With drivers sitting firmly in the driver’s seat of their cars, secured in place with a plethora of safety equipment, you might wonder how it is that they could be losing weight while driving hundreds of laps around a NASCAR circuit. As it happens, they do! But how much, exactly?
A typical NASCAR driver can lose between 5-10 pounds per race, due to the heat, humidity, and physical strain experienced during the race. These conditions cause excessive sweating, leading to significant weight loss despite advanced preparation and recovery strategies.
That’s the core question of today’s article and we look at how this weight loss happens, what drivers do to prepare and recover from it and why it happens.
A typical NASCAR driver can lose anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds during a single race. While you might think the sport of NASCAR mostly involves sitting down, the physical demands on drivers are actually quite tough.
Between the heat and humidity, and the sheer physical will it takes to keep the 200-mph vehicle not just on the track but on the optimum course of the circuit is nothing short of phenomenal.
The main elements of physical endurance that NASCAR drivers have to face are the g-forces that come with traveling at those speeds, and the incredibly high temperatures that occur in their car cabins during the race.
Over the years, teams have come up with innovative solutions to try and alleviate these conditions, but the fact is that none of them solve the problem entirely, leaving drivers with the inevitable result of losing body weight during any race.
The principal cause of weight loss during a NASCAR race is excessive perspiration on the part of drivers, mostly caused by the stifling heat and humidity that they experience as part of any race.
This problem of heat can be exacerbated if the location of the race is also in a naturally hot and humid location such as Florida or another southern state.
The NASCAR season takes place through all seasons of the year and across multiple states/cities across the country, all of which contributes to an incredibly hot and uncomfortable time for drivers, crews and everyone else.
Inside a NASCAR vehicle, temperatures can reach as high as 130F, which even in the summer can mean temperatures being something like 20-30 degrees hotter than the hottest outdoor temperatures. Such heat makes it easy for anyone, even the most physically fit and able, to start immediately losing moisture, and thus losing weight.
But don’t drivers in NASCAR have cooling suits? Hasn’t this cutting-edge technology made things better for them? Cooling suits have certainly made a good contribution to improving driver conditions, but the problem is that they don’t always work.
It’s hard to counter the natural heat of the vehicle, coupled with the outdoor heat and cramped, difficult conditions of the cabin.
Another great physical strain on drivers are the g-forces that are generated when driving at the speeds that NASCAR drivers do. G-forces, or “Gs” as they’re often called refer to them, start to impact drivers when they accelerate their vehicles, and especially when they tackle corners and turns on a NASCAR track.
Most NASCAR races involve a consistent “left turn” action on oval tracks, but may include left and right turns on non-oval courses.
Turning left generates a force of 3.5 Gs (3.5 times the force of normal Earth gravity), while a right turn typically generates 3.0 Gs. To prepare for these forces, drivers have to be physically fit and strong, otherwise they would more than likely be overcome by them at some point during a race.
However, G-forces are not the main cause of weight loss during a race, but they do add to the strenuous nature of the race, and are certainly a factor that make the sport physically demanding, and thus in the longer term something that helps keep drivers trim and fit.
How Do Drivers Prepare for Weight Loss Before a Race?
Before they rev their engines on the track, NASCAR drivers have a pre-race ritual aimed at counterbalancing the significant weight loss they’re set to encounter. This primarily involves a heavy focus on hydration, with drivers consuming large amounts of water and sports drinks packed with electrolytes in the days leading up to a race.
In fact, a driver may drink up to a gallon of fluid on the morning of the event. Nutritional preparation is also key. In the hours before a race, drivers fuel their bodies with high-carb, high-protein meals to keep their energy levels sustained.
Physical conditioning is another major component of pre-race preparation. Drivers often undertake rigorous fitness programs to increase their stamina and strength, so their bodies can better endure the punishing conditions of the race.
This combination of hydration, nutrition, and physical training is integral to ensuring drivers are as prepared as possible for the extreme challenge ahead.
So, heat and humidity in the car and in the surrounding environment are the main factors contributing to driver weight loss, but there are further factors that make it either more or less serious an issue. These factors include:
- The length of the race
- How hydrated the driver is
- The local weather conditions & track temperature
It stands to reason that a longer race means longer individual stages, which means more time spent in the hot and humid cabin. As one might expect, this means that a longer race means drivers losing more weight. One story from 2019 reported by CBS Sports told of the case of a summer NASCAR race in New Hampshire in which Matt DiBenedetto lost almost 10 pounds because of the extraordinary heat.
DiBenedetto weighed in at 207.8 pounds before the race, but immediately after the race had come down to 198 pounds. You might think of New Hampshire as a cooler northeastern state, but in the summer the temperatures get into the 90s just as easily as anywhere else.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has also stated on his podcast previously that most drivers will lose anywhere from 6 to 8 pounds on average during a race. Longer races mean the likelihood of hitting those higher numbers is greater.
Maintaining good hydration and electrolyte levels during a race is critical to mitigate the negative effects of such drastic sudden weight loss. This is one of the reasons why breaking NASCAR races into stages is a positive move that allows drivers the opportunity to safely consume water between stages.
Low hydration levels will not only make weight loss more extreme, but also more dangerous since the drivers’ bodies are being deprived of moisture and minerals that they simply can’t afford to lose.
Finally, naturally hot conditions by virtue of races taking place in the summer or being held in naturally hot locations, make these problems all the more difficult to deal with. States such as Arizona, California, and Florida have naturally warmer and more humid conditions than Indiana or Illinois.
Drivers heading to races in these locations will most likely make additional preparations to help mitigate the worst effects of the conditions.
What Are the Health Risks Associated With Rapid Weight Loss?
While losing 5 to 10 pounds over the course of a race might be seen as part of the job for a NASCAR driver, this type of rapid weight loss is not without its risks. The majority of weight lost during a race is water, leading to dehydration if not promptly and adequately addressed.
Dehydration can cause a variety of health issues including kidney damage, heatstroke, and a decrease in blood volume which can strain the heart. When the body is in such a state of fluid deficit, it might also start to break down muscle tissue for energy, further enhancing physical fatigue.
Besides immediate effects, recurrent cycles of rapid weight loss and gain could potentially cause long-term issues like fluctuations in blood pressure, weakened immunity, and in extreme cases, it could even lead to eating disorders or issues with body perception.
It’s crucial for drivers to take active steps to mitigate these risks and protect their health.
Recovery Process After the Race
After a grueling race, the road to recovery begins. First on the agenda is rehydration. Drivers start to replenish the fluids lost during the race, usually with water and electrolyte-rich sports drinks to restore mineral balance in the body.
Nutrition also plays a crucial role in recovery. Immediately after a race, drivers will consume meals rich in proteins and carbohydrates to rebuild muscle tissue and replenish energy stores. Some drivers also incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into their post-race meals to reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery.
Rest is equally vital; good sleep in the days following a race allows the body to repair itself. Furthermore, many drivers engage in light exercise such as yoga or swimming in the days post-race, helping to boost circulation and flexibility while also allowing the body to recover gradually from the intense physical exertion.
In this way, the cycle of rigorous preparation, extreme exertion, and careful recovery is repeated throughout the racing season.
Long-Term Effects on NASCAR Drivers
Continuous cycles of rapid weight loss and recovery can have significant long-term effects on a NASCAR driver’s health and performance. Persistent dehydration can strain the body’s organs, particularly the kidneys, increasing the risk of chronic conditions like kidney stones.
Fluctuations in blood pressure caused by these cycles can also lead to cardiovascular complications in the long run. the recurrent loss and gain of body weight can influence the body’s metabolic rate, potentially leading to issues like metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance.
The mental stress associated with preparing for and recovering from each race can also take a toll, possibly leading to mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
Despite these potential challenges, drivers, with the aid of medical professionals and trainers, work continuously to manage these risks and maintain optimal health for peak performance.
NASCAR racing is a demanding sport, both physically and mentally. Drivers undergo significant weight loss during each race due to extreme heat, humidity, and physical strain.
While strategies like pre-race hydration, specialized diets, and physical conditioning help prepare them for this ordeal, there are inherent health risks involved. Constant efforts are made to mitigate these risks and improve the conditions inside the car, ensuring the sport’s vitality.
Long-term effects of recurrent weight loss cycles are a concern but with the right preparation, recovery strategies, and ongoing research into better racing conditions, drivers can pursue their passion while maintaining their health.