Food as Fuel
The importance of nutrition to a professional cyclist can’t be overestimated. Scheirlynck makes sure her athletes’ nutritional intake meets four essential goals:
- Energy: Riders need food to refuel. And it’s not just how they refuel, but with what.
- Injury prevention: Hard-riding cyclists continually risk injury in pursuit of their best performance — which means their immune systems require a right nutrition strategy that lets them recover from intense workouts, avoid getting sick and get well quickly when they do.
- Body weight and composition: No two athletes are alike. There are enormous differences in the way they absorb nutrients, the way their bodies are composed and the amount of energy they’re able to expend. What may be sufficient nutritional intake for one rider may be grossly inadequate for another.
- Training quality: The way riders put nutrients back in their bodies when they train will inevitably affect how they perform come race time. Simply put, they can’t train with depleted resources and then expect a different result during the race.
The Right Food at the Right Time
Safe to say, riders can’t track all of this on their own, so Scheirlynck does it for them. In fact, it’s up to Scheirlynck to calculate what each rider needs based on their body composition, physical ability and stage profile that includes altitude, course duration and intensity.
Acquiring all that raw data isn’t an issue — riders wear connected Garmin devices during the race that monitor everything from heart rate and calorie burn to distance, miles and altitude of the course. The big challenge is to interpret the data and extract critical insights about the riders and their specific nutritional needs. That’s where the Trek-Segafredo partnership with Splunk comes in. Splunk ingests the Garmin data and parses it to create a comprehensive rider profile, which is then displayed on a user-friendly dashboard available online and via mobile app to doctors, soigneurs, managers, chefs and, of course, the riders.
Sample dashboards with high-level views of a rider’s performance.
Scheirlynck examines the data to determine nutrition needs based on the riders’ performance.
“I also look at the profile of the upcoming race, of course,” Scheirlynck says. “I discuss this with the coach, then we decide what the chef should make for dinner.”
Part of each rider’s profile includes a chart color-coded green, yellow and red to signify the amount of food they should be eating — with green representing a standard calorie intake, yellow indicating that they need more food, and red warning that they will require significantly more calories to perform well.
Even still, making the right decisions about the riders’ nutrition isn’t easy. During a seven-stage race, Scheirlynck has to think a day or even several days ahead to calculate the diverse and very complex nutritional needs of every rider during each stage so that the entire team can perform optimally. One stage of a course might include a steep incline, for example, requiring the riders to work harder, especially the designated “climbers,” who will likely expend more energy than the rest of the team.
There are other unpredictable factors, too. A rider might be coming off an illness or recovering from an injury, which will affect performance and nutritional needs. Even a surprising change in the weather affects the data-driven dietary planning.
But having “Splunked” the data, Scheirlynck can quickly adjust her understanding of how much food the athletes will need, and whether to go heavy on protein or carbs.