Riders and teams are back at work ahead of the 2018 pro cycling season. In the latest instalment of the Velon Festive Cycling Countdown, we speak to Lotto Soudal chef and nutrition specialist Carol De Dobbelaere:
You are what you eat, as the old saying goes. The importance of good nutrition is often drummed into us and for professional cyclists, diet is becoming ever-more significant.
The demands of modern professional bike racing - from intense one-day Classics races to attritional three-week Grand Tours - mean following a disciplined diet can give riders an edge when it counts.
When most of us are in party mode riders must be more careful, because December is a key time for building form and fitness for the new season. How does a pro team like Lotto Soudal handle nutrition in the off season?
“At the winter training camp in Majorca, the riders get tested by the doctors, and if necessary we will work on a personal nutrition schedule for those who need it,” chef Carol De Dobbelaere tells Velon.
“I advise the riders to really think about the way they eat in the winter. They don’t have the really hard efforts and intensity of racing; it’s more about endurance. Training for four or five hours is just not the same as four or five hours of racing.
“I tell them a lot, 'Try to eat less while you are riding'. They should have a good breakfast with a lot of proteins and when training, maybe just one bar. Don’t take too much food, because you are not burning enough energy."
“I also advise them to take hot drinks while training - hot tea or hot water. They need a lot of fluid but cold drinks take a lot of energy from your body, to heat them up.
“In winter I advise the riders to eat proteins they are used to: fish, chicken, turkey, any white meat, and a lot of seeds and greens - just not in the same proportion as during racing.”
The riders famously consume thousands of calories every day when tackling a three-week stage race like the Giro d’Italia. How much difference is there in the off season?
“In a Tour de France mountain stage the riders will get through 10 or 12,000 calories,” De Dobbelaere says. “At the moment, during winter training, 4,000 or 5,000 calories a day will be enough.
“I don’t think fasted rides are a good idea, though. Most of them should have a really good breakfast but not eat too much when they are training. I tell them to stop using energy bars - ‘fast sugar’ things - and have some recovery when they come home. The recovery is more important than eating on the bike. It’s quite easy to grab an energy bar but it’s also the most dangerous thing for putting on weight when you are not burning so many calories.
“Riders should take care to have enough proteins two hours before a training session, and have a good recovery meal with proteins when they get home. But don’t eat too much ‘fast sugars’ when you are training - you really don’t burn them if the intensity is not high enough.
“The riders tend to be very disciplined with that they eat, and often send me messages asking for recipes. Last week I had Tiesj Benoot on the phone, and I was telling him about some new things I was trying.”
So is the menu for the 2018 Tour de France - the team’s main goal for next season - already taking shape?
“I’m thinking about the Tour now and what the menu will look like,” De Dobbelaere says. "I had some recipes in this year’s Tour the riders liked, which I will adapt. I’m trying new things and it’s nice in the winter to be able to experiment. I also send the riders recipes so they can try them. I’m busy with it all the time.
“We have some talented chefs on the team. When I get good feedback it’s good for me. But a lot of the time they will say, ‘My girlfriend made it - it was really good - thank you for the recipe'.”
The riders are back hard at work in training for 2018, and their menus for next season's biggest races are already coming together. Spare a thought for the riders and their strict diets while you enjoy indulging this Christmas.