Monday, October 21, 2013

Low-Carb Athletes: Jenson Button, 2009 Formula One World Champion

Jenson Button is one of the best race-car drivers in the world. Contrary to most people's expectations, driving a race car, especially an F1 car, is an athletically-demanding task. (And for all you Americans who are not familiar with F1, it's the most popular sport in the world with the highest-paid athletes.)
"His hobbies include mountain biking, competing in triathlons and body boarding..."
No slouch, then. This article ("Nigel Mansell: F1 weight limits for 2014 'disgraceful'") quotes Button:
"I love fitness training but there are things I can't do because I have to be a set weight - not eat carbohydrates, not build muscle. And next year it will be worse. I don't think any team will have ballast next year."
Interesting. Unlike Lindsey Vonn, who rarely mentions her diet, Button's pretty open about it.
Telegraph: "While Button said he was in no danger of developing an eating disorder, he admitted that he fasts before each race and “never” eats carbohydrates."
AskMen: "Keeping Jenson trim is a low-carb diet which, as he went on to tell us, was pretty tough to begin with, “When you grow up eating cereal, toast and fruit for breakfast like I did, it is initially very difficult to adjust. These days I’ll have a steak for breakfast with mushrooms and tomatoes, or I’ll have fish like salmon or haddock. Then I have the same thing at lunch – fish or meat with vegetables or salad – then the same for dinner. I’m not intolerant to carbs but if I eat too many I’d put weight on very quickly.”

"When pressed on what he missed eating the most he was quick to answer, “Desserts. I’ve got a very sweet tooth. I miss banoffee pie, sticky toffee pudding, that sort of thing. The worst thing is when I’m out for dinner over a Grand Prix weekend with Jessica (Michibata – Jenson’s Japanese girlfriend) and she orders dessert. I’m just like ‘How dare you? That’s so unfair!’”
Dehydration is a major concern in an F1 car, as you're often baking, fully dressed (including gloves and a helmet), in an open car on a hot track in the summer sun for hours:
"The two formulas created by Lucozade are specially balanced to aid with water retention and absorption into the blood stream. The hydration formula is used across the entire race weekend and is aimed at maintaining hydration especially in the hotter climes. Helen Cowie, the technical director, at GlaxoSmithKline Research & Development behind the drinks explained, “It’s low in carbs and a has a tightly maintained level of sodium within the drink that leaves it surprisingly salty in taste. Sodium speeds up the absorption of the liquid by your body, meaning that the drivers don’t sit there with a belly fluid of drinking sloshing around them, which can lead to stomach cramps.”"
Interesting, as it corresponds with Wolverine's experience with hydration: he also found that adding salt to the water aided in absorbtion.
SportsKeeda: "Jenson’s impressive physical condition can be attributed to two things: his fitness programme and his diet. He works out for up to five hours per day when he’s not at a racetrack and he follows a low-carb diet that has been tailored to his sport’s needs.

"To keep his competitive instincts razor-sharp, he competes regularly in triathlons (swimming, cycling and running). After the season-opening Australian Grand Prix he contested a triathlon in Hawaii and he’s maintained a strict nutritional programme.

"“I work out a lot,” says Jenson. “I need to be fit to do my job and a fit body results in a fit mind. However, I’ve benefited almost as much through improving my diet. It’s a cliché, but we are what we eat and I’ve worked hard with a nutritionist to ensure that I’m eating the right things at the right time of day.

"“I’ve lost three percent body fat by not eating carbohydrates for breakfast. No cereal or toast for Jenson Button! The benefits of eating the right things are huge; it’s something that I underestimated until quite recently.” [My emphasis.]

"The only potential snag during Sunday’s 56-lap Malaysian Grand Prix is the water bottle that Jenson will have strapped into the cockpit of his McLaren MP4-26. Even with his newfound levels of fitness, he’ll struggle in the race without a water bottle because he’ll be performing in cockpit temperatures of more than 50 degrees. [Centigrade, that's 122 F, for a two-hour race.]

"“It doesn’t matter how fit you are,” says Jenson. “If you get dehydrated, your physical performance drops off and your concentration is affected. A couple of years ago my water bottle stopped working on lap two at Sepang and by the end of the race I was suffering a lot.

"“The first thing that happened was that I got cold. Despite the excruciating heat I was shivering in the cockpit, which is a crazy thought. My eyesight then started to go and by the end of the race some things became blurred. That’s a horrible thing to happen in a racing car! As long as my water bottle works on Sunday, I’ll be fine.”
And if you ask Button for weight-loss tips, this is what he'll tell you:
This is an interview with Button's physiotherapist, Mike Collier:
On his diet and whether it is mostly pasta:

"No, the opposite, really. We try and avoid carbohydrates from Thursday through to Saturday evening. Saturday evening he will have carbohydrates. It's about making sure there is adequate protein there for recovery and repair, and that he eats reasonably regularly so that he maintains more of a constant blood sugar. People think about pastas and rice and all these carbohydrates being very good for you; they are, provided that you are exercising to be able to burn them. Otherwise it is just like eating too much fat: It will increase your weight. As driver weights are important, we play around with it a little bit to ensure that his weight is very good, that he has enough energy, that he is also repairing himself and recovering through protein. So his meal before the race will be a salad-based chicken dish. There is carbohydrate, but in his drink."
So he's got a bit to learn. Not yet a paleo diet, but a typical low-carb diet. Button would probably get even trimmer adding more fat and reducing protein, as Jimmy Moore demonstrated to the world. Eating fat does not make you fat. Maybe Button can consult with Dr. Noakes...