How the Tour de France Diet Has Changed Over the Decades

How has eating changed at the world’s biggest bike race? We made it our mission to find out.

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When it started in 1903, the Tour de France was more of a race that you survived than one that you won.  This study of the evolution of the Tour de France diet is a great way to understand the role of complex carbs and macronutrient ratios not only for endurance but for also for your everyday workouts.

There are 2 different reasons you feel the burn of muscle fatigue: depletion of glycogen stores and the buildup of lactic acid.

The idea that complex carbs, which are metabolized slowly, can replace muscle glycogen wasn’t really well understood and put into widespread practice until the 1980s.  In the early days of the tour, riders’ diets included lots of wine and red meat because of the idea that it was a source of energy.  The great Italian rider Fausto Coppi who dominated bicycle endurance events throughout the 1940s and won the 1949 and 1952 Tour, was one of the first to use this formula to his advantage.

While other riders ate veal for breakfast, smoked cigarettes to open their lungs, and drank “Binda Zabaione” (20 beaten egg yolks and some sugar), Coppi ate a breakfast of whole grains and snacked on tarts, sandwiches, and fruit throughout the race.  We now know that he was gradually replacing his muscle glycogen stores throughout the race.

So take a lesson from the ultimate endurance athletes who figured it all out before the era of high-tech supplements.  Wake up with a whole grain breakfast and some fruit – that’s not only your energy source for your workout but also a way to replace glycogen stores and prevent muscle fatigue.  That extra energy and the prevention of glycogen depletion will help you push through your limits.



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