The Tour of Britain is the UK’s biggest professional cycle race that takes place every September. This year’s edition spanned over 8 days, seeing some of the best cyclist in the world take on the tough route from Liverpool to London. Our Performance Nutritionist Annie Simpson was lucky enough to be a part of the event this year working for UK based NFTO Pro Cycling Team. Here she recounts her week on the road and gives us an insight into a day in the life of a Performance Nutritionist.
“This was a first for me, and something that brought two of my passions together: cycling and food. Four years at University studying the theory of performance nutrition gives you the knowledge, but it is the application of this that is most vital when working as a nutritionist. I cycle myself, and have even competed in 7 day stage races, but nothing before could quite compare to the scale of this event. My role as team nutritionist was to take care of everything the riders ate and drank, before, during and after each stage. With only 6 riders on the team this was not quite on the same scale as the 9 riders in a Grand Tour team but still it was important to know each riders preferences and meet them.
Being in the UK eliminated a few factors that can impact on rider performance. If riders have to travel long distances to events, especially by plane, this can impact their nutritional practise (read top tips when travelling abroad here). Thankfully travel to the first stage in Liverpool was minimal for all riders.
During a stage race it is good to get into a daily routine. For me it was the same most days with the exception of stage 1 and stage 8, which were either shorter stages or a time trial. Transfer times had big impacts on your days and adjusting to these was half the battle during the week. One day we could be in a hotel 20 minutes from the stage depart, other days we could be two hours away. It was all in the luck of hotel draw.
A typical day would look much like this:
o Breakfast for Staff- 6:30 -7am.
This usually involved a lot of coffee.
o Staff leave for race start in the Team Bus- 7.30-7.45am.
It was important to get to race in the team bus before the riders arrived. This allowed us to set up the bus and the surrounding area to meet the team’s requirements. For me as the nutritionist this involved distributing the food the riders would start the race with and making up start bottles to place on their bikes racked up outside the bus. Most riders started with two 500ml bottle of energy drink, but other opted for one energy drink and one water. Similarly some riders liked to start with predominantly gels, whereas other wanted to stick to normal food until the latter part of the stage. Understanding each riders individual preference was key. Also making sure the team coffee machine was on and ready was very important. The riders enjoyed an espresso or two before they rolled out.
o Riders arrived at the stage start- 8.30-9am.
When the riders arrived, we would be all set up, music on and we would vacate the bus giving riders some space to change and relax before the stage. At this point I would check the cool boxes for the two team cars going in the race convoy were filled with bottle and the car doors were stocked with spare food. Also it was important to check the soigneurs had musettes to take to the designated feed and that they had each riders preferred recovery shake for the end.
o Riders roll out to start the stage- 10-10.30am.
The riders head off to start and we quickly pack up the team bus and start the journey to the finish. This could take anywhere between 30 minutes to 2.5 hours depending on traffic and length of the stage.
o Arrive at Stage Finish- 11:30-13.00pm.
On arrival we set up the team bus again. Depending on how early we have arrived, I usually used this time to find a supermarket and buy food supplies for the next few days. Then we would put the race on the big screen on the bus. This was important to firstly see how to riders were doing but also to use as a marker for when to start preparing the food for the end of the stage. At around 30km to go I would begin preparing post stage meal.
Post race meal- Recovery over the course of a stage race is very important for the riders. To get in a meal containing both carbohydrates to replenish muscle glycogen stores and protein to aid repair and recovery is key. The riders opted for a large serving plain rice, a can of tuna or a chicken breast served with a few tablespoons of mixed bean salad. This was served in individual tuperware each day. The idea of this was riders could have a recovery drink straight away after the race, shower and change, then take the meal for during the journey back to the hotel. Riders also had a variety of fruit, fruit juices and smoothies available on the bus after the stage.
o Arrive Back at Hotel- 5-6.30pm.
Once all the riders had left in the team cars the bus would be packed up and set off back to the next hotel. Most nights we changed hotel, it felt like luxury when we had two nights in one place. When back at the hotel, then starts a long list of jobs in preparation for the next day. Firstly it was important to make sure the bus was cleaned properly as the riders health was of upmost importance during such a demanding race. Then it I would prepare the bottles for the next day’s stage. For each day I would make up around 60 bottles, 20 of which were water, 40 of which were carbohydrate and electrolyte mix. This was ample, but meant that riders had the opportunity to obtain bottles from musettes and both team cars, plus it also meant we were prepared if we were thrown a super hot September day.
Next I would make up the musettes ready for the next day. These are cloth bags handed to the riders at the feed station each day. I tried to vary the content over the week as I didn’t want the riders to get bored. The riders would take from this what they wanted and then discard the rest.
- 2 x 500ml Bottles containing carbohydrate and electrolyte mix
- 3 energy gels- 2 normal and 1 caffeinated gel
- 1 energy bar
- 1 small sandwich- either a brioche roll filled with jam or cream cheese and ham
- 1 piece of flapjack, granola bar, homemade banana and oat bar (recipe here) or towards the end of the week a chocolate brownies for morale.
Also riders were given access to a snack box that would live in the soigneurs room which meant they could get a steady intake of fuel throughout the evening in preparation for the next day. The snack boxes contained foods such as cereals, rice pudding, pretzels, rice cakes, fruit.
o Riders eat their evening meal- 7-7.30pm.
Each hotel provided a buffet for riders and staff of each team staying at the hotel. The meals were very similar each night and were often quite simple foods to cater for a wide range of nationalities. The meal often started with a soup and bread, followed by a choice of usually chicken or fish served with a large portion of plain rice or pasta with a side of vegetables. There was often a desert available, usually a fruit salad and some form of cake, which appeared to be a good morale boost for the riders as the week went on.
o Team meeting – 8.30-9pm.
This was a chance for the riders to voice any questions about the up and coming stage and make any preferences known for changes in their day to day nutrition. It is always important to keep getting feedback from the riders. Also at this point the riders were issued with a concentrate shot of Cherry Juice.
Cherry Juice– Consuming a 30ml concentrated shot of Cherry Juice before bed has been found to help speed up the recovery process and reduce muscle soreness. Also it has a high antioxidant content that can help reduce free radical damage caused by the stress put on the body during intense exercise.
And repeat…. for 8 days.
The Tour of Britain was a fantastic experience. To be working in such an elite environment and have to opportunity to continue to develop as a practitioner was a big opportunity and I am very grateful to NFTO Pro Cycling for having me along for the ride.”
Posted in: General, Nutrition