Driver nutrition with Opel

Carbohydrates - "power fuel" for racing drivers Opel team physician Dr Andreas Bickelhaupt: "Performance also depends on nutrition" Rüsselsheim. Like petrol fuels the race car, carbohydrates fuel its driver. Physical and mental fitness is ...

Carbohydrates - "power fuel" for racing drivers

Opel team physician Dr Andreas Bickelhaupt: "Performance also depends on nutrition"

Rüsselsheim. Like petrol fuels the race car, carbohydrates fuel its driver. Physical and mental fitness is playing an increasingly important role as drivers are fighting over fractions of a second. Close fighting like this is standard in the DTM series, set to stage its fourth seasonal meeting at the Sachsenring this first weekend in June. Proper nutrition, first and foremost the consumption of plenty of carbohydrates, huge amounts of liquids and essential minerals and vitamins, is of particular importance.

"Like the engineers, as drivers we must not leave anything to chance," says Joachim Winkelhock (Opel Team Phoenix). "Eating and drinking properly directly impacts on driving performance," confirms Opel team physician Dr Andreas Bickelhaupt. One driver having suffered the consequences that may result from not eating properly is Timo Scheider (Opel Team Holzer), who is currently heading Opel's driver score: "At my first DTM race at Hockenheim two years ago, I was so excited and under time pressure that I only had breakfast, ate nothing before the race nor hardly had anything to drink. Then, during the race, I had attacks of dizziness, was close to collapsing and had to have medical attention."

No respite inside the cockpit

Racing is an endurance sport. There is no doubt that a 45-minute race fits this criterion of sports medicine. Contrary to footballers competing in the World Championship in Japan and South Korea, who have longer periods of regeneration during the 90-minute matches, the 45-minute races do not give drivers the slightest break, not even during pit stops. Moreover, DTM touring cars, like the Opel Astra V8 Coupé, develop enormous temperatures of up to 70 degrees inside the cockpit, which means that the driver in his fireproof underwear, fireproof overall, headgear and gloves is sitting in a sort of 'high-speed sauna'.

From vehicle balance to balanced beverages

These high temperatures in particular cause drivers to lose extreme amounts of body fluids. Weight loss of two kilograms or more during a DTM race is not unusual at all. It is thus especially important to compensate this dehydration at regular intervals. Plenty of water - "three litres and more a day," according to Manuel Reuter, who took pole position in the most recent race at Donington - is the rule, with a mixture of apple juice and mineral water being one of the driver's top choices for filling up the body's water reservoirs.

No later than two hours before the race starts, drivers start to reach for their personal drinking bottles with special beverages. These concoctions are 'customised' for each racer and, first and foremost, geared to the prevailing weather conditions by Dr Andreas Bickelhaupt, sports physician, surgeon and trauma surgeon, who owns and operates a surgery in Göppingen, Southern Germany. "Whilst the often mentioned vehicle balance certainly is an important factor for success, the ingestion of 'balanced beverages' supplying the driver with specific quantities of calcium, sodium and magnesium is as well. Additionally, drivers are given vitamin C and E supplements to strengthen the immune system and to assist the body in regenerating itself." If cramps occur or extreme stress situations are lying ahead, drivers may also be receiving infusions of high concentrations of electrolytes.

Carbohydrate store must be replenished in time

Equally important as the body's fluid balance is the so-called carbohydrate store. This energy supply is purposely built up toward each racing weekend, with continually rising increments. The process uses two different techniques, one being the so-called 'tapering' method, the other a 'crash diet.' Tapering means that the driver continually ingests carbohydrates over a week's time, with the requirement for someone competing in endurance sports, like motor racing, easily reaching the level of 5000 calories per day.

For comparison: A person working at a desk can well do with less than half of that. Whilst the calorie requirements of 'normal' individuals are generally covered by 20 percent of fatty and amino acids respectively and 60 percent of carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes, vegetables), a racing driver should take in a maximum of 10 percent each of fatty and amino acids and the remainder in carbohydrates. "Even during the week, 80 percent of my diet consists of pasta, along with lots of salad, and almost no fat," confirms Timo Scheider.

Manuel Reuter, who uses triathlon competitions as his primary source of fitness, explains the concept of the 'crash diet': "With this method, the body's carbohydrate supplies are first depleted, followed by an efficient 'carbo-loading' process that includes ingestion of a carbohydrate gel."

Mental strength also comes from nutrition

Motor sport subjects drivers to particular types of stress which affect their performance. Certain groups of muscles, for example, are exposed to considerable changes in stress levels, depending on cornering characteristics, or whilst braking or shifting. Added to this type of muscular stress is the permanent tension present in this endurance sport, which leads to such high-level heart frequencies that stress situations can hardly be measured any more. Finally, in addition to physical factors, driver performance also involves mental aspects. Especially in such popular and media-oriented sports like racing, the latter should not be underestimated.

"Nutrition that is primarily focused on physical aspects by no means covers the entire stress spectrum encountered in motor sport, although there certainly is a correlation between physical fitness and mental prowess," says Dr Andreas Bickelhaupt (42). In providing medical support to the Opel squad as well as a German Federal League handball team (Frisch auf Göppingen) and a number of track and field athletes, Opel's team physician follows the guidelines of the American College of Sports Medicine, of which he has been a member since 1995.

Opel rookie Timo Scheider sums it all up: "Now and then, I simply need a piece of cake for my peace of mind."


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Series DTM
Drivers Joachim Winkelhock , Manuel Reuter , Timo Scheider