Can An Amateur Expend As Much Energy As A Pro On The Bike?

Feb 23, 2024

The Tour de France is at the pinnacle of extreme endurance events; over the 21 stages, riders achieve energy expenditures that are through to be close to the absolute limits of human physiology. 

During the Tour, we see typical energy expenditure values in the range of 7,000-9000 Kcal per day, equivalent to as much as x4 an athlete’s basal metabolic rate (the energy required by the body before factoring in activity).

As standalone figures, these values are impressive, but take into account the back-to-back nature of the event, with only two rest days breaking up the 21 stages, and you begin to appreciate why it is a superhuman feat of endurance. 

Now, it’s one thing for a highly trained professional athlete to undertake and complete such an event, with tens of millions of pounds spent by their teams on supporting them through such a feat. With state-of-the-art equipment and testing, months of dedicated training camps and an extensive support crew of soigneurs, physiologists, psychologists, doctors, chefs, nutritionists, physios, drivers and mechanics (to name but a few) dedicated 24-7 to allow the rider to focus solely on riding their bikes and achieve peak performance during a tour. 

Now, compare that to a distinctly average athlete, double the age of a typical tour rider and with less than half of the physiology. Completing the event one week ahead of the pros for charity, with significantly less support, without the benefit of a peloton of wheels to draught behind, or even road closures to allow a seamless journey. Could they even complete the event, and how would they compare to a world tour professional at the top of their game in terms of the amount of energy they can expend on the bike? 

A group of scientists from Spain have recently published a report detailing a comparison between two such riders, a World Tour pro cyclist and a 58-year-old amateur cyclist, who both completed the same route of the Tour De France, but one a week ahead of the other. It provides amazing insight into the huge energy expenditures that it is possible to achieve, even for us mere mortals. 

The 58-year-old amateur had a VO2 Max of 45.5ml/kg/min compared to 80.55ml/kg/min in the 28-year-old professional. The amateur was 191cm tall and weighed in at 96.1kg compared to the pro at 180cm and 67kg. The functional threshold power of the pro was an impressive 375 watts, equivalent to 5.6 watts per kg, whilst the amateur had just over half the power-to-weight ratio, producing 286 watts at FTP, equivalent to 3 watts per kg. 

During the tour, both riders had power meters, allowing for accurate power output measurement, which could then be converted into energy expenditure data. 

Whilst riding the exact same course, on average, the amateur expended a staggering 8580kcal per day during the ride, equivalent to 4.3x his resting metabolic rate. These values were higher than that of the pro, who, on average, expended 7098kcal a day, equivalent to 3.8x his basal metabolic rate. This is likely due to the greater potential for the pro to draught, alongside the greater weight the amateur had to carry. 

This demonstrates that whilst there are clearly huge differences in the individual riders' physiology, they were both able to complete the route and expend huge amounts of energy close to what is considered to be the limits of human physiology. 

An interesting finding was that whilst the pro was able to maintain body weight, the amateur lost a mere 1-2 kg of their starting weight, potentially owing to their individual nutrition approach, likely providing close to sufficient energy intake, largely through fuelling on the bike to meet the daily demands of the rider. 

Whilst energy expenditures were relatively similar (and impressive!), the biggest and most significant difference between the two riders was the intensity and duration of their rides. The amateurs’ daily ride time averaged 9 hours and 6 minutes per day for the 21 stages, whilst the pro averaged less than half that at 4 hours and 8 minutes.

This equated to a total of 191 hours on the road for the amateur compared to 87 hours for the pro. This difference in time was largely explained by the pro riders’ greater time spent at moderate to high exercise intensities, allowing the work to be completed faster than that of the amateur.

This also meant that the amateur rider had significantly less recovery time between stages, further increasing the physiological challenge posed to them.

In effect, this report shows us that amateur riders with sufficient nutrition intake can complete exercise tasks that take them close to the ceiling of sustained human energy expenditures in much the same way that professional athletes can; it just takes them a bit longer than the pros to achieve this. 

For the full report - 

- Coach Ben 


If you're a road, mountain bike, gravel or track cyclist and want to take your performance and physique to the next level...let the FTR coaches show you exactly how to achieve this inside the Fuel The Ride Academy.

Join The Academy