Top Nutrition Best Practices While Traveling
You are sitting at your gate, getting ready for summer travel and start to sense your stomach growling. It is about 2 pm and you realize that it has been about 5 hours since your last meal and that was after your morning work out. Having a packed schedule that morning with training and in preparation for your trip, it was difficult to plan snacks ahead for travel. Now at the gate, getting ready to board, you look around to see if there is a snack or meal that you can grab before heading onto the plane. As your boarding group gets called, you don’t want to risk missing your flight, so you choose to wait and consume the snacks given on the plane.
It is not uncommon to miss meals or snacks before travel. Whether it be a road trip or air travel, preparation and meal timing are still important, especially for athletic performance. The last thing an athlete needs is to be putting their all into workouts at the gym, not refueling after or staying consistent with their nutrition while traveling. This can affect their immunity, energy, recovery, performance and keep them from meeting body composition goals.
Ways to Make Performance Nutrition a Priority During Summer Travel:
Make it a goal to eat before, during and after travel! Meal and snack timing are key. Long security lines, road trips and plane flights can keep athletes from meeting nutritional needs and consistent eating patterns. I recommend eating every 3-4 hours. This helps keep energy levels stable (preventing drops and spikes in blood sugar levels), and prevents the body from going into muscle breakdown mode (eating regularly helps the body meet body composition goals).
In addition to helping keep energy stable, meal timing is also important for those who will be competing out on the road. I encourage athletes to keep their intake as close to their routine back at home so that they can meet their peak performance goals.
Why Preparing Nutrition Ahead of Time is Key:
Saves you Money and Time. Cost of snacks and meals are higher at airports and even while out on the road. You will save more money by buying your favorite snacks in bulk or meal prepping your own sandwiches, fruit and veggie snacks. Having these on hand will also ensure that you are prepared in long security lines that may keep you from comfortably being able to sit and eat without being worried about missing your flight.
Food Safety and Allergies. You are in control of what you eat when preparing meals and snacks on your own. With the summer heat and not always knowing where your food is coming from when out on the road, it is always a good idea to have some self-prepared snacks or packed foods on hand. This is also extremely important for those with an intolerance or food allergy, increasing the chances that you won’t experience gastrointestinal discomfort or an allergic reaction by making foods that you know you can safely eat.
Personal Food Preferences. You may not like what is offered at the airport, on the plane, at gas stations, fast-food restaurants or the meals at your destination. Stock up on snacks that are easy to consume while on-the-go and those you enjoy! I have counseled many athletes traveling international for the summer, and I encouraged that they keep trail mix snack packs, nut butter squeeze packs, dried fruits, bars, cereal and either bread or rice cakes on hand just in case they did not like or want to eat what was offered.
Performance Nutrition List- A few key items to pack!
Single-serve oatmeal packs (Also a great option for travel as eating oatmeal helps boost fiber during travel and will help keep you full for a longer period of time)
Nut butter squeeze packs of less than 3.4oz (You can add nut butters to breads, oatmeal or even fruit! If you are on the plane and worried about another traveler’s nut allergies, you can eat this before flying)
Bars: Look for limited ingredients on the nutrition label; I also like recommending bars that have a mix of nuts and fruit
Fruits/Nuts: Trail mix and dried fruit
Water bottle! Hydration is important! Travelers are at risk of dehydration. It is recommended to hydrate with 1 cup of water for every hour of flight or travel time!
Performance Nutrition List- For During Travel
Fresh Fruits and Dried Fruits: Bananas, apples, grapes and dried fruits are easy to travel with and eat while on-the-go!
Travel sized dips (under 3.4 oz) with a side of crunchy carbohydrates like pita chips, pretzels or carrots
Turkey, cheese, nut butter or hummus wraps are great to eat while traveling and are easy to make!
Don’t forget utensils and reusable water bottles! They may not always have them on the plane or while on the road
Performance Fueling at the Airport:
Although not always cost effective, there are ways to meet health and performance goals at the airport. Look for granola bars, trail mix, hummus and veggie snacks, or prepared sandwiches.
Athletes can also research to see what restaurants will be at their terminal ahead of time so that they know what to expect. Try to get to the airport early so that you make time to eat if you haven’t before the trip.
I don’t recommend trying anything new until you’re at your destination. I encourage athletes to choose foods they are already familiar with to minimize gastrointestinal discomfort or upset during long travel.
Why is Adequate Nutrition Vital for Us During Travel?
How many of you have experienced a cold after traveling? Most do! Getting a balance of nutrients (carbs, protein, fats) and focusing on adding more fruits and veggies will help keep the immune system healthy and help to prevent catching a cold while traveling. Time changes, layovers and long trips can cause fatigue, especially if it’s not supported by adequate nutrition and hydration.
Balancing Healthy and Fun During Travel!
Food and travel should be fun, especially when visiting and experiencing new cultures and environments. In addition to adding more color to help boost the immune system, focus on balance and variety. If you’re craving foods or simply want to try foods that are higher in calories, fats and/or sugar and are not part of your current eating plan, focus on ways you can boost its nutrition rather than not eating it at all. If you have the option to add more veggies, fruit or heart-healthy nuts to it.. try it!
In preparation for travel, remember that nutrition is individualized. A method that may work for one athlete may not be the right fit for another! Experiment with different ways to help prepare you for travel. If there is a food choice or style of preparation that doesn’t work, there are tons of others to choose from! For more information on snacks ideas that may help serve as a guide for travel nutrition, check out sports nutrition resources from eatright.org or the “Healthy Snacking” fact sheet from the The National Collegiate Athletic Association, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association.
“Healthy Snacking” Fact sheet. The Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association. Retrieved from https://www.sportsrd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Healthy-Snacking-Fact-Sheet-WEB1.pdf
AUTHOR: YASI ANSARI
Yasi is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She specializes in sports nutrition and women's health. She is based in California and currently consults one-on-one with female athletes, coaches and sports teams at local universities and high schools. Growing up in the performing arts, Yasi understands the importance nutrition plays in the day-to-day of an athlete.
Her goal is to empower female athletes through nutrition education and to help them improve health and performance by adopting sustainable and sound nutrition practices that will help meet high training demands and recovery needs. Yasi Ansari earned her undergraduate degree in Mass Communication Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and a Master of Science Degree in Family and Consumer Sciences with a distinction in Nutrition and Dietetics from the California State University, Northridge.