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Dakar 2021: How do you prepare a rider for the toughest motorsport event in the world?

Preparing for something as gruelling as the Dakar Rally takes many months, even years, of very hard work and commitment.

Dakar 2021 - Andrew Houlihan and Hernan Samaniego from Nomadas Adventure

It’s not the sort of thing you get out of bed one morning and simply decide to do next month. Mind you, in my running days I saw plenty of people attempt half and even full marathons with that mentality and lack of preparation. They often failed.

But when you decide to take on an event that is recognized as the toughest motor-sport event in the world, and you’re throwing a 6 figure sum of money at it, you need to think very differently.

Yes, there’s the bike to prepare but that’s one of the easier tasks. Not easy, but easier!

And yes, there’s plenty of time needed on the bike to refine your riding skills and a surprising amount of mental training required to ensure you can make good decisions rapidly while navigating and picking the fastest and safest way through the terrain.

Obviously the rider needs a high level of fitness and strength too, so there’s plenty of gym training along the way. And of course the rider needs to develop the stamina to keep going for up to 850km of hard riding every day for 12 days out of 13.

So what’s involved in getting a rider ready for the Dakar Rally?

Well, we asked Kaz Plum who has been helping Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure team rider Andrew Houlihan to prepare for the 2021 event.

Kaz is an elite athlete in her own right. She has won multiple titles (read that as heaps) in the body building and fitness industry before breaking out and starting her own consultancy – Performance+ Nutrition and Training.

Now with 17 years experience in the industry, Kaz has coached many clients to title wins in various sporting disciplines.

But her big passion is motorsport and she is currently coaching several of our Supercar drivers.

In fact, it was through one of her Supercar clients – who just happens to be a friend of Andrew’s in his home town of Albury – that Kaz and Andrew connected.

“Our goal was to get Andrew as healthy as we could before the start of the race, and set him up so that his body would recover rapidly each day”, Kaz told us.

“With what their bodies go through each day they need to be able to recover overnight as best as possible if they want to make it through to the end.”

Kaz started working with Andrew’s nutrition (you won’t hear her use that word ‘diet’), looking to eliminate any inflammatory foods and get some structure and regularity around his eating.

Then she started working on the balance of healthy, nutritious foods and the correct supplementation to fuel him for his demanding training regime before the event.

Kaz works with her clients very holistically and individually.

“There’s no cookie-cutter plan’, she says, “we’re all different”.

“We all need a supply of good quality protein for growth, healing and recovery, and it’s just a matter of finding the right source and amount for each person.”

“Ham, for example, isn’t good – it’s full of toxins and salt!”

Kaz says her motorsport clients need to realize they are elite athletes and treat themselves as such.

But they catch on pretty quickly to how much better their body will respond with clean, healthy food and correct supplementation.

“I know they understand that if you put shit fuel in the bike or car it won’t run at its peak, so I tell them not to expect their body to work well if they put crap food in! They get it then.”

The next step was to work out how to feed Andrew during a day on the bike.

Most riders will fill their Camelbak (or similar) with water and maybe some electrolytes, but that’s not enough to get through a tough day on the bike.

Kaz worked to find a blend of liquid proteins, carbohydrates and salts to go into his water that keep Andrew hydrated, feed him while he is racing, and help with his cognitive function.

He also carries snacks with him on the bike that work with his “liquid meal”. They have to be quick and easy to grab and consume, and small and light enough to carry in a limited space.

Finding what products work best can be a tricky process for a number of reasons.

“You don’t want to be trying something new on the day”, Kaz explained. “The last thing you want is an upset stomach because of a new supplement!”

So there was a process of testing and adjusting the supplements and dosages that went on over several weeks.

“You also have to be careful what supplements you choose because some can throw a false positive to a substance that is banned in some sports.”

And finally, during the event Kaz has been in regular contact with Andrew to adapt the plan to his needs and to take into account what foods are available to him while he is in Saudi Arabia.

It’s a complex process, and for me it seems a little like trying to dial in the suspension settings on the bike – something that’s best left to the professionals!

Like many of us at the moment, you will find Kaz staring at her laptop screen each night watching the timing data from the Dakar and waiting, (impatiently) for the system to register Andrew at the next waypoint.


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