Motorsport can be intense and demanding. Drivers experience physiological stresses similar to other sports and, like other athletes, they need to give serious consideration to nutrition in order to perform optimally.
Here we dive into the key areas of correct nutrition that will be integral in ensuring all aspects of training, racing and recovery are tackled properly.
The work of Sport Nutritionist, Mary Russell dives into the key science behind the impact of dehydration and the detrimental factors that it can have on the body whilst competing behind the wheel of a race car.
“Mental fatigue and a loss of concentration while driving are commonly caused by dehydration. The physical exertion of race driving, in conditions where the body experiences hot (>25oC) temperatures, can easily lead to sweat losses of 1-2 litres, or more, per hour.“
“Studies show that when dehydration levels reach 2% (e.g. sweat losses of 1.3lt for a 65kg driver, as would easily be incurred in a race lasting ~45mins at 25oC), concentration and cognitive abilities are impaired. The single most important nutritional intervention for race driving is to ensure adequate hydration levels by drinking before, during (if possible) and immediately after a race.”
Mike Elkington, states the following conclusion surrounding correct hydration in his racing driver hydration blog for Rampage Race Products:
“In conclusion, staying hydrated is vital for race car drivers to perform at their best and maintain good health on and off the track. Drivers should aim to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, including before, during, and after races. They should also avoid sugary or caffeinated beverages that can dehydrate the body. By prioritising proper hydration, drivers can help prevent dehydration-related issues such as muscle cramps, fatigue, and headaches, and maintain optimal cognitive function and reaction time. Additionally, staying hydrated can help prevent chronic health conditions and promote overall wellness. Therefore, it’s crucial for drivers to make hydration a top priority in their training and racing regimen.”
The Walero base layers allow the wearer to reap the benefits of reduced perspiration whilst competing, therefore reducing the impacts of dehydration and heat stress. Exercising increases sweat, and if the sweat does not evaporate and sits on the skin, it will increase the body’s temperature. In our extensive simulator testing, we found that it rises up to 1.5 degrees with standard Nomex and this rise in body temperature resulted in an increased heart rate which when combined with excessive levels of perspiration, led to increased fatigue and heat stress.
With Walero however, we actively reduce perspiration levels by 40% and this in turn means a 0.6c temperature rise, therefore meaning that performance levels remain higher and lap times quicker as a result, allowing you to combat the impacts of dehydration and heat stress whilst in the cockpit.
The Walero base layers help to keep your cognitive performance at a higher level, resulting in performance gains and quicker lap times as a result, with our test data showing a 0.102 second gain in average lap times across a 32 lap stint, generating an advantage of 7.832 seconds as a result.
Forming a correct nutritional plan
“Essentially, race drivers should follow a healthy eating plan in which one third of each meal comprises vegetables and fruit, one third is made up of starchy foods (e.g. bread, rice, pasta, potatoes) and one third includes milk and dairy foods, other protein (meat, fish, eggs, beans) and foods high in fat and/or sugar (e.g. cakes, biscuits, confectionery, fizzy drinks).”
The physical and nutritional requirements focus on the driver’s needs before the event, a tailored nutrition plan can help to ensure you can achieve the best physical and mental performance across the race weekend. According to Kate Barrington, from HealthCanal, the throughout weekend racing activities require a mix of protein, carbohydrates, potassium, magnesium, hydration, fruits, and vegetables to ensure maximum performance whilst out on the track.
Many Sports Nutrition experts, say that a correct nutrition plan for a driver, can be the key to unlocking on track performance when combined with a dedicated approach to their fitness.
As seen with the diets of high performance athletes, Formula One drivers rely on a meticulously crafted routine throughout the day to ensure correct nutritional values are provided, as found in this blog piece from F1 Worldwide:
“To cope with such rigours, a meticulously crafted diet is key, ensuring optimal energy levels, hydration, and nutrient intake considering various climates, altitudes, local cuisines, and the unique demands of each racing season. The drivers’ meals are carefully planned; breakfasts are protein-rich yet light, while lunch – consumed a few hours pre-race – is easy digestion, containing lean proteins and staple carbohydrates. Post-race dinners replenish glycogen stores with higher carbohydrate and protein content to aid in recovery.”
Race day meal plans
The pre-race meal is vital and designed to maintain your energy levels throughout the race. The choice of meal is an individual one and needs to suit the driver; don’t try new foods just before a race! Eat low-GI foods such as whole grain cereals (e.g. porridge) or sandwiches made with whole wheat bread 2 to 3 hours before the race starts to maximise your energy levels even further with slow released energy from carbohydrates in particular.
Timing is also vitally important, the closer to the start, the smaller the meal. Avoid bulky foods, raw vegetables, dry beans and other foods which may stimulate bowel movements and/or gas formation. Don’t forget to drink in order to ensure hydration, as this is key!
The recovery meal is best divided into several smaller intakes to aid recovery even further. Within 30 mins of finishing the race, a recovery drink is probably the easiest and most time-effective solution. Proprietary recovery drinks are convenient but a source of carbohydrate such as whole grain cereal is equally effective in providing fluid, carbohydrate and protein. This should be followed by further small meals at 2 hour intervals, until the next normal meal from a weekly diet plan.
Maintaining energy levels
Good race day nutrition will provide more energy in the car. The correct timing of meals and the choice of healthy options should make the driver feel energised at the right times, when you need it most, as summarised once again by Mary Russell.
“Endurance athletes require a high carbohydrate diet to maintain stamina and to support recovery after events; race drivers have the same needs. It is recommended that 55-58% of energy is supplied by carbohydrates, 25-35% by fats and 12-15% by protein. Where training regularly involves resistance work, the protein component should be a little higher and the fat correspondingly lower to accommodate this.”
In addition to rehydration, it is very important to consume carbohydrate-rich foods / drinks within 30 mins of the end of a race, in order to enable the body to restore glycogen (energy) stores which is a vital step of the recovery process. Ideally, these will need to be low fibre foods and drinks (which are readily absorbed) should also be taken again after two and four hours to maintain a steady replenishment across an extended period of time. Combining a small amount of protein with these foods will improve the glycogen restoration and support muscle tissue repair. Muscles will have suffered micro-level damage during the race, even if no injury is apparent, so do remember to take your recovery post race, seriously!
Mary Russell summarises correct driver nutrition with the following closing statement:
“Good nutrition will only help to support the levels of strength, fast reflexes and cardiovascular fitness required for the development of technical skills in a good driver. Proper Nutrition will also support optimum performance on race day, followed by rapid and effective recovery processes. It is key to remember that this level of nutrition can be achieved from a healthy diet, without the use of supplements!”