NASCAR races often take over three hours to complete. And while you see athletes drinking and sometimes eating on the sidelines in their respective sports, NASCAR drivers face a different challenge since they must remain in their cars throughout the race.
NASCAR drivers do eat and drink during a race. However, given the intense heat in a car, they mainly drink, although it’s not uncommon to see them eating fast-digesting carb-rich foods like energy bars. Specific foods drivers eat during a race depends on their personal preferences.
Below, we will reveal that NASCAR Cup Series races comprise more than an on-track ability and pit strategy. Drivers must strategically eat and drink to keep their energy levels up and their electrolytes in balance. We will also discuss why drivers must pay particular attention to their nutrition.
NASCAR drivers eat multiple times during a race, but they cannot eat what they want. NASCAR drivers can only eat small amounts of food at a time, and usually they opt for energy bars or other high-calorie but quick-to-eat foods.
If you ever played sports in high school or college, you may recall eating before a game, at halftime or during an intermission, and even late in the game. You probably ate fast-burning foods like granola bars or high-carbohydrate protein bars. Sports drinks were often available for electrolyte balance, and you may have also eaten some type of fruit. NASCAR drivers eat similarly during an event.
But unlike most sports, they are not allowed to exit their car unless it involves swapping drivers if necessary or if they take their car into the garage area. There is no halftime in NASCAR, nor extended intermissions. However, the structure of NASCAR races today more closely resembles the majority of sports since each race comprises three and occasionally four stages.
Competition cautions follow each stage, giving drivers an opportunity to eat without the need to focus on multi-tasking. It would be difficult for drivers to simultaneously eat while operating a vehicle speeding through traffic on a straightaway between 150 and 190 miles per hour.
Further, debris hits the track and accidents happen, which call for more caution flags throughout a race. Cautions allow drivers to grab a quick snack before the green flag waves again.
Some drivers will not store food in their cars. Instead, their utility man passes them whatever is on hand through the driver’s side window during the race’s second half. Foods passed through the netting range between something simple like energy chews or granola bars. But some drivers have eaten sandwiches during a caution flag.
Other drivers keep carb-rich foods in their passenger seat, allowing them to eat at will whenever the caution flag waves, and others may even store something inside their racing suits.
NASCAR racing is a more intense sport than it looks. Only those who are aware of the fact that NASCAR, at all levels, is an endurance sport, realize how many calories a driver burns throughout an event. Although drivers burn between 1,000 and 1,500 calories throughout an event, NASCAR does not require anyone to eat during a race.
Some drivers opt out of in-race nutrition for varying reasons. Their digestive systems may not process the food well, or they may operate better on an empty stomach. Like marathon runners, other drivers may eat calorie-rich foods the night before the race.Many drivers will eat right before they enter their car.
This often comprises a piece of fruit or something easy to digest. For a number of drivers, this is enough to hold them over for the next 3-5 hours. One reason NASCAR does not require their drivers to eat is because they realize their drivers require different foods and process them differently. Some drivers thrive during an event by eating simple foods in small quantities, while others do not.
What NASCAR drivers eat during an event depends on the driver’s preferences. Most stick to granola and energy bars, chews, pastes, and gels. These are similar to what endurance athletes eat during prolonged events.
It’s not uncommon to see drivers mixing pastes and gels with water to both remain hydrated and to quickly ingest much-needed calories. Some drivers were known for eating energy chews throughout each event. Other drivers prefer snack packs of varying foods to keep their energy levels up for a race’s duration.
While it may not look like a physical sport, the truth is, NASCAR is one of the most physically-demanding sports in the world.Drivers understand how important it is to remain in top physical condition throughout the season and a sound nutrition plan plays a massive role in their fitness regimen.
NASCAR drivers follow strict nutrition plans throughout race week, the night before a race, on race day, and during the event. While not all drivers will eat during a race, for those that do, what they eat falls directly into their nutrition plan so they can operate at peak performance.
If you ever watched or had taken part in a marathon, you probably noticed food and drink stands set up strategically around the course. Most foods offered at these stands comprise fruit, granola, energy chews, and gels. This is not much different than what NASCAR drivers eat.
Drivers and marathon runners have a common goal in mind regarding why they eat during their respective races – they want to keep their energy levels afloat throughout the event’s duration.
If drivers eat during NASCAR events to maintain their energy levels, why don’t all drivers eat to seek this benefit? Put simply, different drivers have different needs, and it often deals with body type and how each individual driver metabolizes food. Drivers are normal people whose metabolisms and body types vary.
One driver may thrive on a high carb, moderate protein, low fat nutrition plan, and these drivers are the ones who typically eat during a race because they’re burning through carbohydrates faster than some of their peers. Other drivers may be carb-sensitive, meaning their bodies do not metabolize carbohydrates at the same pace as a driver eating a higher carbohydrate nutritional regimen.
These drivers may follow a high protein, moderate fat, and low carbohydrate plan. Foods that are higher in fat naturally digest slower while protein helps satiate and keep individuals feeling full for longer durations. Drivers whose bodies function better with lower carbs, higher fat, and protein, may not eat during a race. If they do, they usually eat very little.
Every professional athlete has a favorite meal the night before the game, and NASCAR drivers are no different. As with what drivers eat during a race (if they choose to eat), what drivers eat the night before and on race day varies with individual needs and preferences depending on their predetermined nutrition plan.
Some NASCAR drivers reportedly preferred fish and mixed vegetables before a race, while they typically avoid sugary foods and dairy. They also avoid spicy foods, or anything they feel is going to be hard to digest.
It is also important to note that drivers’ menus rarely change throughout the season and their pre-race meals comprise simple ingredients.Even if a NASCAR driver claims to eat something different than the typical foods listed above, they will still eat foods their body is used to ingesting.
NASCAR drivers do drink during a race. Since NASCAR cars get uncomfortably hot even during cooler months, hydration eclipses nutrition in importance during a race. Throughout the decades, drivers and their teams have come up with crafty ways to keep themselves hydrated during a 300 to 500-mile race.
While some drivers stash water and their favorite sports beverages in the passenger seats, it’s not uncommon to see hydration systems built into the car or even into their helmet. These hydration systems often comprise a straw that drivers can access at will.
Other drivers opt out of keeping a hydration system and stash minimal fluids in their cars. Instead, they will drink water or sports drinks passed to them from pit crew members through their netting. They don’t want to drink too much of course, as NASCAR drivers don’t get toilet breaks!
As with eating during a race, a NASCAR driver’s hydration plan throughout the event is part of a larger hydration strategy throughout the week. Therefore, drivers will hydrate in the days leading up to a race. After a race, drivers may head for the care center or even a nearby hospital to receive an IV drip if a situation calls for it, such as severe dehydration.
NASCAR drivers normally just drink water during a race. Any electrolyte-rich sports beverage is also a good choice. Usually, NASCAR drivers drink fluids similar to what you see professional athletes drinking on the sidelines during their respective events.
Drivers refrain from drinking beverages that will not adequately replenish lost fluids. Caffeinated beverages are not recommended, and you will not see drivers enjoying their favorite coffee or soft drink during an event. While caffeine may augment mental alertness, it is also a diuretic that will cause faster dehydration when a driver operates a hot car for three to five hours.
And while it is true drivers may opt for a supposed “energy drink,” they are not ones you find on store shelves with a bunch of stimulants in them.Instead, these drinks contain higher amounts of fast-digesting carbohydrates, which will naturally boost a driver’s energy.
NASCAR drivers do often lose weight during a race. Because of the intense heat in the car and the physical exertion NASCAR involves, drivers may lose 5-10 pounds of weight through sweat over the course of a 3+ hour long race. This is why hydration is so important for NASCAR drivers.
Think back to when you or a friend played sports in high school and practices marred your summer vacation. When you (or your friend) were out there between four and six hours a day practicing in the July and August heat, you may recall weighing in and weighing out.
If you experienced the infamous two-a-day practices, you weighed in and out twice. Coaches and schools mandated the weigh in and weigh out ritual because they wanted to ensure you didn’t lose an excessive amount of weight through sweat. While the cockpit can reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit, NASCAR cars are not equipped with air conditioning.
So, imagine wearing a fire retardant suit, a helmet, and fire retardant gloves inside a stifling hot racecar in the middle of summer at a track located in the southern United States. Now, imagine yourself in that situation for three to five hours!
With the above in mind, plus your possible experiences with summer practices, it’s easy to understand how NASCAR drivers may lose between five and ten pounds throughout a race, although some outliers reported losing 12 or more pounds.
If you lost so much weight during a weigh out, you could not continue practicing until you gained back a certain amount of water weight. This is because mental alertness and reflexes will decline if an athlete loses 3% of bodyweight through sweat.
For NASCAR drivers, drinking plenty of fluid throughout a race is the fastest way to keep them hydrated and mentally sound. With the cars zooming at astronomical speeds down straightaways and through turns, the tiniest lapse in concentration could cause a serious crash. By refraining from drinking strategically during a race, drivers will put themselves and their opponents in harm’s way.
There is nothing more dangerous than a driver growing faint or even passing out at the wheel during green flag laps because of inadequate hydration. When an individual sweats, they can also lose minerals and electrolytes like sodium throughout an event. Sports drinks contain electrolytes that can also prevent drivers from unnecessary muscle cramps that come with lack of hydration.
For drivers who choose not to eat because they do not process solid foods well, drinks like Gatorade will also provide calories rich in simple sugars that can further keep them energized and alert without having to eat mid-race.
In many scenarios drivers will experience serious cramps and they may also feel dizzy or lightheaded if they get dehydrated during an event.However, it is also possible for a driver to become severely dehydrated to the point where they are about to pass out.
Luckily, this does not typically occur with all the awareness in sports medicine and nutrition in the 21st century. But while uncommon, severe dehydration during a NASCAR event is not unheard of. When a driver becomes severely dehydrated, they will park their car and head for the infield care center to receive IV fluids. In some situations, they will go straight to the hospital.
While this usually only occurs following a race, drivers, for safety reasons, will receive treatment during a race if it’s deemed necessary. The downside is that once a driver exits their car to receive treatment, they may not re-enter and continue racing.
NASCAR drivers do eat and drink during a race in order to stay energized and hydrated. While not all drivers will eat much during a race, many will eat things like energy bars and other easy to digest foods. Drivers also need to stay hydrated, so they drink water or electrolyte-rich sports drinks.
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