Formula 1 is a physically and mentally demanding sport. Drivers must withstand high g-forces, with each Grand Prix race covering nearly 200 miles. In a typical F1 season, drivers compete in over 20 races within eight months, often in extreme humidity, heat, or rain. This poses a demanding travel schedule, which can be testing on the nutrition and fitness needs of drivers.
Drivers stick to a strict physical training schedule with the aim of developing muscular strength, preventing injury, and managing body weight. This strength-focused approach is also a huge part of training outside of the racing season.
In-season, drivers will follow maintenance programmes, along with some strength development based on individual goals. Drivers will also spend time undertaking cardiovascular training like swimming, cycling and running, to manage body composition. While it’s not clear exactly how many calories drivers burn when racing and training in both the cars and the simulators, it’s clear that nutrition plays a key role in both the physical and mental performance of the drivers.
Drivers must be able to withstand heat, with racing in warm climates causing body weight reductions of over 3-4L in a single race through sweat losses, which could equate to a 5% body mass reduction. Therefore, pre and post-race hydration is key to maintain concentration and promote recovery.
Prior to and during races, drivers consume carbohydrate electrolyte drinks to help maintain blood glucose levels, and replace some of the fluids and electrolytes lost through sweating. Although caffeine may be used to help improve alertness and reaction times, excess caffeine may contribute to dehydration as a mild diuretic, and so should only be drunk once in a while.
Outside of racing, drivers use nutrition to promote optimal body composition and strength. Diets are generally high in fruit, vegetables, and wholegrains to promote immune function and energy release. Carbohydrates are taken in both before and after exercise, and when preparing for longer sessions or bouts in the car to aid with performance. Protein is eaten at every meal, between meals, and post-exercise to help with muscle protein synthesis and strength gains.
We’ve taken a look at the diets from renowned F1 drivers including Lewis Hamilton, Daniil Kvyat, and former driver Nico Rosberg, to discover how they keep their core strength and muscle endurance in peak condition.
We also spoke to Louise Sutton, Head of Sport and Exercise Nutrition at Carnegie School of Sports, Leeds Beckett University, and registered Sport and Exercise Nutritionist Ted Munson, who uncovered their top five nutritional tips for F1 drivers.
Not only will this help to protect muscle mass, it will also promote muscle protein synthesis and strength development. Drivers should consider protein total, timing and type. This equates to around 1.6-2g of protein per kilo of body mass per day. This should be split up in small doses and consumed every 3-4 hours. Lean protein sources are recommended, including animal meats, dairy products and plant-based beans, lentils, quinoa and nuts.
Dehydration is a risk for drivers, who may lose up to 5% of their body mass through sweating in a single race. Fluids should be sipped throughout the morning of a race, alongside consuming fruits and smoothies, which contain carbohydrates for energy. Fruit juices and carbohydrate electrolyte drinks can also further aid with both energy and hydration.
What a driver eats and drinks should change depending on the physical work they do. Drivers may benefit from increasing carbohydrate intake on long track days; but they should reduce carbohydrate and overall calorie intake on days where they aren’t exerting as much energy, to aid training adaptations and promote optimal body composition.
Drivers should consume mainly wholegrain complex carbohydrate, which provide more sustainable energy to be used throughout longer training days and racing. Foods like oats, brown rice and some cereals are wholegrain and provide a source of fibre, in addition to vitamins and minerals. This, coupled with at least 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables per day will provide a driver with energy throughout the day, and help maintain a normal immune function.
F1 teams undergo a strict travel schedule which leaves them at risk of making poor dietary choices and potentially picking up illnesses like upper respiratory tract infections. Preparation for this is key. Drivers may have an electrolyte tablet during flights to aid with their hydration. They should also aim to adapt to the time zone of the destination as quickly as possible by planning to sleep (or stay awake), which helps to prevent jet lag. Good hygiene and consuming familiar foods are key when in other countries to help prevent sickness.