Eating On The Road

Traveling for training or competition can present unique dietary challenges. Some of these include; spending hours sitting in a car or plane, breathing re-circulated air, changes in time zones, interruptions to your sleep schedule, foreign foods, and varying food availability.  Some common nutritional problems that may result from travel challenges are:

  • Constipation
  • Inconsistent food/nutrient intake
  • Low energy intake
  • Overeating
  • Food poisoning
  • Dehydration

Having to deal with the above issues can have an adverse effect on your performance. However, the good news is that these challenges can be easily overcome with careful preparation and planning.

The guidelines below can help you to achieve maximal performance:

Resetting your internal clock:

Traveling on a plane and changing times zones can be arduous.

  • As soon as you get on the plane, set your watch to the new time zone and avoid long naps during the day. Upon landing go to sleep and wake up with the new time zone to help your body adjust as efficiently as possible. Also, getting some natural light can help adjust.
  • Depending on your arrival time, doing some light training or walking approximately 3 hours before bed can help can improve your chances of a good nights sleep.
  • A high carbohydrate snack before bed will increase brain serotonin and aid in sleep.


The humidity on an airplane is between 10-15% which means that the moisture is literally pulled out of you. Re-circulated air on buses and trains can also be dehydrating.

  • To arrive hydrated drink 1 cup per hour of fluids.
  • It is a good idea to arrive with 2-3 empty water bottles and fill them up before you board. Avoid alcohol-containing drinks as these offer poor hydration.
  • If traveling to a hotter climate, fluid and sodium needs will be increased. To replace these losses drink sports drinks and add a little salt to your foods.


Long hours of travel can upset your digestive system and routine.

  • To minimize constipation, drink lots of fluids and eat fibre-rich foods like whole wheat crackers, high-fibre granola bars, fruit and vegetables.

* Hint: Bring a bag of high-fibre cereal like Fiber-One or Raisin Bran to snack on.
* Hint: If your airline serves meals, the low fat vegetarian meal usually has more fibre than the regular meal.

Eating in, out and on the way: 

  • Aim for 3 or 4 food groups at meals to keep meals low fat, high carbohydrate, appropriate in protein, and high in antioxidants. You can do this by filling half of your plate with carbohydrate like rice, pasta or potatoes, a quarter with lean meat like chicken or fish and the rest with vegetables.
  • To ensure adequate carbohydrate intake you can order extra rolls, rice, pasta, milk or juice.
  • Stick to you nutrition goals by selecting foods that will fuel you optimally like whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and lean meats. Choose lower fat menu options by steering away from the creamy, cheesy dressings and fried foods. For dessert, some low fat, high carbohydrate options are fruit salad, angel food cake, rice pudding custard, and sorbet.

Balance Energy Intake:

  • Sitting for long hours can easily lead to boredom eating. It is important to ensure you fuel enough to be ready to train upon arrival; however keep in mind that your energy needs will be lower on travel days when you are resting.
  • When eating at a buffet choose one main meal choice instead of one of everything.

Snacks and Meals:

Take responsibility to fuel your body for success. Travelling is not an excuse to blow your nutrition plan. Pack a cooler or food bag with a supply of healthy snacks and easy meals options. Here are some easy to pack snacks or meal options:


  Nutritious Travel Snacks/Meals

  Dried fruit bars
  Granola bars
  Breakfast or cereal bars
  Beef jerky
  Trail mix
  Meal replacement (ie. Carnation Instant Breakfast)
  Dehydrated Instant soups or rice meals
  Rice crackers



Do your research and find out ahead of time what foods and cooking amenities will be available to you. Some things to check into are:

  • Cooking facilities at hotel or condo
  • Nearby grocery stores
  • Hotel amenities
  • Continental breakfasts

A Sport Dietitian can help you gain the important skills of shopping and cooking away from home.

Avoid Food-borne Illness:

Foods that pose a greater risk of containing pathogens are meat, eggs, dairy, vegetables and fruit – seems like almost everything. To minimize the chances of getting sick follow these guidelines:

  • Eat in reliable restaurants
  • Make sure food is thoroughly cooked
  • Make sure hot food is hot and cold food is cold
  • Eat fruit and vegetables that can be peeled
  • Use bottled water to drink, brush your teeth and wash fruit and vegetables
  • Skip the ice cubes

Steps to take ahead of time to prepare:

  • Research food at destination: facilities, customary foods, grocery stores, food available near hotel and event location.
  • Make a list of foods that you usually fuel with. Pack as many of these as possible.
  • Make a personal travel pack
  • Carry enough food for the expected duration of your trip and extra for waits and delays
  • Call airline ahead of time to find out what is being served (if anything)


Example Travel Nutrition Pack (for 10 hour flight)

   3 empty 500 ml water bottles
   2 fruit leather bars
   1 protein bar
   2 ham and cheese sandwiches
   Small packet soy nut trail mix
   1 packet beef jerky
   1 container dehydrated black bean soup
   2 instant oatmeal packets
   4 fig bars
   * Drink 1 cup fluids per hour
   * Eat snack or meal every 2-3 hours


The Bottom Line:

You are responsible for sticking to your nutrition plan while travelling. Don’t use travel as an excuse to blow your nutrition plan.  A Sport Dietitian can be an invaluable asset when it comes to travel nutrition. To connect with a Dietitian who can help with advanced nutrition panning for travel contact SportMedBC at

Edited by Dana Lis, RD.
Copyright held by SportMedBC. For information contact


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