With summer comes summer travel and—whether for a key race or a family vacation—it can be difficult to keep our cool if we let the stress of travel get under our skin—especially when it comes to air travel.
Maintaining a regular eating schedule will ensure good nutrition and hydration for both recreational and professional athletes alike. When we’re on the road, our schedules and routines can easily get lost in the shuffle and it helps to keep a few controllable variable constant to maintain us on an even keel. It only takes one bad experience with some unfamiliar or questionable street-food, bad sushi (just ask Chris), or tap water to get scared off of signing up for some fantastic international race destinations, so it’s best to be prepared. By planning ahead, doing a little “googling” in advance of the trip, figuring out what foods to pack and staying in tune with our bodies’ blood sugar levels, daily caloric needs and basic food safety awareness, we drastically reduce our risks of a negative travel experience. Here are 5 tips to help you survive and enjoy your time away:
After accounting for time differences and jet lag, I find that’s it’s best to keep food and meal times as close to my regular routine as possible—I’m definitely a creature of habit, what can I say. I never assume that what I normally eat back home will be available where I’m going and I plan ahead by packing my essential food-needs with me. This way, I never find myself in a situation where I have nothing that I’m comfortable eating on hand.
I’ve also found that it’s a major plus to be organized. Contacting event organizers, travel agencies or embassies before traveling is a great idea. This way, we can determine what food options will be readily available once we’ve arrived and what we should pack in our bags to make up for whatever’s missing. Most local markets will carry things like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and some selection of dairy options so make a note of where your hotel/hostel/B&B/campsite are relative to food stores at your travel destination.
Find out if you’ll have access to things like a refrigerator, microwave or fully equipped kitchen(ette). If it’s not too much trouble, you can even pack a hand-held blender if you’ve got one. This will really pay off if you need a quick smoothie early in the morning before the communal dining area of your hotel has opened and you don’t want to wait around to get some fuel in before starting your day of travel adventures.
Protein and energy bars, dried fruit and trail mixes are all great snack option in case of emergencies (i.e. when you get “hangry”). Be sure to pack an adequate supply of fuel for the length of the trip.
For an easy breakfast, having packets of oats and other instant hot cereals on hand are a great option. All it takes is some hot water and you’re good to go. Most hotels have a coffee pot, kettle or microwave available for guests. Alternatively, you could soak them overnight in yogurt, milk or water if hot water isn’t an option. It can be hard to predict if there will be healthy options available at the hotel breakfast buffet so it’s always a good idea to have a plan B if nothing sounds appealing.
Obviously, it’s important to keep hydrated when we travel. Try sipping water and electrolyte drinks continuously throughout the flight as a preventative measure. It’s also probably a good idea to bring along a water bottle both on the flight as well as while sightseeing or hiking at your final destination to avoid going hours without hydrating. Both caffeine and alcohol are best avoided on flights since they are both diuretics and will increase your risk of dehydration in an already dehydrating environment. Depending of the country you’re traveling to, bottled water may be recommended. Even if the water is safe for locals, it might not be for you since the water supplies are foreign to our immune systems. This may cause GI stress will put an end to a pleasant vacation in no time flat.
A word of caution; over hydration can be just as bad as dehydration. Hyponatremia (low blood sodium) is a condition that happens from several different physiological reasons. For endurance athletes, it’s usually due to sweat-depleted sodium stores diluted even further by excess hypotonic (low/no electrolyte content) fluid intake. When blood sodium gets too low, severe cardiac symptoms (and event comas) can occur. If you just finished a long work out before your flight, it’s a good idea to eat a salty snack with your water.
Use Your Resources
- If hotel breakfasts are included, take advantage of the oatmeal packets, bran cereal, fruit and yogurt that can be taken away from the dining area when you leave for the day.
- Ask the hotel staff if they can serve eggs even if eggs are not offered as an option. Boiled eggs are often available upon request.
At meal times, try to stick to the same or similar choices of what you would normally eat at home. Flexibility is fine, just be mindful of portion size; it’s easy to over-do it when traveling (and beat ourselves up for it when we get home).
Disruptions and distractions when traveling away from home can significantly impact our training and athletic performance. Preparation and self-education on destinations offer an extreme benefit to optimize both your travel experience as well as your athletic performance. The main priority is to get enough fuel and stay hydrated. A close second, however, is shifting our mindset so that we fully experience our travels in a positive and nourishing way. Try to remain present to the moment. Take as much of it in as you can and try not to cram your days full of to-do lists or travel itinerary. This will only lead to more unnecessary stress and anxiety and only leave a bad memory for you and your travel companions. Let serendipity be your travel guide! Try new things, see new places, take awesome pictures (but don’t spend your whole day fiddling with your smart phone and photo filters; all that kind of stuff can be done on the way home or when you really want to procrastinate and avoid something work-related…kidding/not kidding).
With a little planning and organization, it’s not hard to stick to sensible nutritional strategies, even when outside our normal routine. Being prepared lowers the unnecessary stress so that you can fully enjoy all the amazing things that come from travelling.