Trim figures belie fat diets Tour riders need for bike race 

For those struggling to lose weight, the flat stomachs and rippling thighs of the riders in the Amgen Tour of California may spark pangs of envy.

Learning that those racers consume nearly three times the daily calories of the average person probably won’t ease those pangs.

Endurance cycling is all about rationing energy reserves, and energy comes from food. While the average person consumes about 2,000 calories per day, an endurance cyclist will require as much as 5,000 or more calories per day to replace the energy spent during the day’s 100-or-so-mile stage.

A calorie, scientifically speaking, is the quantity of energy requiredto heat a gram of water one degree Celsius at 15 degrees. Nutritionists, athletes and doctors use calories to measure metabolic energy spent and gained by the body.

Cyclists expend calories at such a rapid rate that they must replenish them every hour during the ride, as well as eating large dinners each day. Nutritionist Christina Lazzaretto, of San Francisco-based MV Nutrition, said riders must consume about 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. During a stage of the Tour, a rider may consume about 250 grams of carbohydrates — about one-fourth of the average person’s recommended daily intake — before they even cross the finish line. And that’s not counting the giant bowl of pasta and marinara sauce for dinner.

"Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen," Lazzaretto said. "The athletes use up their glycogen stores, so 30 to 60 minutes after the workout they need to replenish."

Glucose, a simple sugar that is the body’s main energy source, takes the form of glycogen when it is stored.

Athletes use everything from sports gels and drinks to simple old favorites such as chocolate milk to replenish those stores. A recent study found that chocolate milk — which has more carbohydrates than regular milk — has just about the perfect ratio of protein and carbohydrates.

"Athletes also like it because it’s a whole food," meaning it is unrefined and natural, Lazzaretto said.

Protein and electrolytes are also important for cyclists. Protein helps glucose get into cells, Lazzaretto said, while electrolytes catalyze the chemical reactions that allow for smooth body performance.

To stock up on these crucial elements, athletes eat plenty of carbohydrate-rich food, such as pasta, bread and rice. On a race day, a cyclist in the Tour might eat oatmeal with brown sugar for breakfast, carbohydrate supplements during the ride, a glass of chocolate milk and a banana to replenish right after the race, and an enormous bowl of pasta with marinara sauce and lean ground turkey for dinner, Lazzaretto said.

This diet will not melt the pounds away from most desk jockeys, but it keeps the riders of the Tour well within the confines of their Spandex.

For the latest news and features about the race, be sure to check our special Amgen Tour of California page.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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