Motorsports athletes are some of the fittest humans on the planet. This may be surprising to some, but the conditions the drivers go through require a high level of fitness and very good health in order to remain at the top. Thus, a specific nutrition and hydration plan is needed for each driver.
By taking into account all of the basic nutrients the body needs, from proteins to carbohydrates, a plan can be tailored to each driver depending on their needs and the events in which they are taking part. The timing of these plans is vital in order to provide the best results.
There can be a lot involved in these nutrition plans, so we will dissect the main components below and go into more detail about what is required. We will also discuss the important of timing and give some examples of nutrition and hydration plans for motorsports athletes.
How Should A Racer Prepare Nutritionally Before An Event?
First, we need to address the physical and nutritional requirements of each specific event. We aim to focus on what a driver needs to do before the event, as well as the ‘in racecar activities’ throughout the weekend, and post-race requirements. Let’s break the requirements down into their individual nutritional components.
Requirements Leading Up To A Race Weekend For Training
As a driver approaches the race weekend there are some considerations that need to be met. An appropriate level of nutrition is essential to support the training needs leading up to the event, together with training requirements. Let’s look at the building blocks of these nutritional needs.
Drivers require protein to support lean muscle tissue to perform well in the car, for muscle contraction and relaxation during driving, and for training in between races. While it is difficult to discuss an individual athlete’s protein requirements within the scope of this article, we will focus on what the average race driver needs, irrespective of racing discipline.
As the main protein source, chicken and fish are the best options, with occasional lean red meats. On average per serving, an athlete requires 6-8 oz of good quality protein per pound of bodyweight. If an athlete is vegan or vegetarian the protein requirements to make up for the missed ‘complete’ (animal) proteins is going to be higher. This is why it is good to have secondary protein sources in the plan.
Rice protein contains all of the essential amino acids an individual athlete requires, and it is overall a lot healthier from a digestive perspective, versus whey protein. This allows for the important amino acid leucine to have greater absorption and to be delivered directly into the muscles. This makes rice protein a good secondary protein source.
When purchasing a protein supplement, ensure it contains at least 1.5g of leucine per serving to provide maximum recovery.
Complex (slow burning) carbohydrates are particularly important as motorsport is, for the most part, an endurance-based sport, requiring the athlete to be able to utilize energy stores over a longer period in much the same way as a triathlete does. Thus, the requirements for a race weekend are incredibly high.
The average endurance athlete, regardless of the discipline, requires around 8-10g of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight each day, accounting for 12 hours of moderate to high intensity workouts (more than 70% of VO2 Max) per week. This amount prioritizes the glycogen stores in the liver and skeletal muscle. The total amount of carbohydrates is more relevant than getting a certain proportion of calories from carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates come in the form of both ‘complex’ (slow acting) and ‘simple’ (fast acting) carbohydrates. For a racing driver training 7 days a week with both 1-hour circuit workouts and high-level endurance sessions of running or cycling, a good choice for a slow acting carbohydrate is pasta or brown/white rice.
Brown rice has the ability to provide electrolytes including potassium, which have a role in nerve transmission, muscle contraction, and blood vessel tone. Vascular tone is described as the level of constriction that is received by a blood vessel compared to its maximally dilated state. This essentially dictates the form of blood vessels and their proper functioning in transporting blood around the body.
It also regulates blood pressure, and maintenance of hydration within the body. If a driver includes half a cup of brown or white rice with a post workout meal or following a racing stint, this will provide 77 mg of potassium. Magnesium also aids in regulating blood pressure, and thus a driver needs to make sure that they are getting enough. Half a cup of brown rice contains 42 mg of magnesium.
Phosphorus regulates pH within the body by buffering excess acids and alkali. Half a cup of brown rice will provide 100mg of phosphorous. Vitamin B6 is also provided by this superfood, containing 50 mg in half a cup. White rice will still provide similar measures if used in place of brown rice, so either one can be used here.
Simple carbohydrates are used to keep the driver ‘topped up’ with energy during training leading up to the event and throughout the race weekend. These include things like bananas, and a good idea of what a pre-workout meal could look like would be chopped banana with honey, along with rice cakes and jam, and a glass of milk.
This could also serve as a pre-race meal for a driver just around 10/15 minutes before getting into the car. After getting out of the car, the driver could eat some raisins, a banana, and some natural honey. Keeping a bag of cashew nuts and raisins on hand is a great source of fast acting carbohydrates and a good source of protein as well.
Fruits And Vegetables
Fruits and Vegetables provide lots of nutrients, including vitamins A, K and B6, as well as iron and calcium, which are crucial for fighting inflammation. Good fruits for motorsports athletes include blackberries, raspberries and blueberries, and these are key to maintaining the athlete’s strength after training and racing.
They also provide antioxidants, and the darker berries provide phytochemicals that protect against oxidative stress, which can occur after intense racing. Dark leafy greens are great to include in a post workout meal with something like a lean piece of steak or a chicken breast (6-8 oz), with rice or pasta and some broccoli or cauliflower.
Proper hydration doesn’t just involve drinking a lot of water, as it can also come from some of the foods the driver eats. The driver needs to remain hydrated throughout a race in order to maintain maximum levels of focus, as dehydration can quickly bring on fatigue and lack of concentration, which can lead to a massive drop in performance and even present a danger of an accident.
Drivers being able to drink cool fluids from the in-car drinks bottle is one of the key elements in keeping the body hydrated throughout the race, along with preparation prior to getting into the car. This can involve hydrating foods such as watermelon, bananas, cucumber, strawberries, milk, spinach, radishes, and tomatoes.
The Benefits Of Coconut Milk
A favorite of Oriol Servià was coconut milk. The benefits of coconut milk include:
- Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol
- Builds muscle and helps reduce fat
- Is rich in electrolytes and can prevent fatigue
- Can assist in weight loss
- Improves digestion
- Relieves constipation
An Example Race-Day Driver Nutrition Plan
An on-the-day program for a race driver competing in something like the 24 hours of Daytona would look something like the plan below.
Oatmeal is a good breakfast meal, made with 1-2 packets of oatmeal mix and one cup of water or 2% milk. This is a complex carbohydrate meal which provides an energy release over time. Nut butter or nuts in the oatmeal can help to provide some healthy fats and fiber, and for extra protein some protein powder could be mixed in too.
Mixed berries would be included alongside this to provide some antioxidants. This meal would be best consumed before arriving at the track. Overall, this meal contains the full spectrum of protein, carbohydrates, good fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals to provide the racing driver with the healthy base needed to perform at their highest level.
At The Track
Once the driver gets to the track, they could then eat some faster acting energy foods. Bananas, apples or cherries are good options, and they are also good choices for when the driver finishes his stint in the car. These drive the body to hydrate just as well as regular fluids, and a great example of an easy grab-n-go meal is banana and nut butter with honey sandwiches, pre-made and cut into pieces.
Additional snacks include things like jerky, trail mix with nuts and dried fruit or Power Bites (Lara Bar Bites or Navitas Organics bites are both good). These are examples of the type of foods which can be prepared before the event, especially if you do not have access to expensive hospitality for the race weekend.
After The Race
For protein-rich meals you can prepare turkey burgers or other meat or fish such as canned tuna or salmon, which has the capacity to be microwaved or consumed cold. Quinoa or rice packets may provide a better alternative as opposed to having to cook these items on the stove. Mixing the canned tuna or salmon with salad and some lemon juice adds extra nutrients and flavor.
Protein drinks are good ways to get a mix of hydration and extra protein and can be bought premade or made up in advance using protein powder. The same idea applies to protein bars which, although they don’t provide any hydration, can offer some extra fiber and in some cases vitamins and minerals too.
Taking a blender along with you to race weekends is a good way to make up some simple protein or vitamin drinks with fruit and vegetables. These can be bottled up and then carried around events fairly easily. Protein powder can be added to get in extra valuable protein, acting as both a fuel source and as the fundamental building block of the body’s tissues.
In terms of hydration, coconut water provides lots of it along with a good selection of vitamins and minerals. Watermelon can be chopped up to provide a good hydrating food that can also be carried around with ease.
How Does Increasing Length Of The Day Affect Nutrition?
Maintaining Energy Levels
The need to time when a driver consumes specific foods during the race weekend is absolutely crucial. Whether or not the race weekend consists of testing periods, qualifying or various heats of racing is of high importance when it comes to providing the driver with enough energy throughout the weekend. Thus, care must be taken when choosing which foods to include in a race weekend plan.
For example, slower release carbohydrates such as sweet potato, quinoa and pasta will allow the driver to maintain alertness during long driving stints. Whereas for a quick burst of energy, which is often needed in racing, drivers require more fast acting foods like simple carbohydrates and healthy sugars.
Nutrition plans should thus be made before a race weekend, factoring in the timing of testing, qualifying and racing. When the driver is going to need to go for a shorter stint, simple carbohydrates and fast acting, high energy foods should be consumed. For longer stints, it should be planned that the driver eats a more complex meal beforehand.
Timing is especially important for 24-hour endurance races, as multiple drivers will be taking part and they will all need to have adequate meals at the right times. While some learning can be done over the course of the event to find out how drivers respond to certain plans, planning well in advance really is key to maximize results.
What Should The Racer Consume Post-Race?
While nutrition and hydration are of vital importance before and during an event, maintaining adequate levels of key nutrients is essential after the event too. Racing can take its toll on the body, and so the drivers need to ensure they provide their body with the necessary food and water it needs afterwards to repair itself and prepare for the next race.
So, the training program should include options for after races too, with a focus on rebuilding the fluids lost through sweat and giving the driver enough slow releasing carbohydrates to allow them to recover their energy levels. Drinking plenty of water after a race and eating foods like rice and pasta will help to recover what was lost during the race.
Effective nutrition plans will vary from driver to driver, but there are some key nutritional building blocks that make up each one. Maintaining adequate energy levels before, during and between races is vital for performance and for the driver’s health. Proper planning is critical for longer race stints, in order to ensure the driver is always hydrated and energized to perform at their best.
Simon has over 20 years of experience training elite racing drivers across series such as Formula 1, NASCAR, IndyCar and Le Mans. With clients including multiple championship winners, he shares his teachings at Flow Racers to help more drivers reach the highest ranks.