Eat Like a Champion: The Diet of a Professional Cyclist

Pro cycling is an energy-intensive sport and as expected, the most important macronutrient for cyclists automatically becomes carbohydrates, which is necessary for producing calories. But how much calories do pro cyclists burn and what do they eat? A practical example can help paint a clear picture. Your average daily demand for calories is slightly over 2000, given the average person burn 90 per hour while resting. If you decide to hit the treadmill for an hour, you will burn about 600 calories. If this fascinates you, how about the 1000 calories that Tour de France and USA Pro Challenge Cyclists burn every hour on the bike. In total, they require at least 8,000 calories on a race day. So keep in mind that cycling is more than getting your funkier men’s jerseys from the store and hitting the road, and more intensive than a weight lifting session with the pros. Here’s a diet breakdown of the meals taken by professional cyclists on the race day in order to sustain their high calorie demand.

Before The Race

Judith Haudum, BMC Racing Team’s nutritionist, prepares her cyclists by having them take their breakfast 3-4 hours prior to a stage. This type of breakfast includes one bowl of porridge, a banana, some nuts, a cup of coffee, fruit juice, a plate of pasta, and a piece of cake, per athlete. Post-breakfast snacks typically contain cereal bars and fruit juice. Combined, both breakfast and post-breakfast diets yield over 1,300 calories. It’s interesting to note that at this point, the race hasn’t even begun. If they cyclists have these meals immediately before cycling, they risk throwing up.

During The Race

According to Judith, riders derive about 1,500 calories from the bars, sports drinks, gels and other energy boosters they take while cycling during a race. A cyclist will consume 8-12 bottles of sports drinks each containing 50 calories per 8 ounces, 3 gels of about 100 calories each, and 1 cereal bar containing about 220 calories. They may also have two Paninis each yielding 380 calories. By the time cyclists complete the race, they still have a deficit of about 5,500 calories, which is covered by meals consumed after the race during dinner, and in form of snacks.


Cyclists need to recovery their energy after a race. Thus, their post-race diets will comprise mainly of carbohydrates and proteins. This is according to Nancy Clark, a nutrition expert, and author of The Cyclist’s Food Guide: Fueling for the Distance. Judith gives her team cyclists a recovery drink, mostly chocolate milk, which contains 209 calories per cup. They also take a plate or rice each containing 216 calories per cup, and ham, which produces 203 calories a cup. They also take parmesan cheese containing 22 calories per tablespoon.

Pre/Post-Dinner Snack

Greek yoghurt, water, granola, and dried fruits make up a typical pre-dinner snack. Combined, they can yield up to 500 calories. For post-dinner, cyclists may have fruits and crackers, all contributing about 250 calories.


This meal seals the deal for cyclists. After a hard day’s work, a dinner serving will contain salad Risotto containing 280 calories per serving, accompanied by chicken breasts, each of which produces 500 calories. They also have potatoes and vegetables, which when combined, can total over 300 calories. The meal also includes fruit salad, which contains 74 calories a cup.

It’s worth noting that during other days when the cyclists are not competing, their calorie demand is still quite high because they need to train and the conditions are not so different from those of the stage competitions. Without such a high-calorie diet, the cyclists would suffer severe weight loss and would never set foot on their bikes. If you are thinking of going pro or semi-pro in cycling, that is the diet plan for you.

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Eat Like a Champion: The Diet of a Professional Cyclist

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