What is the role of Sports Nutrition in Car Racing?
Nutrition is an important tool used by the top echelon of motorsports participants. Here is a list of prioritized key objectives that should be part of the training and nutrition plan for all motorsports participants.
Objectives: stamina, even and enduring concentration, fitness, muscle strength, muscle stamina, fast recovery, agility, fast reflex, technical skills, tactical skills.
1. Technical skills (Practice, coaching)
2. Tactical skills (Practice, coaching)
3. Enduring concentration (Practice, nutrition, relaxation)
4. Fast reflexes (Practice, nutrition)
5. Muscle fitness (Training, nutrition)
6. Cardiovascular fitness (Training, nutrition)
7. Weight control (Nutrition, exercise)
8. Fast recovery (Nutrition, rest)
9. General health (Nutrition, training, rest)
10. Flexibility (Training)
11. Protection against injury (Technique, rest, nutrition)
Sport Nutrition – Isn't it all the same? There is a world of difference in quality between brands. Always try to use the best available product in the market. If available try to natural supplements and always while using a healthy and varied diet.
Operation Enduring Concentration: The Holy Grail – The race went well until I started to make some small mistakes 5 laps before the finish. Familiar? Each driver wants to maintain an even concentration level throughout a race or training session. Concentration is influenced by mental and physical fitness.
Mental fitness: Mental or psychological fitness can be obtained by mental training and reduction of stress before, during and after racing or training (rest, relaxation). Nutritional levels in the blood and brain will also have an effect on the function of the brain and the neurological system (see further).
Physical fitness: “A healthy body a healthy mind.” It is beyond doubt that a healthy and physically fit body supports the mental fitness. Concentration is influenced by two physical parameters; blood glucose and electrolytes. Energy is delivered to the brain by blood as a combination of oxygen and glucose. Brain function depends on brain perfusion, blood oxygenation and blood glucose levels. Shortage of oxygen to the brain will cause slowing of the brain function resulting in loss of concentration, diminished consciousness and eventually unconsciousness, brain damage and death. Shortness of glucose in the brain can have the same results as seen in diabetes when suffering from hypoglycemia.
De-hydration – A killer of concentration: A more frequent and more common cause of loss of concentration in car racing is dehydration. Loss of sweat in excess of 2 % of the body weight will inevitably result in loss of concentration (and physical performance). For a driver weighing 65 kg this means loosing 1.3 litres of sweat. Races usually last more than 30 minutes and cockpit temperatures are often well above 25 degrees Celsius. In this condition sweat loss of more than 1 litre is easily exceeded. A driver weighing 65 kilogram in a race of 45 minutes in 30 Celsius can loose in excess of 2 litres of sweat. This is almost 3% of his bodyweight and will almost surely result in a devastating drop of concentration. Not to mention the difficulty he will have to recover rapidly for the next race. So there you have it! Re-hydration with a good energy drink is the number one nutritional must for each serious race car driver.
Caffeine (Chocolate, Tea) and the effect on your concentration: Caffeine will change your mind-set. It will cause you to be more aggressive (sometimes desired) or misjudge risky situations (never desired). In my opinion, a good racer should stay away from it before racing or training at all times.
Sessions shorter than 25 minutes: For sessions less than 25 minutes drinking just before and immediately after the session will safeguard sufficient hydration levels. Take 250-500 ml of sports drink in the 15 minutes before the start. Drink 500-1000 ml sports drink or recovery drink in the 30 minutes immediately after driving.
Sessions longer than 25 minutes: For sessions in excess of 25 minutes drinking during the drive is a must. Again take 250ml sports drink just before the start and than start drinking small sips (50-100 ml) after 15-20 minutes every 5-10 minutes. The best measure is to drink enough to replace all lost fluid while you drive. So if the estimated loss of fluid is 2 litres, than drink 2 litres while you drive. This will prevent you from getting dehydrated and will supply you with additional minerals and enough energy to maintain an even blood sugars level.
Recovery: Recovery is the holy grail of professional athletics. For athletes who train on consecutives days (e.g. all professional sports people) it is an absolute must to be fully recovered before training or racing. Timely recovery can only be obtained by drinking a protein-carbohydrate drink within the first 30 minutes after medium to heavy exercise.
Muscle strength and fitness: Two completely different things which require completely different training techniques. First of all, a strong muscle is not necessarily a fit muscle. In car racing an athlete needs to have stamina and be strong at the same time. Cardiovascular fitness to increase stamina is a key objective in all training efforts. A fit driver will be able to concentrate better and longer and recover faster. On top of this several muscle groups will need to be trained for extra strength. Especially the neck muscles need to be stronger than most other muscles and they also must be very, very (aerobically) fit to withstand the repetitive forces. Use of protein supplement will help in speeding up increase of muscle strength and muscle mass. Good nutrition after training will increase the recovery speed in a spectacular way. A well defined nutritional strategy can reduce the recovery time from 36 to 16 hours. Rest and diet are the two other important factors that will determine the recovery time. (See recovery)
Optimal energy stores in the blood and muscles: Even blood glucose levels – Intake of carbohydrates will give an increase in blood insulin levels resulting in glucose being transformed into glycogen and fat. A peak intake of low-chain carbohydrates (sugars) will result in a peak of blood insulin. This will eventually result in an undesirable dip in blood glucose levels. So the aim is to avoid intake of high levels of sugars in the two hours leading up to a race of training. This is why endurance athletes have a high-carb meal (spaghetti) 2-3 hours before their race and nothing after that until they start racing. The same applies to car racing. Muscle glycogen – these are the energy stores which will be used first when the blood glucose gets used. A carbo-loading strategy can maximize these stores. These stores will be depleted in the first 45-60 minutes of medium to heavy exercise. The effect of carbo-loading on the performance of car racers has not been researched.
Maximal energy uptake during the race: Now here is something that will be of benefit to a racer in races longer than 30 minutes. As glycogen stores get depleted the blood glucose is at risk of dropping and in this case absorbed carbohydrates will help to maintain even energy levels. Professional sports drinks are made with a combination of short, medium and long chain carbohydrates to avoid the unwanted glucose peak. Energy drinks with 0.5 – 2.0% protein will up to 15% better absorbed resulting in a better performance.
Optimum fluid replenishment: Re-hydration has already been discussed above. Each driver should measure the amount of sweat loss under different circumstances by weighing just before and immediately after a race or training. This will give an accurate measure of the fluid he will need to replace during a race to prevent dehydration. Most sports drinks also contain electrolytes lost during races. Drinking only water to re-hydrate can be risky. Excessive loss of electrolytes like magnesium can cause cramps.
A recovery strategy after the race: First of all try drinking 500-1000 ml of recovery drink immediately after the race or training. Use a health protein rich diet with fresh fruit and vegetables. Have plenty of rest and relaxation. Try meditation. Aim for sleeping regular and more than 8 hours per day.
The above strategies are is practiced by every top athlete. Ideal strategies if you want to be at the front of the pack!
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