Talking Nutrition Editors
Coming off of the recent Tour de France race, Talking Nutrition editors met Lisa Nijbroek, the nutrition expert for Team Sunweb, a Germany-based professional cycling team, to learn more about how she helps the cyclists stay fueled throughout their performance journey – from training, to race day and through recovery. There are 49 team members, so it’s not a small task to keep all of the athletes fueled, energized and nourished.
The team’s own vision, “To redefine our sport through cooperation and innovation: keep challenging,” is instilled throughout Lisa’s daily activities. She analyzes the riders’ energy intake and expenditure, so she can successfully serve up nutritious meals that will sustain their energy for one of the most challenging endurance sports in the world.
LN: I joined Team Sunweb about a year and a half ago because I was looking for a new challenge. At the time, I was working as a sports dietitian, but with a variety of athletes, including youth athletes, adults and those with elevated BMI levels. By working with Team Sunweb cyclists I’m focused on supporting extreme endurance athletes who need to optimize their nutrition to be successful. These athletes endure three grueling weeks of racing with only two or three rest days – their challenge was now my challenge. How do I respond to their really high total energy expenditure? This exciting challenge attracted me to Team Sunweb.
LN: During a Grand Tour, the energy expenditure for our cyclists is extremely high – about 7,500 calories in one day! For a cyclist, it’s very difficult for them to calculate their own nutrient intake during the day. If there’s a nutrient deficiency it could be the difference of losing or winning the day afterward. Or, the rider could gain weight, which is not optimal. We utilize a personalized approach when preparing meals for the racers.
I collaborate with the team’s chef who travels via a cooking truck with the cyclists during the races. We take their personal “nutrition vitals” and adjust their meal plan throughout the day. This way, we can be certain that the level of micro and macro-nutrients is high and constant. We also account for the type of terrain during each race day. The cyclists’ nutrient and calorie needs will change if they are racing in altitude – the mountains – or if they are in valleys.
LN: After every race, at the end of the day, the cyclists send me their intake – for example, if they took in 6 bottles of hydration, 5 bars, etc. during the race – so I can precisely monitor and recalculate their efforts and intakes while they’re on the bike. The athletes also submit their average output in terms of time and wattages. There are instances where our athletes experience an energy deficit, meaning their nutrient intakes during the race were not optimal, so they couldn’t perform at their best level. In this case, we can still compensate with extra dinner and snacks prior to bedtime.
Another aspect we track closely is if the rider had a crash. When a rider experiences bruises or injuries, they need more energy intake to make up for the body’s damage.
The key to helping riders is being available 24 hours a day to learn how race day went and to monitor all of their nutrition vitals, so we can adjust their energy and nutrition levels quickly.
LN: Carbohydrates are a must! Before the race, our focus is on carbohydrates. Incorporating carbohydrates are critical for the endurance athlete – especially those who are competing for more than an hour and a half. We typically fuel the athletes with pasta the evening prior to race day and then in the morning they eat oatmeal.
As riders continue through the race, their bodies are craving energy from amino acids. If we aren’t providing enough amino acids in their nutrition plan, their bodies will turn to muscles for energy, and we don’t want a breakdown of muscles. Therefore, we add PeptoPro® to the riders’ mid-race carbohydrate drink to help rebuild their muscles.
After the race, our focus turns more to proteins, recovery shakes and healthy fats, including olive oils and salmon or other fatty fish, as well as carbohydrates. Our recovery shakes immediately following the race also feature hydrolyzed caseinate from PeptoPro®. In addition, we optimize the riders’ diets with a casein to support muscle health and FruitFlow® to help support healthy blood flow during the night when they aren’t eating anything.
The athletes’ eye health is always top of mind too. We incorporate a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables to provide the important carotenoids that naturally help to support vision. For instance, if we serve carrots on day one, then we’ll serve different colored vegetable – like spinach – on the following day. In addition, we value the use of dietary supplements and vitamins too. Each athlete takes a daily vitamin that features the FloraGlo® and OPTISHARP® brands of carotenoids since the riders’ eyes are exposed to damaging UV radiation and invisible blue light that is also found in sunlight.
It’s an honor to work with such dedicated endurance athletes, helping to fuel them for success.
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