How to Eat Healthy While Traveling for a Race

By Katie Rhodes | Aug. 13, 2019, 1:58 p.m. (ET)

eat healthy while traveling

Let’s be real, most of the races you sign up for are not in your hometown. You travel or meet up with family and friends to combine a race with a little vacation getaway.

Am I right?

Yes, you can successfully train by preparing your body for the race, but what about the hard work you have put in nutritionally to prepare for race day? Do not let your travel plans sabotage your performance outcomes.

Through my experience working with athletes and after polling my current and past athletes on the topic, I have a few tips that are for sure game changers when it comes to sticking to your nutrition goals during race day travel. 

Preparation is key to any successful race week. It may sound too simple, but write out your plan. Yes, put pen to paper and write out what you plan on packing for travel, what restaurants you plan on visiting, what you plan to order, what times you will be eating, where you will be staying and available accommodations, and backup options. Preparing for the week like you are studying for a test will establish concrete goals and generate recall when the week approaches. 

Determine where you will be staying and what accommodations are available. For example, you may have a kitchen available (ideal!), you call ahead for a microwave and refrigerator to be placed in your hotel room and discover what restaurants and grocery stores are in the area. Most hotels will set up accommodations if you just ask. And I have had great success with restaurant managers helping clients stick to race day nutrition by not adding “hidden ingredients” like butter and oils that may cause gastrointestinal distress. When is doubt, ask!

Pack food your body is accustomed to consuming

This is key if you are able to bring food along for the ride. If you are traveling in your car, this can be easy with a cooler. Pack easily accessible snacks and meals you would normally consume race week. Race week is not the time to introduce any new foods to your gastrointestinal system.

If you are traveling by plane, you may discover packing food is easier than you think. Check out this link for what you can and cannot bring with you, according to TSA guidelines.

Prepare for mishaps

When packing snacks, or shopping for them when you arrive at your destination, arrange a few emergency meals in the form of large snacks. For example, if you are traveling with a group and their choice restaurant doesn’t offer what is compatible with your meal planning, have an alternative to consume in order not to interrupt your nutrition-related race day goals.

Prepare for stops

During race week you are consuming large amounts of fluid and electrolytes. Plan your travel with plenty of time for bathroom breaks. I recommend a minimum of 72 ounces water with electrolytes at least three days prior to a race.

Stay consistent

If you find planning for food while traveling daunting, eating the same meals and snacks most days is ok! Your gastrointestinal tract with thank you, and overthinking different options to consume will be a nonissue.

When writing out your plan for the week, do not forget to include what you will be consuming on the actual day of the race. Establish timing, what will be consumed and in what amounts, and plan for the unexpected hiccups that could come your way. When you are honed in during your race, your carbohydrates are primarily fueling your muscles, not your brain. Study your plan in order to focus less on your nutrition strategy during the race, and more on your performance.

There is nothing like athletes helping athletes! A special thanks to George Balas, Ashley Brewer, Suzanne Croy, Mandy Leonards, Angie Smith and Jodi O’Shea for their contribution to this guide for other athletes during race week. 

Example client-favorite snack for an on the go snack!

Energy Balls:

Ingredients:

1/8 cups Organic Coconut Flakes 
1/2 teaspoons Cinnamon, Ground
1 tablespoons Vanilla Extract
around 31 grams Whey Protein, or 1 scoop
1/4 cups Almonds (slivered)
1/3 cups Raw Honey
1/2 cups Peanut Butter
1/2 cups Flax Meal
1 cups Rolled Oats – Uncooked

Instructions:
Mix together all wet ingredients in a bowl.
Add all dry ingredients into bowl and mix together
Roll Into 12 balls and refrigerate
Substitution Options: Use any nut butter. Use any protein powder you like (it doesn't have to be whey based). Substitute almonds for walnuts or pecans if you want. Substitute flax seed for chia if you would like

Katie Rhodes, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, owner of OWN-Nutrition, is a registered and licensed dietitian in Little Rock, Arkansas, with a Master of Science in clinical nutrition. Through her experiences training elite athletes and working in the clinical setting at Arkansas Children's Hospital and the Central Arkansas Veterans Association, Rhodes understands that what we are putting in our bodies directly affects our performance, quality of life and longevity. She's worked with triathletes for eight years on their nutrition year round as well as focusing on race day nutrition. Rhodes primarily works with clients remotely, through phone calls and Skype for communication, to supplement unique, personalized nutrition plans. 


The views expressed in this article are recommended for athletes who are familiar with metabolic efficiency principles. As always, only introduce new fueling strategies in training and adopt only what works for you. The views are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.