High performance athletes are constantly on the go, not only travelling around the country for competition and training, but often across the globe. Managing your diet can be one of the most difficult things to do while you’re away, and your nutrition may need considerable planning and preparation before you travel. This article aims to point out some of the common problems, and give advice on how to overcome them.
There are 3 main areas to consider:
- Ensuring that you have adequate micro-nutrients to prevent illness (colds, virus, infections)
- Ensuring that you have enough of the right calories to fuel performance and aid recover
- Preventing traveler’s diarrhea, and other illnesses from unhygienic food preparation conditions and unfamiliar food.
Packing for your Trip
- Pack as much food as reasonably possible for your outward journey. Food should be a fresh as possible, bearing in mind that if you don’t like the food out there you may have to survive the remainder of the trip on processed foods such as cereal bars.
- When packing foods keep airport restrictions on hand luggage allowance (flying from UK airports, you are only allowed 1 item of hand luggage), fluid restrictions (no liquids in hand luggage through security), and restrictions on exporting/importing meat products to/from other countries in mind.
- Remember that if your flight is delayed you may not have time to eat in the airport before you catch your connecting flight.
- 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.
- If you have to buy food in the airport, buy the most nutritious available (e.g. fresh made sandwiches or rolls; fresh meat with salad) even if this is not the cheapest option.
- Once you have cleared security, make sure that you buy adequate fluid supplies for your flight.
Good Foods to Pack:
- Dried fruit
- Nuts and seeds
- Tinned Fruit
- Dutch breakfast cake (only 3% fat)
- Cereal bars
- Breakfast cereal
- Fig rolls, Jaffa cakes & other low fat biscuits
- Rice cakes
- Liga, Rusks and other dry baby food
- Jam, honey, peanut butter
- Instant noodles
- Baked beans, tinned spaghetti
- Powdered milk
- Powdered sports drinks
- Jellies and sweets
- Concentrated fruit juice and fruit squash
- It is best to take your own supply of suitable snack foods to supplement the meals supplied on board.
- The vegetarian meal choice on most airlines is usually rice or pasta based so is a good alternative if you are expected to train shortly after you arrive.
- Long hours of travelling can upset your digestive system. To minimise constipation, drink lots of fluids and eat fibre-rich foods such as fresh fruit, wholemeal bread, breakfast cereals and vegetables. When flying, a vegetarian or low fat meal usually provides more fibre than the regular meals.
- Fluids are very important. The humidity in an aircraft is around 10-15%, which means that the moisture is literally drained from your body. Drink water or fruit juice. Travelling with your own drink bottle on long flights is a great idea. Don’t be afraid to ask for extra water or other beverages· Don’t drink alcohol on the flight.
- Avoid drinking too much tea, coffee and cola; all of these may increase dehydration·
- Avoid overeating to relieve boredom. Drink fluid instead!
The Dining Hall
- If you are going to be eating in a dining hall, try to get a copy of menu in advance. Using sound nutrition principles elect what you want to eat and stick to it. Avoid trying everything on the menu.
- In most instances your meal should mainly be carbohydrate based (noodles, potatoes, cereal, bread), with some protein (eggs, meat, fish, cheese), and ample fresh vegetables.· Avoid eating food that you are not used to.
- Practice eating what you will eat on competition day as soon as you arrive.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit when available.· Don’t be afraid to ask for alternatives if your nutritional requirements are not being met.
- Be particularly careful in African, Asian and South American countries where food hygiene may not meet ‘Western’ standards· The general rule in countries which has a reputation for food poisoning the general rule is: ‘Peel it, cook it, shell it, or forget it’
- Do not eat from stalls. Eat only in places well-known or recommended by a reliable person· Where possible, eat food that has been well cooked. It should be hot too.
- If the local water is unsafe to drink: Drink only bottled water or drinks from sealed containers; Avoid ice in drinks; Clean teeth with bottled water; Avoid salad vegetables unless washed in bottled or boiled water; Only eat fruit if it can be peeled
- If vomiting or diarrhea does occur, it is important to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. Oral rehydration solutions and a safe water supply should be used. A bland diet consisting of dry toast, crackers, biscuits and rice may help. Avoid alcohol, fatty foods and dairy products until the diarrhea has ceased. If you are using oral contraceptives, beware that absorption may not have occurred due to diarrhea.
- The importance of fluid, especially in the hot and humid weather, cannot be overemphasized — always have an adequate fluid supply with you.
- Always make sure that bottles are sealed before you buy/use them.
- Ensure that you are always drinking from your own bottle
Eating for Recovery
- Plan a recovery strategy, do not leave it to chance.·
- The best time to start refuelling is as soon as possible after exercise, as glycogen storage is faster during this post-exercise ‘window’ than at any other stage. Carbohydrate store replenishment during the first two hours post exercise is 1 and a half times faster than normal. It continues to be faster than normal during the subsequent 4 hours. Therefore, eating carbohydrate during this time speeds glycogen recover. ·
- Most researchers recommend consuming 1g carbohydrate per kg body weight during the 2-hour post-exercise period. So, for example, if you weight 75 kg you need to consume 75g carbohydrate within 2 hours of exercise. For efficient glycogen refuelling, you should continue to eat at least 50 g carbohydrate every 2 hours until your next main meal. If you leave long gaps without eating, glycogen storage and recovery will be slower.·
- Immediately post exercise, choose foods with a high or moderate glycaemic Index (GI) in either liquid or solid form (or a mixture of both).·
- Suitable foods include cereal bars, rice, sports drinks, breads· If exercise suppresses your appetite, try apples, grapes or other fruit.· Nutrient–rich carbohydrate foods and meals after exercise, not only help refuel, but also help boost the immune system which is suppressed immediately post exercise.
Another area to consider?
Meat production in some Asian, African and South American countries is not subjected to the same rigorous controls as in Europe. Use of illegal hormones to aid lean meat production has been blamed for inadvertent doping offensives, particularly in the case of Clenbuterol. Clenbuterol is a banned substance in sport, and levels can be raised by eating contaminated meat. Mexico and China have both been associated with illegal Clenbuterol use. Care should be taken when travelling to these countries.