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An Athlete’s Guide to Healthy Eating on the Road


female athlete sitting outside eating healthy takeout food while on the road

Have you ever wondered how to fuel best when traveling for competition? Between the fast food options and the road trip snack stops, it can be overwhelming to make decisions on top of preparing the body, mind, and soul for performance. While it is acceptable to enjoy the occasional foods higher in fat and empty calories, a consistent intake can overtime lead to decreased performance measures and ultimately poorer health biomarkers. Beneficial practices to deter this from happening include planning and preparing ahead of time, to help perform best.


Here are some tips and examples to assist in selecting or packing meals on the go that can enhance performance:


Breakfast

Well-rounded options can be found at most restaurants and hotel breakfasts. Aim to achieve a balanced breakfast that includes a balance of macronutrients, prioritizing carbohydrates to start the day off right. Choose whole grains options such as oatmeal, cereal, bread, and bagels. For protein, aim for those that are leaner and less fatty such as eggs, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables whenever available. Don’t forget to add in healthy fats like avocado, nuts, or cheese for satiation so you can maintain fullness until lunch time. Here are some examples:

  • Restaurant Option: Whole grain toast with avocado; omelet with spinach, feta, and salsa; fresh fruit cup.

  • Pack Ahead Option: Overnight oats (made with whole grain oats and milk/yogurt of choice); peanut butter to-go packet; banana.

Lunch

Depending on your personal preferences, finding and packing lunch options such as sandwiches, salads, wraps, and grain bowls can be relatively easy when traveling. Similarly to breakfast, a few tips to keep in mind include choosing whole grains such as bread, crackers, tortillas, and rice. Lean protein sources like turkey, chicken, roast beef, and cheese should be combined with the carbohydrates to make a balanced meal. Be mindful of keeping food within its necessary temperature ranges to ensure your meal is safe to consume on the road. Additionally, remember to include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables while excluding high-fat condiments and dressings that add empty calories such as mayonnaise. Here are some examples:

  • Restaurant Option: Chopped salad made with greens, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, grilled chicken, light vinaigrette; whole grain pita bread slices with hummus.

  • Pack Ahead Option- Whole grain bagel with tuna packet, mustard; 1⁄4 cup almonds; apple; carrots.

Dinner

There are many options for dinner dining, however selecting the right ones to optimally fuel performance can be challenging. Utilizing the performance plate can help to select a meal that is well-balanced to give your hard-working body the adequate and appropriate energy it needs. For instance, if the dinner is pre-competition, imagine splitting your plate so that 1/2 is carbohydrates, 1/4 protein, and 1/4 vegetables. Again, as mentioned for breakfast and lunch, look for lean proteins, lower fat contents, whole grain options, and sufficient vegetables. Here are some examples:

  • Restaurant Option: Brown rice; oven-baked salmon; asparagus; side salad.

  • Pack Ahead Option: Baked sweet potato; shredded chicken; snap peas; whole grain crackers with guacamole.

Snacks

Remembering to pack healthy snacks to stay satiated between meals is imperative when hunger kicks in on travel days. Planning breakfast, lunch, and dinner is only worthwhile if you also plan for performance-enhancing snacks in between. When looking for a good option at a gas station or packing ahead, look for something that is shelf-stable, includes whole grains, fiber, protein, and is low in sugar and fat. Curious what that looks like? Here are some examples:

  • Energy bars (granola, protein, etc.), trail mix, pretzels, fresh fruit (those that do not require refrigeration), whole grain crackers/cereal, peanut butter crackers, etc.

Hydration

Hydrating well prior to competition time is vital to prevent dehydration and symptoms thereof. Remembering to pack or pick up water bottles, electrolyte beverages, and other desired fluids to sip on throughout your travels and have with meals can make a significant difference in performance outcomes. Here are some examples:

  • Gatorade, Propel, Body Armor, Drip Drop, The Right Stuff.


Traveling for competition is an exciting time for many athletes, so remember these tips to achieve the best experience from your athletic game on the road!


Learn more about healthy eating other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.


Written by Rachael Reddy, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern


Sources:

1. Team USA Nutrition

2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics


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