Nutrition for the travelling athlete

Travel is a part of life for many athletes but can present many challenges for meeting nutritional goals. Whether you’re travelling overseas, interstate or spending a couple of hours in a car, your aim is to arrive ready to perform at your best. Travelling for competition can often take on a holiday atmosphere, pushing good nutrition to one side however, it’s important to still meet your nutrient needs for training and competition.

Car, Train and Bus Travel 

If you are travelling a relatively short distance in a car, bus or train then the following nutrition tips may be helpful:

  • Pack your own food and healthy snacks so that you do not have to rely on roadside stops
  • Plan your meals according to your competition schedule. If you arrive at your destination shortly before competition you may need to eat your pre-event meal during the trip
  • Don’t forget to pack a drink bottle filled with water for the trip
  • When you are travelling you are not being active, so you may need to eat less than you do on training days, be mindful of how much you’re eating
  • Plan ahead for your meals and stops. Work out what restaurants and food outlets are on route to your destination, and which of these will provide the best nutrition options
  • Take an esky or cooler bag to keep food cool and minimise the risk of food poisoning

International Travel 

International travel presents some extra challenges as airline travel can be long and changes to meal and sleep patterns can be difficult to adjust to. Adjust your body clock to your destination time in the two or three days before departure or as soon as you get on the plane can help. On arrival, eat and sleep according to the local time (rather than the time your body thinks it is) and get out into the daylight when possible, even if it’s for a short walk.

The following suggestions will assist you in dealing with airline travel:

  • Aeroplane meals are not always ‘athlete friendly’. Take a supply of suitable snack foods to top up the meals provided if you have high energy needs
  • The vegetarian meal choice on most airlines is usually rice or pasta based so is a good alternative if you are expected to train or compete shortly after arrival
  • Forced inactivity and boredom and often lead to overeating. Remember you don’t have to eat all the food provided during the flight, especially if you have low energy needs.
  • Long hours of travel can upset your digestive system. To minimise constipation, drink plenty of fluids and eat fibre-rich foods
  • It is very important to keep up your fluids, drink mainly water or unflavoured mineral or soda water, with occasional fruit juice if you have high energy needs
  • Pack your own drink bottle – just make sure it’s empty when going through international security. Don’t be afraid to ask for extra water on the plane
  • Limited caffeinated drinks (e.g. cola, coffee, tea) as this can affect your sleep

Know your destination

When travelling, it is important to research the cuisine of the destination to find suitable food options upon arrival – especially if travelling internationally. Some questions to think about are:

  • Will you be able to choose appropriate meals to support training and competition?
  • Does the accommodation have self-catering facilities?
  • Will you be required to eat out regularly? Where are the best options to eat?
  • Are you going to be able to find your preferred event day foods (especially sports foods)?
  • Are you able to buy food from local shops (and where are they) to prepare your own meals or snacks?

Travelling presents many challenges that can compromise nutrition and result in suboptimal performance. Plan ahead and for more practical tips and information on nutrition while travelling find an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you.