As a parent or athlete, one of the significant battles in the fight for eating well while traveling is having nutritious food ready and available when you need it the most.
Traveling athletes often lose out on many of the advantages of playing at home, such as sleeping in their own beds and eating meals at home. Between car rides and flights to tournaments, showcases, and road trip games, it's hard to eat well and fuel your body for performance if you're making your food decisions last minute and on the fly.
Even if you know what's healthy, if you aren't prepared when it's time to eat, you're doomed. How many times have you eaten a concession stand hot dog and chips between tournament games because that was the only option? Or maybe you woke up late in the hotel and have to stop last minute at a fast food joint.
We've all been there.
Luckily, making a nutrition plan before hitting the road can help parents and athletes make better choices, which will result in having the energy to play strong all weekend, even in the last few minutes of the previous game.
The goal here is to find healthy snacks and meals that you already enjoy eating to not experience any stomach discomfort or cramps during games. You want to strive to keep your eating routine consistent with the foods that you eat every day.
Several Days Before Your Tournament
Scope out the location around where you're staying and or playing. What are natural markets nearby? Any healthy cafes? Any build-your-own fast-food restaurants where you can create your own bowl or sandwich? Check out what "grocery stores near [hotel or gymnasium address]" turns up on Google Maps. Flag and save locations for situations where you may be in a rush and have to stop quickly. You can also save some healthy dining locations for situations where you may have a more extensive 2-3 hour break between games so you can eat a bigger balanced meal.
Many grocery stores even have pre-made deli salads or sandwiches, pre-cut and pre-washed fruits, pre-made hummus, single-serving yogurt parfaits, and protein bars. They may even have create-your-own, self-service options where you can create your own grain bowl, salad, sandwich, or hot meals. You can also find a food preparation service to do the work for you.
Packing The Right Foods
Eating the right kinds and combinations of food is crucial for you to feel your best when playing. If you only have a quick break between games, think about eating quick digesting foods rich in carbohydrates. If you have a more extensive gap of several hours between games, think about eating a bigger balanced meal with plenty of protein, carbohydrates, veggies, and healthy fat.
Here is a more detailed look into proper pre-game nutrition.
These snacks are good to eat within 30-60 minutes of a game or between matches because they are fast-digesting foods that will convert to energy quickly:
- Rice cake with peanut butter
- Nut butter and berry jam sandwich
- Piece of whole fruit like a banana, apple, orange
- Several handfuls of blueberries or strawberries
- Dried fruit and nut-based bars
- Oat and granola-based bars
For more extended stays, invest in an insulated cooler bag or use the mini-fridge in the hotel room to prep meals before heading off to the gym to save time and money. Think about balanced meals that you already enjoy eating—as yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit and granola or whole-grain wraps with lean meat, veggies, and avocado.
Once you have given some thought to what meals you enjoy eating before games or practices, pack the ingredients needed so you can build breakfast or lunch when you have larger 2-3 hour breaks. This is when it's a good idea to eat a balanced meal with plenty of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fat because your body will have ample time to digest and convert the meal into long-lasting energy.
Here is a good template to use when building a balanced meal:
- 1-2 palm-sized portions of protein
- 1-2 handful-sized portions of carbohydrates
- 1-2 thumb-sized portions of healthy fat
- 1+ fist-sized portions of veggies
The mini-fridges in hotel rooms and insulated cooler bags are a great place to store:
- Deli meat for sandwiches and wraps
- Pre-packaged veggies and hummus
- Pre-packed flavored tuna packets
- Whole fruit like berries, oranges, apples
- Pre-packaged fruit salads
- Single-serving Greek yogurts
These foods can be kept at room temperature and used to build the foods you enjoy:
- Whole-gran bread
- Whole-grain wraps
- Peanut or almond butter
- Single-serving microwavable oatmeal (just add hot water)
- Protein bars and nut-based bars
- Nut mixes
Always Pack Reinforcements
Make sure to pack a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated and backup snacks in a separate bag—like your sports bag. Buy your favorite granola bars, trail mix, and protein bars that don't require refrigerating, and keep them in your bag, so you always have something.
At The Gas Station Or Airport Shop
Sometimes a convenience store is your only option. No big deal. Try to reach for whole fruit like apples, oranges, bananas first. Beyond that, aim for better, not perfect.
Create a decent gas station or airport shop meal with this template:
- 1-2 palm-sized portions of protein
- 1-2 handful portions of carbs
- 1-2 thumb-sized portions of fat
- Added Bonus: Veggies
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