Anyone who has spent some time at the track knows that the experience is as physically demanding as it is exhilarating. You’re wrapped in leather, in the blazing sun, wrestling a hot, 400 pound machine from right to left and back again, accelerating and braking harder than you ever will on the street. Any modern sport bike is up to those tasks from the moment it rolls off the showroom floor, but it still won’t run without proper fuel.
Your body is no different. Trackside nutrition for a lot of riders amounts to not enough water, too much sugary “sports” beverage, mountains of caffeine to overcome the lack of sleep the night before, and a plate full of greasy whatever that the concession stand might be selling for twice what it should cost.
You’ll recognize riders following this diet, particularly in the Novice and Intermediate groups, by their haggard afternoon faces, erratic lines in the first session after lunch, and their packing up to leave while the last session or two is still on track. You may even catch them napping in the shade of their trailers while their group is out on the track, like I routinely did at my first few track days.
It doesn’t have to be that way. If you look after your body’s needs at the track, you’ll find yourself mentally sharper and less fatigued physically, so you’ll be able to spend more time enjoying yourself and learning the lessons the track can teach you.
The first and most important item to see to is hydration. You’ll be sweating inside your suit at a rate far higher than many other forms of exercise. Allowing yourself to become dehydrated can result in fatigue, muscle cramps and spasms, dizziness, headaches and worse. These are not problems you want to have at 140 mph, in the kink on the back straight at Mid Ohio!
But staying hydrated is more than just sipping some water between sessions. As any marathoner will tell you, it starts in the days before the event, making sure that your body’s stores of water are full. That means getting plenty of water, and going easy on caffeine and alcohol, as they are both diuretics.
The day of your event, start hydrating in the morning, as soon as you get up. Through the day, depending on how hot it gets, you’ll need to take in a substantial amount of fluid between each track session. On the hottest days, I’ll cash an entire 16 ounce bottle ever hour, and still only rarely have to run to the Port-a-John! Continue to hydrate as the day draws to a close, particularly if you’ll be back on the track the next day, since this will aid in muscle recovery.
For what to drink, I’ve learned to look to the competitive cycling community. Water will mostly do the trick, but don’t overlook your electrolyte intake. Drinks like Hammer HEED and Skratch Labs’ exercise hydration mix are lightly flavored, provide essential electrolytes, and aren’t loaded with the heavy doses of sugar that most of the brightly-colored bottles in the gas station coolers contain. In general, I’ll alternate between water and an electrolyte drink between sessions.
Unless you absolutely can’t live without it in the morning, save your caffeine for the post-lunch sessions, when you may need it to help overcome fatigue and bolster your concentration. It’s very common in the afternoon for riders to start missing apexes and braking markers just from mental fatigue, so a post-lunch espresso might be just the ticket to keep you sharp.
Like proper hydration, your food intake should be steady and methodical. Your body stores energy in your muscles and liver in the form of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP). On average, your body will only have about 250 grams on hand, which you can blow through in under an hour of exertion! When it’s gone, your body has to start making more. When there’s ample blood glucose, this can happen quickly, but as those levels drop, you start having to utilize fat and muscle, which is a much slower process.
The best way to make sure that your body has enough sugar on hand to refuel itself is to take in a moderate amount of starchy carbs (like rice and potatoes, but not of the fried variety) and whole, fresh fruit. Once in your stomach, these will act like a steady IV-drip of energy to your muscles, keeping you ready to rock all day. While I’m sipping on my water between sessions, I’ll munch on an apple, a banana, a bunch of grapes or a rice cake.
Don’t overlook your protein intake, either. Riding a motorcycle on the track amounts to several sessions of deep flexion, isometric strength work, so you’ll need to supply plenty of protein for muscle repair. I’m a fan of a cheese stick here or there through the day, a serving of meat at lunch, and some chocolate milk or a protein shake when the riding’s done for recovery. If you have the space in your truck or trailer, bring a small grill and some marinated chicken breasts or steaks for a nice hot lunch! Believe me, it’ll be way better than anything the concession stand has for you.
If you’ve ever run out of gas in the middle of a session, you know how embarrassing it can be. If your body runs out of gas at a track day because you weren’t fueling it correctly, the results can be downright dangerous. If you find yourself wearing out early, having trouble concentrating, or fighting cramps, try some of the strategies listed above. You may just find yourself still charging hard in the last session of the day, instead of strapping the bike to the trailer and leaving.
Do you have a nutrition strategy of your own? Favorite trackside recipes? Share them in the comments below!