I was reflecting on all the people that are traveling in for the race this weekend, and it got me thinking – as athletes, we frequently travel for races. It might be traveling locally – a few hours on race day morning – or it might be traveling across the country or world (my first marathon was in Hawaii, for example!). So today, I wanted to share 6 tips on healthy eating while traveling for races!
When selecting food choices during traveling, you want to be a little more particular and careful with your selection in the days leading up to the race. Look for options that contain moderate amounts of protein, some healthy fat, and plenty of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are stored as energy in your muscles, and research shows that “carb-loading” can help performance for events lasting more than 90 minutes. This does not necessarily mean huge piles of white pasta the entire week before the race. Instead, several days before the race, start choosing meals that contain a variety of high carbohydrate foods (as well as smaller amounts of protein and fat). These could include starchy vegetables (like sweet potatoes or corn), grains (like pasta, quinoa, or rice), fruits, and/or some dairy items (like milk or yogurt). Keeping a variety in your diet helps prevent the problems that occur from carb-loading on just one choice – like constipation for those only eating refined grains, or diarrhea from those trying to carb-load on just fruit.
2) Stick with familiar foods.
There are many food options that you can purchase at restaurants or fast food options that will meet your needs. And if you’re in a new city or country, you may be tempted to chow down on a local specialty. However, while I’m all about being an adventurous eater, I’d recommend waiting until after the race to try something new. You may not be sure how your body will respond to a new food, and the last thing you want is an upset stomach the morning of your race. Stick with familiar items that you know sit well. (Of course, after you’ve finished your race, feel free to dig into those other items!)
3) Choose well when eating out.
If you’re lucky enough to be staying in accommodations with a kitchen, you can plan to go grocery shopping when you arrive in town and pick up your favorite performance-boosting meal ingredients. But many times, you may not have those accommodations and may be relying on restaurant and take-out food. Not to worry! Here are some sample meal ideas you can find at different types of restaurants that are good for endurance athletes:
- Breakfast – Bagel with peanut butter; scrambled eggs with an English muffin and fruit
- Chinese – Steamed shrimp and vegetables over rice noodles or rice; beef and broccoli over rice
- Italian – Pasta with red sauce and turkey meatballs
- Mexican – Burrito, soft tacos, or fajitas with grilled chicken, steak, or fish
- Greek or Middle Eastern – Grilled chicken dish with flatbread or couscous; tabbouleh
- Pizza – Veggie pizza with a side salad
- Fast food – Grilled chicken sandwich with a side of fruit and milk; Baked potato and chili
- Deli – Turkey sub or wrap and a side of fruit
With any of the grain options above, I recommend whole wheat if it’s several days out from the race. If it’s the night before or morning of the race, and you are sensitive to the effects of fiber on your digestive system, go for the refined white grains that day, and switch back to whole grains after the race.
4) Pack nutrient-rich snacks.
In addition, consider packing nutrient-rich snack items in your luggage. Being prepared with these will reduce the stress of having to find a lot of snacks in the days before the race (you can certainly supplement this with things you buy at your location, but it’s always helpful to be prepared with a few snacks). Some of my favorites for traveling athletes:
- Dried fruit
- Trail mix
- Pumpkin seeds
- Bagel halves with single-serving packages of nut butter
- Bars (I’m a big fan of larabars since they are only made of fruits, nuts, and spices)
- Single-serv containers of healthy cereals
- Fruit cups
- Whole wheat raisin bread
- Single-serv packages of oatmeal
- Applesauce squeeze packets
If you’re not flying, consider packing a cooler so you can bring fresh fruit, vegetables, string cheese, yogurt, and other perishable snacks.
5) Stay hydrated.
Athletes often try to overhydrate the morning of their race – but I recommend focusing on drinking enough fluid in the days leading up to your race (at least 3L of fluid/day for men; 2 L of fluid/day for women). Trying to overhydrate on race-day morning will just leave you having to go to the porta-potty several times before the start.
One of the best tips for traveling athletes? Bring an empty water bottle with you to the airport! You can bring this past security and fill it up afterward at the water fountains. This will help you stay hydrated throughout your flight and the days leading up to the event.
6) Don’t forget your fuel choices!
Lastly, don’t forget to pack your fuel choices for race-day. If you’re not using the fueling products provided on the course, be sure to pack whatever you are planning to use – gels, sports drink powders, dried fruit, shot blocks, etc. Even if you do plan to use what’s on the course, it never hurts to have a serving of a back-up product available. I ran one half-marathon that ran out of sports drink and gels from miles 3-11. I was really wishing I had a backup product with me during that time!
Share with us – do you have any great tips for traveling as an athlete?