Why Jimmie Johnson does endurance training ahead of NASCAR races

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Monday June 19th, 2017

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NEW YORK — You wouldn’t think race car driving would require a high level of physical endurance. But for NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson, running and cycling are part of his daily routine.

Through a program at Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI), Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, has used high-intensity training to figure out how much sweat he loses when working out.

Scientists at GSSI have helped him determine how many volumes of liquid he needs to consume to stay replenished and alert during races, which can last as long as four hours and cause the temperatures in his car to spike to 145 degrees. 

Last week, days after a high-speed crash into the track wall at the NASCAR Cup Pocono 2017, Johnson strapped on a pair of running shoes on a 90-degree day and went for a jog in Manhattan’s Battery Park City with SportTechie.

On tap were Johnson’s endurance trainer Jamey Yon and the Gatorade Endurance team, which included scientist and ironman athlete Matt Pahnke from GSSI, a facility in Barrington, Ill. that tests athlete physiology to tweak their nutrition and maximize performance.

Johnson, 41, who was promoting new Gatorade Endurance Formula drinks and gels, said he has undergone high-endurance testing in heat and humidity at GSSI and determined that he is at the high-end of the spectrum in terms of the level of salt he loses when he sweats. 

That has helped him to determine how quickly he dehydrates and how much he needs to drink to replenish. Johnson, who refers to himself as a “salty sweater,” said that knowledge has helped him to stay alert and avoid cramps and other injuries during long races.

“I feel like in the race car itself I can outperform people form a stronger mental perspective,” said Johnson, who in 2009 became the only race car driver ever to be named Male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. “It’s really been an amazing advantage to have here lately.”

Johnson uses a Gatorade In-Car Drinking System during races, which includes a refrigerated container of Gatorade placed inside his car that feeds directly into his helmet through a tube. 

GSSI’s Pahnke said the system has helped NASCAR drivers stay hydrated for the past 15 years. But the real advantage, he said, is now knowing exactly how much athletes need to drink to keep operating at optimal levels, which GSSI helps athletes figure out through a series of laboratory testing. 

“We’ve done a lot of testing with the athletes throughout their training to really understand their physiology and understand what they need to perform at their best,” Pahnke said.

To put that data to use, GSSI has developed something called the GX Personalized Hydration System, which essentially creates individualized Gatorade-based formulas that target a specific athlete’s deficiencies as they undergo long stints of high-intensity training and performance.

The system, along with other science- and technology-based mechanisms at GSSI and other high-tech sports labs around the world, is designed to give pro-athletes even the slightest bit more of an advantage, which has become a critical part of remaining competitive at the elite level. 

“When we’re talking about the elite athlete looking for a fraction of a second, that’s where we take them to the next level,” said Pahnke.

GSSI also conducts metabolism testing on athletes to determine how many, say, carbohydrates or electrolytes they’re burning, which scientists can than use to tweak athletes’ nutrition so each individual consumes more of what they need.
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