Nutrition for Traveling Athletes

One of the biggest challenges confronting the athlete traveling abroad is maintaining proper nutrition in a foreign country in order to perform at an optimum level. This is difficult for many reasons:

  • Large time changes interrupt your normal eating and sleeping cycle.
  • Not speaking the language makes finding food and understanding what your eating difficult.
  • Travel and game schedules are not organized around your nutritional and rest/recovery needs.
  • Lack of familiarity with the host city makes finding good eating establishments a challenge.
  • Foreign countries mean foreign foods.

It is essential that strategies be put into place to minimize the impact of travel on an athlete’s food intake. The key to successful eating while on the move is planning and preparation.

Air Travel

Athlete’s are not used to forced in-activity therefore hours spent on a plane may lead to boredom. It is important that athletes avoid over-eating to relieve boredom. Taking other activities on board, such as books, magazines, cards, video games, and DVDs, drinking water or a sports drink regularly, and chewing sugar-free gum can decrease the temptation to snack excessively on long flights.

On long flights, try to adopt a similar meal and sleep pattern to that anticipated at your destination. This may help to reduce jet lag.

It is advisable to pack extra snacks in carry-on luggage. Food available for sale at airports tends to be expensive and it can be difficult to find nutritious options. It is always useful to have some supplies in case of unexpected delays.

The risk of becoming dehydrated on long flights is high as the pressurized cabins cause increased fluid losses from the skin and lungs. Symptoms of dehydration may include headaches or slight constipation. It is inadequate to rely on cabin service for fluid as the drink sizes served tend to be very small. Athletes should take their own supply of bottled water onto the flight to supplement the water, juice and soft drink provided in the air. Drink one cup of water or sports drink for every hour of flight time.

Daily Meal Plans

Today’s athletes must follow sound nutritional principles derived from scientific research if they are going to compete at their peak level of performance.

The first and most important step is to consistently eat enough energy-providing foods to support your athletic demands. The main idea is to set your body up so that it has a full tank of both carbohydrates and fluid in order to perform optimally.

What Do I Need to Eat & Drink

The following fundamentals apply to everyone regardless of their level of physical activity:

Drink plenty of water and sports drink throughout the day
Consume plenty of grain products (bread, cereal, rice, pasta), vegetables, and fruits
Keep fat, saturated fats, and cholesterol low
Choose a diet moderate in sugars (candy, sweets, etc.)
Have a diet that is moderate in salt (sodium)
Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine.
Don’t believe in miracle foods, diets, or supplements (including Creatine, amino acid pills, protein powders, etc.)

Some things to remember:

  • More than enough is NOT better.
  • Eat foods that provide a lot of complex carbohydrates, some protein, and a little fat.
  • Avoid fried foods, prepared meats, and visible fats.
  • Consume low-fat dairy products.
  • Eat enough to meet energy needs.

When Should I Eat

All athletes should follow these simple guidelines for determining when to eat.

  • Frequent eating: small meals should be eaten every three hours. This means that you should eat six meals during the day: breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and evening snack. The goal is never get hungry and never get thirsty.
  • Small meals: no meal including snacks should be more than 800 calories.
  • Carbs throughout the day: carbohydrates should form the foundation for each meal. Blood glucose level will be maintained and will help to stabilize metabolic rate and avoid mental and muscle fatigue.

Special considerations must be made for training or competitions. It is vital that athletes follow proper nutritional guidelines before, during, and after these events. This is the path to peak performance.


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