Monday, April 4, 2016

Are Racecar Drivers Athletes?

by Cassie Gannis
Professional Driver in the ARCA Racing Series and Veterinary Technician at Ahwatukee Animal Care Hospital

You may sometimes hear the debate are race-car drivers are actually athletes? I can tell you first hand that drivers are athletes! Let’s get some boring stats and studies out the way. Studies have shown that on yellow a racer’s heart beat and respiration are at a normal number. However upon seeing the green the driver goes into that “fight or flight response” where even their vision is keener, while their heart rate and breathing increases.

I do have an motorsports exercise and fitness program that my sister, Alexis, has set up. Being a top performing athlete herself she has created a personal exercise program for me that not only keeps me in shape but doesn’t get boring. I work out consistently five days a week. For cardio I switch it up between hiking and road cycling. Both of these activities allow me to get my heart rate consistently. 

I really enjoy hiking in the desert-mountains near my home in Arizona. In the summer it is boring running on the treadmill at the gym but in the fall, winter and spring it is outdoors I go. Changing elevations is great way to really make the work out harder. Pushing yourself up the more difficult trails is not only a workout but a personal accomplishment. A usual hike would have me out for three to four hours stopping in the middle to eat a Quest Bar. Along with the difficulty of the trail walks I enjoy getting out with my dogs. Sometimes I take a run with my puppies along the wash. And my dogs are great at making the workout fun!

I also love to swim in the summer as part of my fitness training. Swimming to me is so relaxing. Like many people that meditate or do yoga I find that swimming is the best way to clear my mind and relax while getting a good workout. Because of the split second responses I need to make and the mental toll my mind experiences during the race I find that swimming is a great way to train my mind to focus. My favorite strokes are back and breast but I do a 400 fly for my upper body and core.

My personal trainer Kyle Herrig, of Triplex Training, works with me on upper body strength, core and general body strength.  At Triplex I do 60 minutes of movement training in well-designed circuits that target the core. This workout helps me to reduce injuries while improving my endurance using a variety of functional equipment like med-balls, free weights, bands and cables. Kyle has introduced me to a new product called the Fitfighter Steelhose.  The steelhose is made from recycled fire hoses filled with premium steel. These hoses are incorporated in my workouts for intervals, circuits, endurance workouts, resistance, and skills training. My core training is different from others because I have two titanium rods in my back from Thoracic 1-12 scoliosis surgery when I was 15. I don’t have much mobility in my back so I can’t do a backbend or a very good sit up. So my core exercises center on plank holds, reverse crunches and scissor kicks.

For a meal plan I like to eat six small meals a day instead of three big ones. I also must admit I do eat my fair share of junk food, I just don’t eat a lot of it. I believe in the 90/20 rule-90% healthy and 10% fun food. I am also a regular at the local yogurt shop, Yoasis, once a week where I can really pile on the toppings.  On a daily basis I have to be sure I include protein in my diet. My sister helps with my meals plans and if I hear her say PROTEIN one more time I probably will scream! The good thing is I really like proteins. I actually like eggs, beef, chicken and pork. I also like to prepare meals for myself and my family. If I do say so myself I am a great BBQer! I eat my fair share of veggies and fruits. I personally prefer complex carbs and use whole grain breads. A typical meal day for me would be: 
  • a breakfast burrito (whole wheat tortilla, 1 egg, cheese), juice usually 1 hour after rising
  • snack-Quest Bar
  • for lunch a sandwich (whole wheat turkey, cheese, light mayo), spring garden mix salad with almonds using pomegranate vinaigrette dressing with a sports drink
  • water, sports drink or Pedialyte, trail mix
  • dinner chicken, broccoli, carrots
  • snack usually a yogurt with fruit added.

l also have to remember to stay hydrated. I am constantly drinking water throughout the day. 

So what is typical before a race? Along with being Race Fit, I carbo load the night before and drink plenty of water the night before. In our home the usually meal is spaghetti. Upon getting up on race day I start the fluids. I alternate between Pedialyte and water. I like drinking Pedialyte because it contains the medically recommended balance of sugar and sodium to promote absorption and helps replenish fluids.  I prefer to eat light. I don’t do this for nutritional reasons but the fact that I am usually a little nervous the day of the race and am ready to focus. I am sure some driver may start the day with a heartier breakfast but I personally prefer a lighter meal for breakfast. At lunch time I prefer a light lunch also, usually a sandwich. After the race I am so hungry I can eat a huge meal. My teammates call me “Cassie the Carnivore” because of the amount of protein I can put away.

One of the most important things to know is that I use to lose seven pounds during the race. All in fluids! By the time I get out of my car and unzip my suit I am wet from head to toe. Hydrating and staying hydrated is very important. I am also fortunate enough to have a COOLSHIRT. My COOLSHIRT System is a personal cooling system that helps manage my temperature in the racecar. “A COOLSHIRT contains more than 45 feet of medical grade capillary tubing securely stitched on the front and back of the shirt. They are connected to a compact cooling unit via insulated hose with quick, dry disconnects. The cooling unit contains ice, water and an internal pump that supplies cool water to the COOLSHIRT as it covers up to 40% of the body.” This COOLSHIRT system allows me to stay cool for the entire race.

During the race I experience constant vibrations, mental stress and the heart rate G forces. Heat and the loss of fluids cause me to lose 7 pounds. I know in my heart that without training I would not be successful at racing. Training is only one element of preparation for race day but it sure is important. So for me I believe NASCAR drivers are athletes. What about you? What do you think?

You can check out Cassie's blog by clicking here.

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