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NASCAR Star Jeff Gordon’s Healthy Life on and off the Track

What drives this champion to win on the racetrack, as a husband and a dad, and in his quest to help kids with life-threatening conditions?

Jeff Gordon on Sports Nutrition

Over the past few years, Gordon has also learned to take better care of himself.

“I’m getting older,” he says. “I have to stretch just to get out of bed these days.”

Though he loves to ride a bicycle, his schedule doesn’t allow him to do it on a regular basis. And he’s never been much for going to the gym. But he has been working at improving his diet. “I used to eat terrible stuff all the time, like hamburgers and hot dogs. And I wondered why I got sick!”

In his early 30s, Gordon reports he went through a long period during which he constantly felt run down. Colds would grip him and refuse to let go. Then, shortly before she became pregnant, his wife encouraged him to see a nutritionist. It was an eye-opening experience.

“I realized I had to start treating my body with the same care that I treat my car if I wanted it to perform,” he says.

Now Gordon is a big fan of sushi and sashimi. He eats plenty of salmon and other fish. While he is no vegetarian, he mostly steers clear of red meat. Every morning, he downs a pomegranate-and-banana shake. “When I’m disciplined, I stay away from carbs and eat a lot of green vegetables, even though I’m not big on vegetables.”

A good diet is crucial to every NASCAR driver, agrees Roberta Anding, RD, a sports nutritionist at Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine in Houston. She says that although race car drivers may not have to run, jump, or kick a ball like traditional athletes, their sport demands the same sustained physical exertion and mental acuity. And to maintain peak performance, drivers need to eat right. That means getting lasting energy from oatmeal, apples, and other high-quality carbs rather than snacking on sugary foods that give quick highs followed by lows.

“A race car driver does not want to feel fatigued,” says Anding. Staying hydrated is perhaps even more important. With the high heat from hot days at the track and inside a fast-racing car, plus the physical stress that comes with racing, drivers lose fluids and sodium.

And if you are not properly hydrated, Anding says, you will be physically and mentally compromised. “Diet makes a huge difference in terms of being able to maintain alertness,” says Anding. “For athletes like Gordon, who have their lives on the line, losing focus can be fatal.”

“We practice and race almost every weekend,” Jeff Gordon says. “We’re ‘conditioned’ -- you’re relaxed, your heart rate is adjusted, as are your breathing patterns. I don’t have an issue until the summer months, when I really focus on staying hydrated.”

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