#InsideOut: Team Sunweb’s Nutrition Expert Titia van der Stelt

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself. Your education and your role in the team?

I studied a Food and Dietetics degree at the applied University of Nijmegen (HAN) in the Netherlands. Afterwards I did Sports Nutrition (also HAN) which was accredited to Olympic standards in Sports Centre Papendal, Arnhem. On top of this I also did a masters in Movement Sciences spending half of my studies in Maastricht and the other half in Glasgow.

I am responsible for everything to do with nutrition at Team Sunweb. In the team we work with performance planning. The performance team sets out the goals for the year, based on that the race plan for all riders is made indicating, in which races, we aim to perform with which riders. Based on this input we, the experts, analyse in which ways we can contribute to these goals optimising fields of nutrition, but also with equipment and data analysis. We look at what type of terrain the race is on; for example, if it’s a mountain stage I would make sure the riders were eating more carbohydrates and less fibres, to refuel every day the most optimum way to maintain high energy levels.

There are a lot of different aspects to my job; I spend time doing anything from developing new products with our partners DSM, BORN, De Halm, Bisschopsmolen and Finca Duernas to implementing these innovations with our riders. My daily role in the team tends to be speaking with riders and giving them nutrition advice. I would explain what to do during training as well as during and after races. I also work closely with the performance staff to see which goals we have with riders related to body composition and nutrition, and to see which races I should visit to ensure riders nutrition is optimal. Last year I spent more time at races but now our team has expanded we share the workload a little bit. When we don’t have a cook at the race, I work closely with our operations department to make sure that the hotels where our riders are staying are receiving and applying our nutrition guidelines. This means that we are constantly sure that our riders have the right foods available at the right times.

Congratulations on the launch of your new book, “Eet als een atleet”. Where did the idea arise from? 

I write blogs for the platform, “I’m a Foodie” about the sciences behind (sports) nutrition. There is a small community of bloggers that do the same as me for the platform, providing information for both fellow dieticians, keen athletes and those who would like to know what the real evidence is behind statements which are often quickly posted online “I’m a Foodie” received a lot of questions in response to another book they had published, “Eet als een expert”, with people asking for sports tailored advice. They approached myself and my co-authors and asked if we would be interested in writing one, and the rest is history.

Why is good nutrition important for athletes?

Nutrition is an athletes main fuel. If you aren’t well-fuelled then you can for sure finish one training session, but if you want to make the most out of yourself during the moment where you really must perform then you should ensure that your nutrition is optimal to do so. Nutrition also really helps with recovery meaning that you can strengthen your ability continuously with the correct intake.

Describe the process of advising a Team Sunweb rider with their nutrition.

The approach depends on the moment during the year and the kind of rider. For example, during a Grand Tour I would have contact with the riders every day to optimise their nutrition intake to help with recovery and continued performance. Outside of Grand Tours, regular contact is equally as important. Contact moments are scheduled each month where we can monitor the progress of goals that have been set for each rider at the beginning of the year by myself and the performance team. A good example of a goal that could be set is with our Development Program. The riders are young and often aren’t cooking for themselves and don’t know much about nutrition. Our goal in this case would be for them to understand exactly what they are eating and when they should be eating certain foods. Another example could be when a rider needs to lose or gain weight for a Grand Tour. In addition to this I am also always available for advice whenever it’s needed, if a rider is ill I will often have contact with them almost every day to help them with their recovery.

In general, what types of foods should athletes eat and when? Before activity, during, after, recovery days? 

The main fuel that athletes should be eating is carbohydrates, especially cyclists who burn a lot of calories. Before training it’s important for the meal to not be too big, but something that sufficiently takes your appetite away and includes some carbs and proteins. Whilst on the bike it’s crucial for a cyclist to only take easily digested carbohydrates, like a rice cake, gel, drink or a bar. To help with recovery afterwards it’s important to eat a meal with a lot of proteins, some carbohydrates and good fats on the side as well.

What’s the most important piece of nutrition advice you would give to an athlete looking to improve their nutrition intake? 

I have three rules that I always share with our riders. If you train for longer than one and a half hours then you must re-fuel properly on the bike, otherwise you will ‘hit the wall’, which means that you are totally out of energy and are only able to finish your training at half of your capacity. The second rule is to take your recovery seriously through nutrition. It doesn’t need to be a shake, it could literally be a sandwich with chicken which has all the nutrients in necessary for this process. Next to this, their nutrition should be well balanced across the board. If you are eating properly at every meal, all the time, you always get the best out of your training, so then you will see immediate improvements to your performance.

Back to the book, is there a common denominator in its recipes or do they serve different purposes? 

All of the recipes serve different purposes. The book is organised under different sections and contains a variety of information. It includes what should be in an athlete’s basic nutrition, how to calculate intake correctly, good types of breakfasts and meals through the day and the types of things you should and shouldn’t eat during exercise. Alongside this there are both high and low carb recipes, what to eat when you want to lose or gain weight, the types of foods best to eat on an altitude camp or in cold conditions as well as a section on whether you can take benefits from supplements.

Are these the kind of meals that Team Sunweb’s nutrition team make for riders when they’re on the road? 

Yes, they are. The rice cakes are the most popular recipe that our soigneurs make daily for our riders during racing. This is a recipe that we have developed over time using feedback from our riders to improve. Alongside the rice cakes, the book is full of recipes that we cook for our riders daily whilst on the road.

Visit the Team Sunweb Shop to get your copy of “Eet als een atleet”.