Jumbo Visma pays a lot of attention to nutrition, has a very measured approach and has invested enormously in the topic of nutrition and it is one of the best, if not THE best example of performance nutrition I have seen.
The last few days I have been asked many questions about the nutrition approach of Jumbo Visma in the Tour. The team was dominant in the 2020 Tour de France and only lost the yellow jersey to Tadej Pogacar on the penultimate day. Primoz Roglic finished second in Paris, the team won 3 stages and Jumbo Visma was controlling the face most of the time. Primoz hailed the team effort and the countless hours of his team mates riding in the wind, dragging the peloton through France but also the efforts behind the scenes. Jumbo Visma made huge investments in nutrition. The nutrition staff at Jumbo Visma is substantial. In two interviews with a Dutch and a Belgium newspaper I discuss why nutrition is so important and how Jumbo Visma has tackled it so successfully. Not everyone will be able to read Dutch, so below I will describe in 10 points why I think the nutrition strategy at Jumbo Visma is unique and successful.
NRC Handelsblad "Why is JumboVisma so dominant in this Tour?"
Het Laatste Nieuws "This professor determines what Wout van Aert eats: Nutrition hypes are a real problem"
Being ahead of the game
I have worked with the team for about 3 years now. Like every other team we wanted to be ahead of the game with nutrition, making sure that riders eat as well as they can every day. Every days goals are different, and every day the nutrition needs are different and whatever goes on a plate of a rider needs to be adjusted to that. Riders generally do this by feeling and this works most of the time. After a long ride, you eat more and hopefully you eat enough and not too much. Carbohydrate needs depend on intensity as well, and more intense rides require more carbohydrate. Fortunately with the use of power meters we have been able to quantify for many years the exact workload and intensities of every ride for each rider. This helps a lot in determining the needs of every rider, every day.
We have been able to quantify for many years the exact workload and intensities of every ride for each rider
Why is it different at Jumbo Visma?
We can give advice on an individual basis and many teams are doing this or at least trying to do this. So why is it different at Jumbo Visma? In my opinion it is because you need a few things to be in place for this whole idea to work successfully:
1. Nutrition is measured but calculations of nutrition needs must be accurate
Nutrition needs can be predicted based on measurements but all calculations must be accurate enough. Not only because it will be less effective if it is not accurate, but also because riders would notice pretty quickly that it is not accurate, lose confidence in the measured approach and then they would not follow the plans.
2. The entire team needs to be on board
Not only riders, but all staff need to be on board. To achieve this you need great leadership, which the team certainly has with Merijn Zeeman and Richard Plugge. They do an outstanding job, making sure the team is a team and everyone supports the same vision, everyone works for the team and not for themselves. Everyone is an important part of the team, the riders, the sougneurs, the team trainers, the chefs, the nutritionist.
Everyone is an important part of the team
3. Investing in staff
Part of the vision was that we needed staff to execute the nutrition plans and the team invested heavily in nutrition. The team has 7 chefs, currently led by Karin Lambrechtse. Martijn Redegeld is the nutritionist who travels with the team. The chefs are also dieticians and they are rapidly developing into performance chefs.
4. Logistics experience
Jumbo (a Dutch supermarket and the main sponsor) plays a critical role as well. With their experience in logistics and access to foods, they make sure the right foods get to the right place at the right time. Jumbo trucks with food deliveries travel through Europe to supply the team.
5. Jumbo developed an app that forms the core of all nutrition advice
In the early days, I was working with excel spreadsheets, calculating what the main riders needed. It was very time consuming and I could only do the calculations for 2 riders at a time. Slowly, we upscaled, but when the Jumbo Foodcoach app started to do the calculations for us and the translations into meals, this is when it became scalable and faster. Jumbo has been a great partner in this and we continue to improve the app. Many many hours have gone into the development of the app (thanks Nancy, Karin, Martijn, the team at Jumbo and everyone else who has contributed).
6. Eating needs to be fun
Although we start with the functional aspects of eating (we need to deliver a certain amount of nutrients to the riders at certain times), we make it fun too. The meals we have at both breakfast and in the evening are some of the most important parts of the day. We want to enjoy food, sitting down with the team, having a good time. It should be a celebration, and the food should taste great. In the old days it was overcooked pasta with red sauce day after day after day. I called it functional eating and that was all it was. The chefs are constantly evaluating meals and trying to improve them. Now we get riders asking to make the meals less tasty because they want to eat more.
Meals should be a celebration, and the food should taste great
Enormous amounts of time go into preparing and planning. Weeks before a multi-day stage race, every stage is analysed in detail and nutrition needs are estimated and predicted. This is teamwork to get to the best predictions (trainers, performance directors, nutritionists are all involved in the planning). As soon as riders cross the finish line and press the button of their Garmins, the data is uploaded and the predictions are adjusted for the actuals. The evening meals can take care of the differences.
8. Focus on the things that matter
This is important and turned out to be a large part of the interview with the Belgium newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. It is so easy to get confused about nutrition because there is so much information out there and most of it is wrong or misleading. Of course everyone is looking to find quick fixes, a magic supplement, a miracle diet... but the reality is that these things do not exist. Nutrition is hard work. Getting it right day after day. Especially in a Tour. If you get it wrong one day, you will pay the price the next day and you may never get a chance to recover from the mistake. So if you want to be successful with nutrition don't waste time on all the distractions, but pay attention to the essentials. This may be basic. But if you do the basics better than everyone else, you will succeed. This is also where science really makes a difference. A good understanding of the scientific literature will be the basis of a successful evidence based approach. It is essential in keeping the non-sense, the hypes and the pseudoscience separated from the things that can make a difference. We can focus on real effects rather than just placebo effects.
Nutrition is hard work. Getting it right day after day. Especially in a Tour.
9. Race nutrition
One of the things that matters is the nutrition during the race. very few secrets here
The guidelines are published (also on this web site), but few actually prepare accordingly. We developed nutrition planning software that is available to everyone (www.fuelthecore.com) and using this you can come to a personalised nutrition plan. Having a plan for nutrition on the bike and executing this every day is another crucial part of success. This process also includes "training the gut".
10. Planning and preparation is key
You can have all the knowledge in the world, you can make the best plans in the world, you can make predictions and do calculations that are extremely accurate but all of this is pointless if the delivery is not there. It all comes down to how these ideas and plans get executed. And this really is a team effort. Very few people on the team do not have a role somehow in the delivery of the nutrition strategy and only if everyone is 100% on board can this be delivered. I have worked (and still work) in many places in sport and my advice and plans are similar in most places, but the way things are executed are not always successful.
we are just talking about nutrition here and although nutrition is an important part of performance, there are many other aspects that need to be cutting edge. All details matter, and for all details there is a plan and a strategy. Ultimately the plan is only a plan and it comes down to everyone in the team to execute it and make things happen. If one or more people of the team are not on board, the whole strategy falls apart. So I agree with Primoz... performing at this level is a team effort.