“What do I eat when I travel for sport?” This is a common question among athletes. The follow-up questions usually go like this: What if I don’t get to choose what I eat? What if I am in the middle of nowhere with no grocery store or restaurants nearby? Hi! I’m Brittany, a Registered Dietitian. Today I’ll take you through how to create a nutrition plan you can use when traveling for sport.
First: Know Your Schedule
You plan and strategize for the game, why not for nutrition? The number one step for success is to check your schedule and KNOW when you will need to be planning ahead (which if I am honest should be allllll the time but you have to start somewhere!).
Think of when you know you will be traveling; I’m talking away games, tournaments, camps; whatever takes you out of your usual schedule. Then, create a calendar to write it all down.
Need one? Add your email to my email list and I’ll send it to you!
Study locations and travel plans and ask yourself some questions:
- Will you be traveling with the team?
- Is a parent coming with you?
- Will meals be provided or are you on your own?
For example: Let’s say you have a game on Monday afternoon at 5pm. You’ll be taking the bus to the game, and a parent will be meeting you there.
Some things we know:
– You likely haven’t eaten anything since lunch (which was at 11:00 am) so you will NEED a pre-workout meal.
-You forgot your water bottle at home so you will need to catch up on those missed fluids in order to be hydrated for the game.
-You will be starting so you know you will need a pick-me-up once the game starts.
-The game won’t be over until 7:00 pm at the earliest, so a post-workout snack may be necessary if dinner is going to be later.
TRY IT! Think through all your travel for the next week (you can do it!) and how that scenario will likely play out. Then, in our next section, I will tell you how to make modifications to create a fail-proof travel nutrition plan.
Next: Make a Game Plan.
We’ve all been there as an athlete; low on fluids, starving, and spaced out because we are thinking about food. Let’s change it up!
Pick one (or more) days you want to make a change and consider using the options below to fill your food void. Before we get to that, let’s review what we need:
An athlete’s plate needs AT LEAST four things:
- Color (Fruits & Vegetables)
Bonus if you can fit dairy into one of these categories to meet your Calcium and Vitamin D needs. Depending on WHEN you consume a meal or snack, healthy fats, and fiber are also top-notch choices.
How are we going to meet these needs again? I’m glad you asked.
OPTION 1: BRING IT WITH YOU.
One of the best things you can do is pack a few things to bring on your trip. Packing things to have with you will always be the easiest way to fit in what you need without having to rely on others.
Maybe you created your own performance pack, or perhaps you bring an extra piece of fruit from the dining hall/cafeteria before you hop on the bus or even have an opportunity to make a grocery store run before or once you arrive. Either way,
This also helps ensure that what you are eating has a proven track record of helping with performance without upsetting your GI system.
You can get as creative as your budget and travel plans allow from bringing a few shelf-stable items to bringing your own stash of groceries and a hot pot to cook them on.
Need a starting point? Check out my performance pack article.
Traveling via air? DYK? Most food items are carry-on with the exception of liquids, which need to be 3.4 ounces or less. Check out the list here.
OPTION 2: CONCESSIONS.
This is probably the least ideal option but sometimes it becomes essential if planning ahead isn’t possible for whatever reason. The problem here (and why I would discourage relying on this) is never really knowing what concession options are available.
I am sure you already know concession stands are hit or miss. Some sell some type of hot food while others don’t. Some have a variety of drink options while others have just soda.
If you are stuck in a situation where this is your only option here are some thoughts:
- When looking at concession options remember the performance plate choose things that have color, carbohydrates, and protein if possible such as trail mix, sunflower seeds, or a hamburger with lettuce and tomato.
- REMEMBER: It is more important to fuel your body than to skip a meal or snack just because you can’t find what you need specifically. Did they run out of burgers? Don’t sweat it. Do the best you can with what you have and just find something that can hold you until the next meal or snack is available.
OPTION 3: DINING OUT.
Most team travel includes visiting a restaurant at some point in the journey whether it’s with the team or with family. This is another place where your planning ahead comes into play.
If you are with the team you are likely not getting a choice on where you go but you CAN check out the menu and select a dish that suits your post-workout needs or make requests if you have special dietary needs.
Remember the categories we’re looking for are:
Mixed with healthy fats, dairy/dairy alternatives, and fluids! If one or more is missing, or if your team tends to do a blanket group order (pizza for everyone?) consider bringing some options with you to add to this meal such as shelf-stable milk or a piece of fruit.
If you have the option of restaurant choice, look ahead of time in the area; try Yelp, Trip Advisor, or a quick Google Maps search to see what your restaurant options are. Don’t forget to look at opening days/times and consider holiday hours if applicable.
Not seeing anything you like? Check the outer perimeter of the area you are playing. Perhaps there is something a few exits up that you can hit on your way there or on the way home? Maybe a grocery store that sells grab-and-go options? See more on this below.
There are many ways to maximize your plate here. Want more ideas? Send me a message.
Option 4: GAS STATION & GROCERY STORE STOPS
Believe it or not, Gas Station and Grocery store stops can be very helpful!
Many grocers have nutritious, pre-made options in their deli section OR you can create your own meal using items from the deli, salad bar, produce, and canned goods section (soups, canned meats, vegetables, fruits).
If your hotel has a microwave you can access, you can also select frozen/steamable/microwavable options and if you REALLLLY want, you can bring your own hotpot (a great option for extended stays, but not really necessary for a weekend trip or less).
While gas stations and drug stores may or may not be able to provide a full meal, there are still plenty of great options to pick up for pre-workout and post-workout fueling needs.
- In the aisles, look for fresh fruit, jerky, trail mix, pretzels, protein or granola bars, whole grain cereals and crackers, nuts and seeds, and canned goods such as tuna or soups/stews that can be heated.
- In the cooler section, look for deli meats, cheese/cheese sticks, sports drinks, protein packs, hummus and pretzels or vegetables, carrot sticks, pre-made sandwiches or salads, or microwavable meals.
WHAT IF IT’S TOTALLY OUT OF YOUR CONTROL?
When we’ve decided to make nutrition a part of our training plan, sometimes it’s hard not to feel like we’ve failed if a meal is not what we had planned to consume.
At the end of the day, one meal or even one day of chaotic eating is not going to make or break you. Just like training, how you perform on a consistent basis is the key. The best thing to do in these situations is to :
FUEL (eat!) & HYDRATE– do not refuse to eat or drink because it doesn’t fit into your plan. It is better to fuel and maintain muscle mass than to skip and risk losing muscle and mental focus!
THEN, jump in where you left off and get back to meeting nutrition goals for fueling and recovery from activity. You got this!
Let’s head back to the athlete with a 5 o’clock game:
Here is the information we had:
-Game at 5pm
-Parent will be there
-Haven’t eaten anything since lunch (which was at 11:00 am)
-Forgot water bottle at home
-Starting the game
-The game won’t be over until 7:00 pm at the earliest plus travel time home.
And the plan we put in place:
-Mini meal pre-workout: Athlete packed PBJ, Cheese stick, and grapes to consume after class.
-Secure hydration: Athlete found a cup for the water fountain or purchased bottled water that can be refilled if possible.
-Fuel during the game: Athlete had parent bring applesauce pouches and a water bottle.
-Game over late plus travel time home: Athlete also had a parent bring shelf-stable chocolate milk and pretzels for a post-game snack before dinner.
There are many ways to fuel yourself efficiently on the go. The most important step you can take when creating a travel nutrition plan is to look ahead at your schedule to see what you need and make a PLAN for success.
Whether it’s from home, a fast food joint, the grocery store, or a mixture of all three it’s possible to create a well-rounded athlete’s plate on the go! Even if your plan collapses in a heap, the number one, best thing you can do is to FUEL and HYDRATE your body regularly with the best options you have available to you.
What are your go-to’s when on the road? What do you wish you knew more about?
Travel nutrition can be tricky even for the best athletes. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Not ready to take that next step? I still have your back. Get my free meal planning worksheet or check out my other blog posts to learn more.