Lake Norman Magazine

Fuel for the finish line

Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet.
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet. Getty Images for NASCAR

We hear about their fast cars, big houses, philanthropic interests and growing families, but the high-octane lives of NASCAR drivers and crews can’t happen without some attention to detail – including a careful eye on their diets.

Kat MacDonald, a sports nutritionist and the owner of Racing Edge Fit Nutrition, has been paying that watchful attention since January 2007, when she founded her company and began working with drivers and teams. Today, she shares her insight with not just her racing clients, but anyone else who might want to rev up their lives.

MacDonald travels with teams on long weekends away from home throughout race season. She creates meal plans and then provides meals through a staff chef. She mixes in plenty of education too. This year, her exclusive team is Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, whose drivers are Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray. She also works with individual drivers and their friends and families.

She’s been working with Martin Truex, the 2004-05 Nationwide Series champ, and his girlfriend Sherry Pollex, sending meals to them at home and on the track each weekends. She delivers meals to Truex’s bus. “His favorites are all the pasta dishes like the stuffed shells, lasagna and baked ziti,” MacDonald says. “They are all made with whole-wheat pasta, ground turkey, low-fat mozzarella and low-fat ricotta cheeses and a healthy homemade tomato sauce.”

Says Pollex: “It used to be so difficult to find healthy, nutritional meals at the track and very time-consuming to cook them ourselves, so this program has been perfect for us. We have even ‘tricked’ Martin into eating healthy now. The stuffed shells are his favorite (and) he’s never noticed it’s the healthy version of ‘real fat’ stuffed shells!”

‘Help change people’s lives’

A Massachusetts native, MacDonald came to Charlotte to become a police officer. While training, she fell in love with the fitness challenge of the profession and started training for fitness shows.“I realized that my passion was more in the fitness field than it was in the law enforcement and criminal justice field. I thought, ‘Why am I doing something that is just OK, when I can do something that I love?’ I was starting to see how much being in shape and eating right can ease life’s stress, and I thought I could apply this and help change people’s lives,” MacDonald recalls.

With that realization, she changed professions and began training clients at a gym in Mooresville. And since she was based in Race City, it was inevitable that MacDonald had customers with ties to NASCAR. It was also inevitable that as some clients failed to reach their goals, MacDonald would inquire about what they were eating. Those conversations inspired MacDonald’s next career transition.

“I trained members of a pit crew and a driver, and talk about people who had completely horrible diets,” she says. “They would train with me and then hit the McDonald’s drive-through. I was giving them a crash course in nutrition at the same time as training them. The biggest thing people were saying was ‘I don’t know how to cook this stuff.’ I started thinking there is a huge need for nutrition education, especially in the NASCAR community.” So the next step was to start her own company with a focus on nutrition for NASCAR.

Sustaining energy

What drivers and race teams need most is to maintain energy during the long hours of race day. “Drivers especially need to eat every two hours coming up to a race,” she says. “If they eat a good source of carbohydrates on race day that has a low glycemic index plus a high-powered protein, that will sustain their energy while they are in the car that day, and it’s the same with the pit crew guys.”

MacDonald – who also welcomes clients from non-racing-related professions – plans to publish a book, “The Racing Edge Fit Lifestyle System: The Three Components You Need to Achieve the Results You Want,” in October.

Not everyone in the NASCAR community has fully embraced her mantra – some team’s mechanics have requested “cheat meals” with less healthy ingredients. But she’s happy that some customers tell her they have seen the impact of her efforts on their work.“On Sunday, the pit crew guys come in and they go into the cooler to pick out the healthy meals and look past the ‘cheat food.’ They say, ‘We can’t eat that stuff!’”


Eat like a NASCAR driverYou don’t have to be on a racing team to benefit from these tips from Kat MacDonald:

1) Eat carbohydrates – but make them complex carbs. “You need to get good carbs. A sweet potato is a carbohydrate all-star.” 2) Eat every two to three hours (two if you’re active – “if you’re at a desk all day, then every three hours”). And make snacks more like a mini-meal, pairing a protein with a carbohydrate. “One of my favorite snacks is Greek yogurt with cut-up strawberries in it.” 3) Most important: create a breakfast habit. “Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up,” MacDonald advises. “Think of your body as a race car. If you don’t give it fuel, it’s not going to go anywhere. Our body is a machine. If we feed it a bunch of junk or no food at all, it’s not going to operate.”