Fueling on the Road: A Guide to Eating During a Travel Weekend
It’s tournament season! It’s time to pack your bags, make sure you don't forget any equipment, plan when you're going to leave, book a hotel, maybe even a flight and a rental car. Whoa! A lot of planning goes into a team travel trip. But have you made a plan for what and when you’ll eat, or do you wait until your stomach starts to grumble and then look for restaurant signs on the highway? What about on game day? Do you get a text - the team is meeting at Five Guys before the game?
It’s time to flip the script! Focusing on nutrition while traveling is the missing piece for most athletes and can make a big difference in your performance while on the road.
Food as Fuel
Your body needs an array of nutrients in different ways to fuel your body’s activity. You need protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber, water and electrolytes throughout each day in order to become better, faster and stronger as an athlete. If your body doesn't get enough of what it needs, it will break down stored nutrients and make it on its own. This could result in a decrease in strength, power and speed. Eating well every day AND when on the road is the key.
When traveling it’s even more important to make smart food choices because changes in routine and eating habits can have an impact on how you perform. Keep the following in mind when deciding what to eat on your trip:
- Choose a protein every time you eat a meal or a snack. Protein plays a vital role in muscle synthesis and recovery. In other words we cannot improve strength and power without it!
- Pair protein with a carb and a fat in order to include a variety of nutrients which will help your body prepare for and recover from your activity. Carbs are the first source of energy that your body will look for when starting to play. If you don't have enough it will break down muscle to make them. Fats lubricate joints, help with vitamin absorption, fuel your brain, help with concentration and regulate hormones.
- Vitamins, minerals and fiber are crucial too. Vitamins and minerals help protein, fat and carbs do their jobs, along with hundreds of other important functions from building bone density and preventing disease to optimizing the level of oxygen in your blood. Fiber helps keep you full, helps with absorption of vitamins and minerals and assists with keeping blood sugar balanced.
- Choose foods that you enjoy eating. If you do this you’ll look forward to fueling and recovering instead of dreading it.
Navigating Restaurant Menus
Eating out is the name of the game when traveling and what you order can make or break you. If you follow these tips, you will be able to order a performance boosting meal wherever you and your team decide to eat!
What to Avoid
When you want to perform at your best you need to ensure that you are consuming foods that are going to fuel your body, not drag you down. Avoid fried foods, high fat meats and foods high in sugar and processed ingredients. These foods take longer to digest which can cause GI upset. They can also cause inflammation which can slow your speed and over time will reduce power output and ability to build strength.
Prioritize Lean Protein
You need to balance your energy and your blood sugar while on the road. Focusing on protein above all else will ensure this happens. Choose lean red meat, chicken or seafood dishes that are grilled, roasted or broiled.
Fuel Up on Carbs
Your body thrives on carbs as an athlete. Choosing complex carbs to accompany your lean protein is the key. Great options are fresh bread, baked potatoes, brown rice, quinoa and sweet potatoes.
Add In Good Fats
Healthy fats will help control inflammation (important for recovery between games) as well as keep your brain sharp and joints lubricated. Ordering salmon is always a smart option, or you can ask to add avocado to salads or for a side of olive oil to dip your bread into.
Here are a few pre-game meal ideas that hit all the marks:
- Grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce, tomato and avocado
- Bagel with avocado and eggs
- Turkey club with a side of fresh fruit
- Chicken noodle soup
- Pasta with tomato sauce, grilled shrimp and spinach
Pack Powerhouse Snacks
Packing snacks to take with you can be key to maintaining energy levels and blood sugar balance between meals. Having nutritious snack options within reach will help ensure you always have ample energy to perform at your absolute best! Choose from this list of snack options that combine essential nutrients to help balance your blood sugar and regulate energy:
- Apples: Easy to pack, easy to eat, loaded with fiber, hydrating and a great source of complex carbs
- Bananas: High in potassium (an important electrolyte), fiber and carbohydrates
- Carrots, cucumbers, celery, red peppers and hummus: Hydrating vegetables loaded with nutrients paired with protein from the hummusPretzels: Good source of simple carbs and sodium (another important electrolyte)
- Trail mix: Combining nuts (protein and healthy fats) with dried fruit (carbs and fiber) and maybe even some dark chocolate chips for an antioxidant boost
- PB&J sandwich: The perfect combination of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat make this classic combo filling and satisfying
- Chocolate milk boxes: Contain fluid to help with hydration, plus simple carbs and protein
- Protein bars: These are easy to travel with but make sure you read the ingredients because some can be equivalent to eating a candy bar. Brands I like are RXBARs, GoMacro Bars and CLIF Bars.
Keep Things Moving
If you're traveling by car or plane and have to sit for a number of hours, know that your digestive tract will slow down. Staying hydrated throughout the trip will help speed this up! Bring a water bottle with you. If traveling by air, bring an empty one and fill it up once you get through security. If traveling by car, pack water and leave a little extra time for bathroom stops. And be sure to check the weather. Is it going to be hot, humid or dry? You may need to bring electrolyte supplements with you.
In addition to staying hydrated, you should try to move as much as possible. It may add extra time to stop at rest stops on a road trip and it feels awkward to walk around on a plane, but do it anyway. It will make a difference in how you feel when you arrive.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you travel so you can make better choices at restaurants, decide which snacks to pack and have confidence you’re making the right nutrition choices to perform at your best, no matter where you are.