Hydration – A Racer’s Marginal Advantage

Picture of Subaru Rally Car at Rally America event

I’m a total optimization junkie. I think (hope?) that’s a good quality in a racer. Which is why this quote about hydration jumped out to me this morning and why I have to share it with you:

I’m not getting younger so I’m increasingly looking to get an edge through marginal gains like this! Click To Tweet

This straight from an interview with legendary rally driver David Higgins (three time British Rally Champion, winner of 15 of the last 16 Rally America rounds for Team Subaru USA) over at Precision Hydration.

Snow at Silverstone Circuit in central England

I’ve been down the same road. Three years ago, I was sliding my rental car into a snowy Silverstone circuit in England. I was signed up for a two-day fitness clinic hosted by Mark Webber, then-Red Bull Formula 1 driver. The session was organized by the Porsche Human Performance Center led by Andy Blow who I learned about via his book Motorsport Fitness Manual.

The event was mostly attended by up and coming racers in junior car and motorcycle categories like GP2, GP3, Porsche Cup and Moto2. These kids had natural talent, funding and lots of seat time, but they had little in terms of strategy. Few had experience with physical training or nutrition and the topic of hydration might have only meant “energy drink”.

But when Mark Webber spoke about all the tactics they tried at Red Bull to gain just an additional 3 meters in the run down to the first corner, we all learned top-level racing isn’t about the last 1%. Their last 1% was found ages ago. They were hunting for the last 0.1%: any obtainable marginal advantage.

Author Brian Ghidinelli working on the bike while being measured by a Polar heart rate system

The lesson I took home and began applying to my own racing was from the results of my sweat test. Andy used a special machine to capture sweat from my wrist and measured the amount of salt lost per unit of sweat. It turns out I’m a very salty sweater. To replace the electrolytes I lose over an endurance race would require drinking three large Gatorades with 96 ounces of fluid and 168g of sugar – plus spending $10!

Like Higgins, I immediately became a fan of the H2Pro tablets and I carry them in my helmet bag so I always have them at the track. The salt increases my body’s water and electrolyte absorption rate so I can drink less, pee less and still maintain that ideal pale yellow urine color. You can make a less optimized version of this in your kitchen by adding a pinch or two of salt into your water bottle. The tablets have been key for me to be competitive, like during a 5-hour stint at night in the rain on our way to a class win at the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

As Higgins said, none of us are getting any younger. And even if youth is on our side, a stack of 0.1% improvements adds up to the 1% that puts you way out in front.

One easy racing tip to be better prepared than your competitors. So good, even Mark Webber does it! Click To Tweet

You can read the full David Higgins interview at PrecisionHydration.com. They have an online sweat test that can approximate the results of the machine test I used in the UK.

If you want to geek out further, check out my YouTube Motorsport Fitness channel.

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