Nutrition Strategies for Traveling
The summer is drawing to a close so you may be planning on sneaking in one last trip before the kids go back to school, or you have your races lined up for fall and all of them require some travel. In either case, you should have a plan or checklist of nutrition strategies to keep you on track and well fueled.
Personally, I am very particular about the foods I eat so I always plan ahead and pack various foods when I am traveling. More than once a hungry travel has looked at my fresh green salad or hummus on an airplane with envy. And while it may be a bit of a pain to gather and pack up healthy items to go, in the end you will be glad you did. It is usually a challenge to maintain optimal nutrition when on the road, and if you are an athlete you need to take control of your own success and be more organized.
By finding out what food to expect at your destination, you can include what you need to avoid problems like inadequate carbohydrate or protein intake, dehydration, GI issues (stomach upset, constipation), and unintended weight loss or gain. And if you are a family headed out for a weekend in the mountains, planning ahead can keep everyone on track and decrease the temptation to have a diet of junk food and fast food that will leave everyone feeling less than energetic.
So for starters, here are some basic tips if traveling by air:
- Pack snacks to take with you (I have a great list of suggestions below).
- Buy some water after you pass through security.
- Avoid drinking alcohol on the plane as this will promote urination contributing to the dehydration caused by flying.
If you are traveling by car, then a cooler is a must:
- Again, take fluids and snacks with you so you don’t have to rely on what is available at convenience stores or have the added expense.
If your event is local:
- Take your pre-competition, competition, and post-competition foods with you. Cardinal rule is to never try new foods on race day. Not all sporting events serve nutritious food or if they do, it isn’t a complete recovery meal.
- Check out restaurants in the area before you go so you have a plan.
If your trip includes a stay at a hotel, then here are some things to think about:
- Many hotels these days have rooms that include microwaves and mini refrigerators. Call ahead, or request that you have these appliances. If the rooms don’t have them, check to see if there is a breakfast included as there is usually a microwave in the breakfast area.
Here are some of my favorite travel foods:
- Aseptically packaged soymilk/ regular milk – plain for cereal and chocolate for refueling. Soy and cow’s milk are the best choices since they contain protein and carbohydrates as opposed to almond, rice, and coconut which contain mostly carbs.
- Aseptically packaged coconut water for rehydrating after your race, airplane trip, or workout.
- Packets of tea and single serve packets of Starbucks coffee if you have to have a good cup o’ joe like I do.
- Nuts in single serving bags (I especially like the 100 calorie packs of almonds).
- Single serve peanut butters. Justin’s makes single serve packs that you can buy at most grocery stores http://www.justinsnutbutter.com/
- Single serve oatmeal. One of my favorite new things are packets of organic oatmeal that come in a nifty pouch that includes a line for measuring the water http://threesisterscereal.com/instant-oatmeal/ I got mine at Whole Foods but I have also seen them at Fry’s – yummy. Of course any type of instant oatmeal is a good bet for travel.
- Kashi Go Lean is also good for travel as it is high in protein and fiber and is very filling. I portion it out into snack size Ziplocs.
- I also like to take a variety of the mini nutrition bars like the mini Larabars and mini Clif when I travel plus a couple of full size ones. I Iike the Clif and Larabars because they have few ingredients some of which are organic.
- Single servings of protein powders also come in handy. My favorite recovery meal is oatmeal with fruit and protein powder. There are countless varieties available at most health food stores.
- If you can find it, aseptically packaged hummus is good on the go. Wild Garden makes a single serve shelf stable product http://wildgarden.elsstore.com/ and Sabra has one to go that includes pretzels http://sabra.com/products/category/Grab-Go-Packs
- Of course fruit is a must – things that won’t spoil quickly like apples and dried fruit. Single serve applesauce also travels well.
- I don’t eat meat, but if you do, pouches of tuna and salmon would be good to include.
- Don’t omit more perishable items- just use them within a few hours of travel. Food safety is always a concern so remember the 2 hour rule: never eat something that has been left in the “Danger Zone” (i.e. room temperature) for more than 2 hours, or if you do, do it at your own risk.
- Hard vegetables like baby carrots travel really well as do uncooked broccoli and zucchini and all are great for snacking.
- Single serve microwaveable rice bowls. I like the Lundberg organic ones http://lundberg.elsstore.com/view/category/4431-heat—eat-organic-brown-rice-bowls/ but Minute Rice also makes them.
- Single serve dehydrated soup cups are also good to pack, especially the bean varieties like lentil and split pea – lots of protein and fiber too.
- Fig bars are a great high carbohydrate sports travel food as are granola bars.
- Don’t forget to pack a Tupperware or two just in case and some plastic utensils. But don’t make the mistake I made and leave your Swiss Army knife in your purse so that you are asked to “surrender” it to a TSA agent.
- Oh and let’s not forget one of the most important nutrients – water, along with some packets of electrolytes.
By having a plan and thinking ahead, you can maintain optimal nutrition when traveling. The last thing you want is to have GI issues, or be under fueled or dehydrated for your race or your hike. If you have some of your own favorite travel foods that you would like to share, please post a comment and happy and healthy travels.