How to Eat Like a Tour de France Cycling Pro

July 19, 2011 (From Gap, France) By Jen Benepe

A few months after last year’s Tour de France ended, the 2010 champion Alberto Contador was found to have tested positive for a banned substance, Clenbuterol.

Contador posing on yesterday’s rest day at Hotel Chateau Rochegude: but he only eats food prepared by Team Chef Henna Grant (c) Jen Benepe

The test results created a difficult and dangerous situation for the Spanish rider, who stood to lose his 2010 Yellow Jersey because the tests had been conducted in the Pyrenees stages of that year’s Tour.

A few days after news broke that Contador would be investigated he issued a statement saying that the Clenbuterol findings were the result of meat he had eaten that had been brought over the border from Spain.

“It is a clear case of food contamination,” Contador said in a September 2010 press conference. “I am sad and disappointed but hold my head high.”

The meat was brought over from Spain to France and was eaten by Contador on July 20 and 21, 2010 during the Tour, according to the rider. Clenbuterol is sometimes given to cows, pigs and other animals to increase their growth rate.

Henna Grant, SaxoBank team chef and her husband and helper Lars Williams (c) Jen Benepe.

Eventually, Contador was cleared to compete in the 2011 Tour, even though the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) will not make a final decision about his culpability in the matter until August

So this Tour, neither Contador nor his SaxoBank Team are taking any chances.

Cyclists International visited the Hotel Rochegude where the team was staying yesterday, and found the team’s kitchen bus, headed by chef Henna Grant who showed us how to eat like a cycling pro.

The 28-year-old and her husband Lars Williams, an American, do all of the cooking for the team: that means no other food other than packaged energy bars and gels touches their lips during the Tour de France and other major racing events.

Though Grant could not tell us exactly what the Spaniard himself eats everyday, she was able to give us enough specifics to understand how different the team’s food is today from those sad days of contaminated beef—and from our own diets which are clearly not healthy.

The Dane had to compete with three other chefs for the opportunity to personalize the menu of the team and their members, including Contador.

First and foremost on a major race day like today’s climbing stage from St. Paul Trois Chateaux to Gap, France, riders consume about 10,000 calories, and with the exception of lamb, Grant does not serve any red meat.

The Team SaxoBank food preparation bus parked outside the exclusive Hotel Chateau Rochegude (c) Jen Benepe

Fat is the single most important element in the competitor’s diet, but animal fat is the worst thing for them, said Grant who worked at the Noma restaurant in Denmark, ranked by

Restaurant Magazine as the best in the world in 2010 and 2011.

“If you don’t have enough fat, they burn off glucose in the muscles,” she said, and that results in cramps and less than perfect performance.

So then how to provide enough healthy fat to sustain the riders? Grant plops down a bottle of Udo’s Choice oil in front of my face, which for the uninitiated looks frankly, disgusting and very old school.

“Nothing is disgusting in my kitchen,” says Grant boldly.  The bottle contains a cold-pressed, combined nut oil that is high in fat but healthy she says, and forms a big part of the team’s diet.

Though Grant is largely responsible for what the riders eat, she is not responsible for determining their daily intake which is watched over carefully by individual rider nutritionists. Her job is to make sure everything entering their bodies is good for them.

She supplements the oil, which is used in just about everything, with good doses of nuts, avocado, and “lots of fatty fish,” that provide sustainable energy for the riders.

Does she recall the Clenbuterol incident? Well, she can’t talk about that, but all of the products that enter her vehicle, a giant moving kitchen the size of the team bicycle truck parked nearby, are organic and therefore never touched by any chemicals. They must bear an organic stamp which is standard in Europe.

The riders also follow a diet very low in milk and milk products, and most drink rice milk. The reason she said, lactose is not highly digestable and therefore more difficult to convert to calories.

On rest days, riders eat three meals, and of course on race days, she prepares breakfast and dinner. Food provided in the musette bags handed out at the feed zone are provided for by the individual racers’ soigneurs.

Every night riders are given plain pasta with a sauce of their choice, and chicken, fish or lamb is offered on the side.

The Team put their cycling shoes on yesterday, rest day: they eat well on rest days said Grant (c) Jen Benepe.

Fruit is offered at every meal, and is given freely, in other words, they eat as much as they want.

For breakfast, riders must eat three and a half hours before the ride start, so they normally eat around 8 or 9 am. That’s because they need the calories but competing after a big meal is not conducive to good performance, said Grant.

Breakfast consists of a hot porridge, a mix of rye, spelt and barley. Fruit and nuts are added to the meal as well. Grant also offers a traditional Danish style muesli made with corn flour, dried carrots and lots of grains soaked overnight in yogurt (one of the few times that milk products are used).

Because riders are normally hungry again right before the race start, they eat snacks like bars, cakes, and sandwiches that have been prepared in packs half an hour before the race start.

Another breakfast meal consists of rice and eggs: “Egg yolks are good and provide a lot of the good fats that they need,” said Grant. Since the riders eat a lot of refined sugar products for energy during the stage, like bars, gels and drinks, Grant does not put any refined sugars or starches in their food.

After the race is over and the riders gather in the team bus, she provides a large bowl of mixed fruit –“melon, pineapple, and berries, berries, berries, they can’t get enough,” said Grant.

Grant also covers the other big Tours like the Vuelta a Espana, and occasionally provides a treat to the riders that they look forward to more than anything.

And what is that? “Sushi,” she said. “Every time there is sushi, they go crazy.” She makes the sushi herself with the help of Mr. Williams, and that often consists of salmon, white fish and scallops very lightly salted.

For safety’s sake, the riders do not touch food from any of the hotels or restaurants during the race.  Though they are staying at the Chateau de Rochegude, one of the most exclusive in the area, they only eat from Grant’s kitchen.

The total cost of the food for the Tour de France Grant guess-estimates quickly in her head at $20,000, though the menu items appears to cost much more.

For total security, the bus is locked every night, and a vicious watchdog sits inside, waiting for the nearest intruder.

Well, it is locked but we are just joking about the dog.

Grant who has developed many of these preparations with her own recipes is in the process of writing a book. But she said, eater beware: if others follow the same high fat diet and don’t burn 7,000 to 10,000 calories a day as these riders do, they will soon find themselves very fat.

For those who don’t exercise as much, much of the same diet recommendations hold, she said. The only requirement is to adjust the amount of calories.

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