So, you’re about to race a stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift—what are you eating for breakfast ahead of the stage? We asked a few pros and a team dietitian to share their pre-race secrets for stage race success. Spoiler alert: Predictably, a lot of oatmeal is involved.
Human Powered Health dietitian Mathias Fluit has worked with different ProTour teams over the years, and says that for the most part, all the racers are eating similar food for breakfast, but adjusting it to fit their preferences.
The main focus for breakfast is carbohydrates, to top off glycogen stores for the day ahead.
“We almost always have a buffet-style in the hotel,” he says. “Usually, there’s oatmeal or white rice, with toppings. There’s also usually more sweet carbohydrate-based stuff like sandwiches or toast with jelly.”
Human Powered Health’s Marjolein van’t Geloof is a fan of oats in the morning—though she even adds a bit of bonus fiber! “I always eat the same porridge with almond milk and an apple and some Speckuloos [basically a cookie dough paste],” she says. “That makes it really nice and something that you look forward to. Sometimes, we have pancakes, and those are great to take with us from breakfast to the race.”
For riders who struggle to eat in the morning due to nerves, Fluit usually starts by reducing their fiber intake—that means no bananas or oatmeal—to reduce any gut irritation. White rice becomes the food of choice. “Especially during Grand Tours, riders not feeling hungry or too nervous to eat can be a bigger problem, because you have so much tension on your shoulders,” he says. “But the riders all know that if you don’t eat, then you will not perform. Because of that, even if someone feels like not eating, they will still try to eat.”
If you’re a racer like Canyon//SRAM’s Alice Towers at a stage race, you’re prioritizing sleep versus a relaxed breakfast. But fortunately, the team chef is ready for that, and has created a team staple, a sweetened rice pudding that’s super easy to eat (and easy to take in a to-go container for the really late-to-breakfast racers!).
“The rice pudding is so good,” Towers says. “It’s made with some cinnamon and coconut milk in with the white rice. It’s quite nice and easy to get down in the morning. You don’t want to be eating too much fiber before a race, and this is so easy to digest. I’ll usually add a banana, maybe some jam on top.”
Her teammate Kasia Niewiadoma adds even more carbs to the rice pudding with maple syrup in addition to the banana, but she also likes to add a bit of protein and fat in the form of a more savory breakfast option like a small omelette with some avocado toast.
“Especially when you do a stage race, you want to make sure that you have enough carbs, and you don’t want to add in too many different ingredients,” she says. “But you also want to be able to enjoy it.”
But Fluit adds that while coffee is a cyclist staple, hydration is even more important in the morning. “I try to get riders drinking at least three glasses of something in the morning, whether that’s water or water with electrolytes or even something like orange juice that has carbohydrates, to really jack up the carbohydrate intake.”
And of course, there’s still coffee.
In fact, Niewiadoma also starts every day earlier than most of her teammates by making coffee in her room for a bit of alone time.
“I go for a coffee first thing,” agrees Canyon//SRAM’s Elise Chabbey. “I keep breakfast simple with some eggs and bread and maybe some fruit. Then you just try to relax and wait for the stage.”
Van’t Geloof doesn’t normally drink coffee (gasp!) but during a stage race, all bets are off. “I start stage races with no coffee,” she says. “And then once I get more tired throughout the stage race, I will have a cup of coffee at breakfast, maybe one more on the bus towards the very end of the racing. Because I don’t drink it often, the caffeine works very well for me. I do actually feel better throughout the stages when I have my coffee!”
Human Powered Health’s Henrietta Christie is one of the earliest risers on the team—which is great for her, since she gets a bonus breakfast! “I will normally have breakfast quite early, usually porridge with bananas and a bunch of other stuff in it. Then I will have like a second breakfast a few hours later: I have a little Tupperware for my porridge, so I can eat it anywhere.”
After breakfast, riders pile into the bus and head to the race, often snacking along the way. “Some scenarios can make it tricky to keep on eating, but we try to have riders continue to take in carbohydrates and fluids,” Fluit says. “They’ll eat bananas or sandwiches or containers of oatmeal or rice that they brought with them, while sipping electrolyte-packed fluids.” They won’t get into gels or chews that they’ll use during the race, though.
If the race is around noon, breakfast is usually between eight and nine in the morning for riders. Then, there’s a little snack pre-race, usually a sandwich or a second breakfast within 90 minutes of the start. Some riders prefer to skip that and rely on carb-based sports drinks by that point, but some racers like van’t Geloof prefer solid foods until race time.
“I prefer to keep eating a little bit because otherwise, if you stop eating at breakfast, you’re not going to be eating for about three hours, and then you eat a lot on bike,” she says. “That just upsets my stomach.”
And then… It’s race time!
Molly writes about cycling, nutrition and training, with an emphasis on women in sport. Her new middle-grade series, Shred Girls, debuts with Rodale Kids/Random House in 2019 with “Lindsay’s Joyride.” Her other books include “Mud, Snow and Cyclocross,” “Saddle, Sore” and “Fuel Your Ride.” Her work has been published in magazines like Bicycling, Outside and Nylon. She co-hosts The Consummate Athlete Podcast.