking for a good place to see the behind-the-scenes of a race, stop by the feed zone and see the action.
Every year teams will keep an eye on the weather forecast. This year temperatures look to be reasonable but hydration is always a big concern. Past races have had high heat indexes and getting riders bottles of water and power mix was paramount. Many teams have turned to ice bags in their mussettes that riders can put down their back to keep their core body temperatures low, because just like a car the strongest rider in the race is useless if he overheats.
Not only can riders get bottles in the feed zone but their team cars in the race caravan behind the field will have bottles. Teamwork is very apparent here as one rider on the team is usually designated to drop back and collect bottles for the other riders — stuffing multiple bottles down his jersey and ferrying them to his teammates.
Water is king, but power mixes are also popular — especially if the team has a sponsor. But late in the race tired riders are looking for a little boost. Yes, you will see riders downing a can of Coke on the bike, looking for a little sugar and caffeine to get them to the finish line.
Tactics and speed are keys to winning a race, but eating and drinking properly are keys to not losing the race before you get a chance to win!
For further information on the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship, visit www.procyclingtour.com.