We all know that nutrition is critical to our performance. But what? What is good nutrition for a performance/race driver? That’s the question that Simon Hayes of Performance Physixx answers in this week’s feature article. -Ross
Like all professional athletes racing drivers require elite level nutrition specific to their individual sport, and even more specifically, each individual event.
Some basics about nutrition: our bodies need and utilize protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals differently and need each of these provided at different times, for different reasons. Race drivers’ needs are more profoundly affected by certain factors, such as the environment in which they are racing (temperature changes), heat acclimation, length of time in the race car, physiological fatigue, injury status, specifics of the race car the individual is driving (open-wheel versus closed-cockpit/sports-car endurance racing), and personal metabolism (how each person individually uses the breakdown of protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, and minerals within the body).
Most professional drivers in such series as F1, IndyCar, and Sports Cars have professional trainers and nutritionists who plan their entire nutrition program. However, we aim to give our club racers a usable guide to better plan their own nutrition, both on a weekly basis, and often more important, on the race weekend.
Proteins are essential nutrients for the human body. They are some of the building blocks of body tissue, and can also serve as a fuel source. A simple way to provide this on a race weekend, when you don’t have time to do a lot of food preparation, is to drink protein shakes. Shakes contain not only protein, but carbs, fat, and many of the vitamins and minerals you will need for your in-car stints. However, some protein supplements are better than others.
Contrary to popular belief, rice protein may well be healthier for you than the more common whey protein. Also, rice protein contains the full amino acid profile. Brown rice protein is sourced from whole, sprouted rice grains, with the process of sprouting eliminating anti-nutrients commonly associated with grains, such as phytic acid. Once sprouted, protein is gently extracted from the whole grain. It serves as a whole protein source, containing a very similar amino acid composition to that of breast milk. It is also particularly high in leucine, an amino acid crucial for muscle recovery. When buying a protein supplement, look out for at least 1.5g of leucine per serving to ensure maximum recovery. Your shakes for your race weekend can be mixed with water and/or juice; also include a variety of fruits, particularly citrus fruits high in vitamin C – key for energy over the long term. (http://www.nutribiotic.com/rice-protein.html)
Carbohydrates can be broken simply down to fast acting carbohydrate (simple carbs), consisting of only one or two sugars and include foods such as white flour and fructose, and carbohydrates that will sustain the driver over the longer term (complex carbs), which consist of three or more sugars and are fiber-rich. It is the complex carbs that are most important for a race driver during the race weekend.
Some complex carbohydrates you can bring to the race weekend that can be easily ingested are strawberries (which can also be used in shakes), low fat yogurt, quinoa, pasta (wholegrain type will make you feel fuller sooner, and for longer), oatmeal, and buckwheat.
Fat provides the highest concentration of energy of all the nutrients. One gram of fat equals nine calories. This calorie density, along with our seemingly unlimited storage capacity for fat, makes fat our largest reserve of energy. One pound of stored fat provides approximately 3,600 calories of energy. While these calories are less accessible to athletes performing quick, intense efforts like sprinting, fat is essential for longer, slower, lower-intensity and endurance activities such as easy cycling and walking.
Fat provides the main fuel source for long- duration, low-to-moderate intensity activities, which include moderate-to-long in-car stints in 24 hours of Le Mans, and your moderate stints in your club races. Even during high intensity exercise, where carbohydrate is the main fuel source, fat is needed to help access the stored carbohydrate (glycogen).
Unsaturated fats, which should also be part of your nutrition, include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are typically found in plant food sources and are usually liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats have health benefits such as lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease. Common food sources include olive and canola oil, avocados, fish, almonds, soybeans and flaxseed.
Vitamins & Minerals
There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble – vitamins A, D, E and K; and water-soluble – B complex, C, and folate (folic acid). Due to the scope of this article, we will list their functions and how they are important to include in your nutrition plan for the race weekend.
The functions of fat-soluble vitamins
1. Vitamin A – Growth, development, enhancement of our immune system, essential for our eyesight, especially night vision.
Deficiency signs – Night blindness, skin problems with an increase in the rate of acquiring infections.
Great natural sources – liver, kidney, eggs, and fish liver oil.
2. Vitamin D – This is important for bone formation; it works by controlling calcium absorption and excretion. Recent studies show that Vitamin D inhibits some forms of cancer growth.
Deficiency signs – Rickets (disease characterized by deformities in the skeleton – especially hands, legs, and chest bones), and pain in the bones and muscle weakness.
Great natural sources – Cod liver oil, milk, eggs, liver, and oily fish.
3. Vitamin E – It works as an antioxidant (protects our tissues from free-radical damage) and has other functions such as improving blood circulation and removing wound scars.
Deficiency signs – none reported.
Great natural sources – wheat germ oil, almonds, sunflower oil, and peanuts.
4. Vitamin K – Plays a major role in the blood coagulation process, which prevents us from bleeding to death.
Deficiency signs – Excessive bleeding or poor blood coagulation.
Great natural sources – spinach, broccoli, eggs, and meat.
The functions of water-soluble vitamins
1. Vitamin C – It plays a vital role in the formation of several enzymes, absorption of iron, antioxidant function, formation of collagen (which leads to healthy skin and joints) and wound healing.
Deficiency signs – Scurvy (a disease characterized by bleeding from the gums, bleeding from the skin, fatigue and delayed wound healing).
Great natural sources – Kiwi and citrus fruits, guava, mango, and broccoli.
2. Vitamin B complex – A complex of vitamins that total more than ten individual nutrients, the most essential being B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), and B12 (Cyanocobalamin).
Functions – These vitamins play an important role in the body’s energy production, nervous system, immune system, and iron absorption.
Deficiency signs – Vitamin B12 anemia (a disease characterized by fatigue, pallor, an increased heart beat rate and lack of energy). Some other signs include emotional disturbance, skin disease, tongue inflammation, and hair loss.
Great Natural sources – Meat, liver, milk, yeast and its products, nuts, and whole grain cereals.
3. Folic acid – Essential in the formation of RNA and DNA.
Deficiency signs – Megaloblastic anemia (a disease characterized by fatigue, pallor, increased heart beat rate and lack of energy) and possible infertility.
Great natural sources – spinach, Brussels sprouts, green beans, and cauliflower.
The Essential Minerals
The minerals are classified into three parts: macro, trace, and ultra trace minerals. The essential minerals, which we need to be healthy, are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, iron, zinc, and fluorine. The essential trace elements are copper, chromium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and iodine.
The functions of the most important essential minerals
1. Calcium – Plays an important role in bone and teeth formation and nervous system health.
Deficiency – Leads to stunted growth, increased rate of bone fractures and nervous system problems.
A natural source – milk.
2. Iron – Plays an important role in red blood cell formation.
Deficiency – Leads to iron deficiency anemia, which is characterized by fatigue, pallor, concave nails with white lines and an increased heart beat rate.
Natural sources – eggs, meat, liver, and fish.
3. Zinc – Essential for growth and development, enhances immune function and wound healing, increases fertility.
Deficiency – Leads to skin inflammation, hair loss, sore throat, delayed growth, and diarrhea.
Natural sources – meat, vegetables with leaves, whole grains, milk, and eggs.
Being aware of the effects of good (and poor) nutrition, and incorporating a diet rich in what you need to perform at your best, should be part of your overall fitness regimen. Just one more component to the complete and healthy driver.