Whether you are driving a few hours or flying overseas, traveling to a race can be a fun journey, but it often presents numerous nutritional challenges that may negatively affect your race performance. Not only can it be challenging to access familiar foods that are designed to meet performance needs, but traveling outside of your home environment can also mess with your daily eating routine. To be a nutritionally responsible, well-organized and very prepared traveler, here are some top tips for your next destination race.
Food choices on the road are often limited to gas stations and fast-food restaurants, not to mention mindless/boredom snacking on nutrient-poor, convenient food. Packing your own healthy snacks/meals in advance will keep you from relying on roadside stops so that you can stay energized on sandwiches, fruit and yogurt instead of candy bars, chips, and energy drinks. Plan a picnic at a rest stop and use your time outside to walk around and stretch. Keep snacks like nuts, pretzels, and granola in baggies for portion control. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated. An insulated cooler will keep food cold and reduce the risk for food poisoning. Plan ahead as to where you will stock up on food when you arrive at your final destination or the best restaurant choices that cater to your pre-race nutritional needs.
Traveling by airplane presents extra challenges as travel can be long and unpredictable. Mealtime and sleep pattern changes can affect your energy, mood, and digestion. Not to mention, forced inactivity (and those dreaded delays) often trigger oversnacking and excessive caffeine consumption. If you’re traveling across multiple time zones, it’s critical to adjust your internal body clock to your final destination as soon as you begin your travel. Eat and sleep according to local time, and drink plenty of fluids to prevent constipation. Because airport foods are rarely athlete-friendly, try to adhere to your normal diet as best as possible when ordering airport food. Bring along airplane-approved snacks like nut-based bars, trail mixes, dried fruit, veggies and PB&J to keep you satiated and fueled throughout your flight. Perishable foods—such as meat, poultry, fish, and dairy—should be obtained at the airport and consumed within two hours of purchasing for food-safety reasons.
Registering for a race is easy, but traveling can be complex. It’s important to know the ins and outs of your final destination and research suitable food options before arrival. Take into consideration your lodging’s amenities—an accessible refrigerator and microwave will make it extremely easy to prepare and eat well-practiced meals and snacks. The last thing you want on or before race day is to feel forced to try a new food or fueling strategy before your event. Research the best options for grocery shopping, eating out and finding familiar food that caters to your typical training diet.
Food Safety Tips
Wherever you go, there’s a risk for food and waterborne illnesses. Because traveling can weaken your immune system, it’s important to reduce your risk for a pre-race sickness. If there are concerns about water safety at your final destination, avoid ice in drinks, and only drink from sealed water bottles. Avoid brushing your teeth with unsafe water. When eating out, opt for cooked or boiled foods and fruits with a peel, and pass on food from street trucks or vendors. When ordering/making food, it should be kept at its appropriate temperature (hot or cold), and all plates, glasses, and utensils should be clean and spot-free. Be wary of food that requires refrigeration and is kept out at room temperature (e.g., milk, deli meat, eggs). It goes without saying, but make sure to wash your hands before eating or handling food, as well as after going to the bathroom and touching your face.