How to eat healthily when travelling abroad to race

Your nutrition needn’t go awry when you’re travelling, says Nigel Mitchell. Here are his tips for making good nutritional choices when on the move

©  Bill Ebbesen

Whether travelling for work or pleasure, we all spend a fair bit of time on the move. As triathletes too, we’re often travelling to races at weekends, whether you stay UK-based or fly overseas. All of this means we’re grabbing food and drink on the move, and often at times, such as on the day of a race, when it’s important that what we eat is nutritionally sound.

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Like most things in life, managing your travel better really is a result of planning and practice. Being prepared not only helps in coping with the stresses of travel, it’ll help ensure you perform well in training and racing. Plus, it’ll save you some money.

Plan your nutrition ahead

Planning ahead is key when travelling, and breakfast is where many people fall down as it’s so easy to grab a quick, unhealthy option. For example when I have an early flight I put together my usual travel breakfast to eat at the airport. This is low-fat Greek yoghurt with a spoon of my special topper mix: 100g of flax, 100g of cocoa nibs, 100g of tart Montmorency cherries and 100g of pistachio kernels, all blended together. This not only tastes great, but is nutritionally stacked. The yoghurt is great for protein and calcium, the flax is a source of omega-3 fats and slow-release energy (it needs to be chopped or it’ll just pass through the system), the cocoa nibs provide a real chocolate taste and are full of antioxidants, and the cherries provide energy and antioxidants. I make this once a week and keep it in an airtight container to reduce oxidation of the oils. 

Fuel while flying

The seated position and the change in cabin pressure during long flights can mean our legs fill with fluid. Normally it drains into the lymphatic system, but on long flights this can be compromised. Salty food (normal in-flight meals are very salty) makes this worse and it can take a few days after landing for your legs to feel normal again – not ideal if you’re planning to train or race at your destination! Try to order a low-salt meal option from the airline or, better still, take your own meal. One I recommend is chicken breast in a home-made tomato sauce, on a bed of quinoa and rice. This can be made the night before and put in a Tupperware container (it’s not fluid or gels, so there’s no security risk). 

Hydration is also key for long flights, so ensure that you drink about 500ml of water/hr. For snacking, I take a packet of pistachios and a 9 Bar. Pistachios are high in protein, low in fat and high in antioxidants, while 9 Bars are a multi-seed bar that provide slow-release energy and essential fats.

Forward plan your route

Making good food choices when travelling around the country is just about planning a bit more and checking out what might be available. If you can’t prepare food in advance, and know you’ll be stopping at a motorway services, plan ahead and try to stop at one that has an M&S, Waitrose or similar, rather than the usual fast food options. They provide a great range of healthy composite salads, which include things like salmon or chicken with different varieties of rice. You can also get snack bags of unsalted nuts and fruit.

What to eat in hotels

If you’re away from home for a big race and are stopping in a hotel the night before, check out in advance whether the hotel provides appropriate food for your evening meal and pre-race breakfast. If it doesn’t look like there are suitable evening meals, contact the hotel and see if they will do something for you, as most hotels are very accommodating. Failing that, there are also specific instant athlete meals on the market now, which are useful if you find yourself in hotels a lot and short of time. Ones such as the Sport Kitchen athlete meals can be useful when travelling, as all you do is add hot water. 

Also, if you like to have something like porridge for your pre-race breakfast (and bearing in mind that it might be very early and the hotel might not be serving yet), then the pots of porridge you can buy and just add hot water to are an ideal, quick and simple option.

3 Must-do tips for fuelling on the move 

1. Get organised

Be prepared! Have the food you need with you whenever you go anywhere, to remove temptation and stress. You’re a triathlete – you should be used to organising loads of kit whenever you leave the house!

2. Watch your blood sugar 

Don’t go too long without eating. If your blood sugar drops and you stop at a motorway services, you’ll end up attacking the chocolate and fizzy drinks section like a man/woman possessed.

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3. Buy easy options 

Convenient pre-packaged salads and porridge pots travel well, as do fruit, nuts, seeds and good-quality cereal bars. Have a stash in your car or suitcase so if you’re stuck you have something to hand.