Travelling overseas to compete is an exciting achievement. It could mean that your hard work and commitment to your sport has paid off and you’re progressing into the elite arena.
Travelling for sport is becoming more popular with recreational athletes and everyday fitness enthusiasts with the rise of fitness camps, retreats, obstacle courses and other outdoor adventure events.
Travelling to a new destination presents a range of potential barriers that influence your normal eating and training habits. Common issues relate to the availability and safety of foods.
Ask yourself these questions in preparation for your trip:
Is there a nearby supermarket and are the foods I usually eat/drink available?
What are the general food safety and hygiene standards of my destination?
Is foodborne illness common? Do I have the appropriate medications or access to medical care if I do become sick?
Is the tap water safe to drink? Where will I buy water if not?
Will I be preparing and cooking all of my own food? If so, do I have cooking facilities and how will I transport and store my food on event day/s?
If food is provided, who is the provider and what are their menu options?
Can I bring some of my own food and supplements? If I can, how will I transport and store them?
Have I advised the appropriate people about my dietary restrictions?
Whether you’re travelling as an elite or recreational athlete, poorly planned nutrition can have a negative effect on your performance.
If some of those questions got you thinking, don’t panic, I’ve put together my top tips to ensure you are prepared on arrival, fuelled, and ready to perform at your best.
1. Plan ahead with your airline
When you book your ticket there should be an option to let the airline know of your dietary requirements but you can always call the airline if not. This will ensure that you get the right meal during your flight.
BYO snacks or ask the hostess for more, but choose the healthier options like nuts or cheese and crackers.
Remember to keep your fluids up, as mild dehydration is common so refill those small water bottles while flying.
2. Research your destination
Locate the nearest gym or outdoor recreation areas. If these aren’t an option, you may have to get creative with a “hotel room” workout.
Locate the nearest whole food supermarket and if there are any healthy cafes or restaurants in the area. This will prevent you from resorting to unhealthy takeaway options.
Choose your hotel wisely, and utilise their facilities for a gym or pool session. Maybe the hotel restaurant can create a healthy meal for you to take to your event or while you’re out sightseeing.
3. Use your hands as a portion guide
It’s not necessary to count calories or track your macros while away. Your hands can guide your food portions so there’s no need to bring the food scales. For a main meal, include:
1 Palm of protein - the thickness and size of your palm is a standard serve of meat/protein portion. For fish, a serve is the size of your palm plus fingers.
1 Fist of carbohydrate - your closed fist is a standard carb size serving such as potato mash or brown rice. This may vary depending on your exercise level or if you’re carb loading.
2 Handfuls of non-starchy vegetables - there is really no limit for non-starchy vegetables, and be sure to include a range of colourful varieties.
1 Thumb of good fats - A thumb size portion of good fats will do wonders for your heart but try not to eat more than this amount as fat is energy dense, and excessive energy that isn't burnt off will add kg’s. Good fats include fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, olives and olive oil.
4. When eating out, choose “better” menu options
Choose tomato based curries and pastas over cream based varieties. Options that have been steamed or grilled will be better than deep fried. Vegetarian dishes in general tend to be healthier than the carnivorous types.
Try sharing a dessert to offload some of those calories or eat a healthy snack beforehand and choose an entree size instead of a main.
For quick snacks choose plain yoghurt, crackers, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, coffee or a True WPI90 protein shake over pies, cakes, chips or milkshakes.
5. If you’re competing, check out the event sponsors
Often it can be hard to get a healthy meal so preparation is essential. If there are multiple supplement sponsors then only include ones that you are familiar with or that are similar to the supplements you take. Gastrointestinal upset is the last thing you want during your big event/race.
Just because the food is there doesn’t mean you have to eat it! The novelty of a buffet wears off quickly when you feel sick whilst struggling to breathe. Enjoy the local cuisine but have small pieces or half-serves if you want to include more variety.
7. Food safety and hygiene
It’s very common to fall ill when travelling and this can often relate to food, hygiene and handling practices. Check the used by dates on packaging and if the food has been prepared and stored appropriately and at the correct temperature.
If tap water is unsafe to drink, bring water purifying tablets, drink bottled water and ask for drinks without ice.
In many countries, street food is delicious and a great way to experience the culture and cuisine while travelling. Best to save this for after your event/race as street food is risky business.
Alcohol often goes hand-in-hand with a holiday and celebrations but remember that excessive alcohol leads to dehydration and impairs sporting performance and recovery. So if you do choose to drink, be responsible and definitely don’t drink before your big event.
9. Lastly, and most importantly
If you’re travelling for a break and just happen to be entering a recreational event then relax. Disregard points 1-8 and enjoy yourself because after all, that’s what a holiday is, a chance to unwind from your job, your training and nutrition program and life’s stressors.
Taking time for yourself is a necessity and in no way selfish, it will enable you to return feeling refreshed and ready to get back into it!