By the Department of Sports Nutrition, AIS From www.ais.org.au/nutrition
Tips for Surviving Travel Challenges
Top 10 challenges of travel
Being on the move causes an interruption to the normal training routine and changes energy needs.
Changing time zones creates jet lag and the need to adjust your eating schedule.
A change in environment – sudden exposure to altitude or a different climate – alters nutritional needs and goals.
The new environment is often associated with reduced access to food and food preparation opportunities compared to your own kitchen and routine. Leaving home also means leaving behind many important and favourite foods.
The catering plan or expense account may not stretch to cover usual eating habits and nutritional needs, especially snacks and sports foods.
A new food culture and different foods can be overwhelming to young athletes and those with fussy palates.
Differences in hygiene standards with food and water in different countries exposes the athlete to the risk of gastrointestinal bugs.
Reading food labels or asking for food may involve mastery of a new language.
A substantial part of your new food intake may be coming from hotels, restaurants and takeaway outlets, rather than being tailored to the special needs of athletes.
The excitement and distractions of being away makes it easy to lose the plot – with common challenges being “all you can eat” buffets and Athlete Dining Halls, being away from Mum’s supervision, and being confronted with a whole new array of food temptations.
1. Plan ahead
Good preparation solves many of the challenges of travel. Well before you leave home, sit down and consider the issues likely to be faced on the upcoming trip. Your own past experiences or stories from people who have travelled to this destination will be a good source of information about what to expect, where the challenges will come from, and how best to solve them. Things to consider include travel itself, the general food supply at your destination, the specific catering plans that are in place for you, and special nutritional needs arising from your training and competition goals or from the new environment. You will need to follow a good plan while you are away, but many elements of this plan will need to be organised ahead of time.
2. Eat and drink well when on the move
The challenge starts even before you arrive at your destination! Travel itself is stressful, changing both your nutritional needs (changes in activity levels, increased fluid losses in artificial environments) and your opportunities to eat. Changes in time zones also need to be taken into account. A travel eating plan that matches new nutritional goals to food availability will help you to arrive at your destination in the best shape possible.
3. Take a traveling food supply
Once you know about the food supply and catering arrangements on your trip, consider whether foods that are important to your everyday eating are likely to be absent or in short supply at your destination. It is not always necessary to disrupt your familiar and successful eating patterns, or risk missing out on important nutrients. There are a number of foods and special sports products that can travel with you, or ahead of you, to establish a supplementary food supply. Travel food supplies may be used to provide snacks or an addition to meals, or take care of the special needs of competition.
4. Establish a new routine quickly, based on new nutritional goals and your new timetable
Hit the ground running, by adjusting your body clock and eating habits to the needs of your destination as soon as possible - even while travelling to get there. Move meal times as quickly as possible to the new time-frame. You should factor in not only the general clock adjustment, but the time-table of training and meals that your new environment requires. It may be quite different to the way you do things at home. Remember that you may have different nutritional needs at your destination, due to a change in climate or altitude, or a change in the energy expenditure of your training and competition program. Adjust your meal and snack routine immediately, rather than waiting for problems to occur.
5. Be wary of food and water hygiene
Even in safe-sounding destinations, you are exposing yourself to a new set of “bugs” and new routines of personal and food hygiene. The stress of travel and your new training and competition program may reduce your resistance to illness. Adjust your food and drink choices to minimise your risk of succumbing to gastrointestinal upsets.
6. Learn about your new food culture
The fun side of travel is immersing yourself in a new culture. Of course, your priority is to find local ways of achieving your nutritional goals, balancing enough of the “tried and true” with the adjustments that a new country will require. You will need to identify new foods and eating styles that are compatible with your goals, and how to tap into the best of what will be on offer.
7. Organise catering ahead of time
Whether it be airplanes, hotels or host families, it pays to have other people know about your catering needs in plenty of time to adjust. Special menus and special food needs may take time to organise, and in cases where your requests can’t be met, advance warning will allow you time to consider a “Plan B”. When travelling in a large group you will be pleased to find that meals are pre-arranged and waiting for you, rather than testing the limits of your patience.
8. Make good choices in restaurants and takeaway outlets
Whether you have organised ahead of time or are faced with making decisions on the spot, you will need to exercise good judgement when eating in restaurants and fast-food outlets. Important skills to acquire are an understanding of the nutritional characteristics of menu items, and a pro-active approach to asking for what you need. Make use of the information about local cuisine provided throughout our wesbite as we “travel” to the various corners of the world.
9. Learn smart eating skills for Athlete Dining Halls and “all you
can eat” venues
A new style of eating requires a new style of behaviour. “All you can eat” and buffet style eating provides many challenges, even when it is within the confines of an Athlete Village. Eat to your plan, rather than succumb to unneeded temptations.
10. Think about the lessons learned for next time and to share
Don’t consider the trip to be over until you’ve had time to “debrief”. It is important to review what you learned on your travels – what worked, what didn’t work, what challenges still need a good solution. Write it all down while it is fresh in you mind – your memories will fade over time. This information will provide an invaluable starting point for preparing for future trips, and for sharing your knowledge with others.
Unusual eating times, inactivity and increased fluid loss during transit can all interfere with performance for the first few days after arrival. On tours where athletes are constantly on the road, the impact of travelling can become a long-term problem. Whether travelling overseas on a long flight, or a couple of hours by road or rail, planning and preparation are the keys to successful eating while on the move.
Meals and Snacks
Excessive consumption of meals and snacks can lead to unwanted body fat gain. Alternatively, some athletes may find it difficult to meet their nutritional needs while travelling and weight loss or poor fuel stores could be a risk. Several strategies can be undertaken to minimise these risks to performance.
When flying, contact the airline well in advance of departure to find out if special meals are provided (e.g. low fat, vegetarian, sports), what they consist of and the timing of the meals during the flight.
Plan your food intake in advance and decide which meals you need, and whether your own snacks are also required.
On long flights try to adopt the meal pattern you will have at your destination. This will help to reduce jet lag and adjust your body clock.
Forced inactivity when travelling often leads to boredom. Pack plenty of activities to keep yourself occupied. Reading material, travel games, playing cards, and music can all help to fill in the hours of unaccustomed “down time”.
Athletes with reduced energy needs may not need all the meals and snacks provided during flights. Drinking fluid and chewing sugar free gum can decrease the temptation to snack excessively during flights. Alternatively, pack your own snacks and decline the in-flight service.
When fuel needs are high, pack extra high carbohydrate snacks to supplement the food provided in-flight.
When travelling by road, pack your own supplies, stick to your nutritional plan and avoid being tempted to stop at shops along the way.
Pack a supply of snacks in case unexpected delays cause you to miss meals. However, don’t be tempted to eat them just because they are there. Good snack choices include cereal bars, sports bars, liquid meal supplements, fruit, and dried fruit & nut mixes. High fibre snacks can be useful (e.g. wholemeal breakfast bars, dried fruit) if you tend to become constipated on long journeys.
Air-conditioned environments and pressurised cabins increase fluid losses from the skin and lungs. The risk of becoming dehydrated is high, especially when travel times are long. Symptoms of dehydration may include headaches, tiredness or slight constipation. Although fluid is provided regularly when flying, the small serve sizes are usually insufficient to maintain hydration. When travelling by road or rail, hydration is entirely your responsibility.
Take your own fluids when travelling. Water, sports drinks, juice, soft drink, tea and coffee are all suitable. Sports drinks provide a small amount of sodium that helps promote thirst (increases the volume of fluid consumed) and decreases urine losses (reduce trips to the toilet). Caffeine-containing fluids such as tea, coffee and cola drinks may cause a small increase in urine production, but can still assist with overall fluid balance. Try to drink adequate volumes (e.g. 1 cup per hour) to maintain hydration. Avoid alcohol when travelling.
Snacks are an important component of the eating plans of most athletes. Regardless of whether you are self-catering or relying on others while ‘on the road’, it is a good idea to take extra food to supplement your meal arrangements. Depending on the travel destination this may consist of:
favourite foods which are unlikely to be available at the destination
supplies to compensate for poor nutritional quality or unsafe meals
snacks to supplement shortfalls in organised catering
special sports foods or supplements which are a regular part of your nutritional regime or competition preparation
Useful Food for Travelling
dried fruit and nut mixes
When Food Availability is Limited or Food Safety is an Issue
dehydrated meals e.g. low fat 2 minute noodles, flavoured rice
canned meals e.g. spaghetti, baked beans
snack packs of fruit
foil sachets of tuna or salmon
spreads e.g. Vegemite, jam, honey
dried biscuits, crackers or rice cakes
long-life cheese (e.g. cheesesticks)
powdered liquid meal supplements
powdered sports drink
powdered liquid meal supplements
Useful Equipment for Travelling
single cup heater to boil water
snap-lock bags or plastic containers
large plastic bowl and cutlery
herbs and spices stored in film canisters to jazz up “ordinary” tasting meals
The weight of food supplies needs to be considered, especially if flying. Research the food availability at your destination as thoroughly as possible to avoid taking unnecessary supplies. Pack powdered or concentrated products where possible e.g. powdered milk, concentrated juice, dried fruit. Remove any excess packaging from products – snap-lock bags are a good lightweight alternative to tins jars and boxes.
Divide supplies among team members or send a package of supplies ahead to avoid paying for excess baggage. Remember to check with customs/quarantine regarding foods that are restricted from entering certain countries. Check to see if any taxes will be applied.
The lasts thing an athlete needs is to get sick before a major competition. Unfortunately exposure to a new environment can make this a real possibility, especially when food hygiene standards, sanitation and water quality are poor. There is risk of food, and water borne illness everywhere you go, even with local travel. Communal living, the stress of travel, and a heavy competition workload can reduce your immunity, therefore increasing your risk. Being aware of the risks and behaving responsibly will improve your chances of an illness-free trip.
Water and Drinks
It pays to be cautious with water safety. When in doubt about the water supply:
use bottled or boiled water for drinking, cleaning teeth and rinsing equipment used for eating or food storage (NB. Water should be boiled for 10 minutes to kill all bugs)
consume fluids from containers with unbroken seals that have been opened in your presence – wash the external surface of soft drink cans before drinking
avoid ice in drinks
drinks such as coffee and tea made from boiled water are usually safe, however the added milk may be a source of bugs
avoid drinking water from the shower/pools etc.
The following tips will help minimise contact with food poisoning bugs:
Only eat food that has been cooked, can be peeled or has been washed in safe water.
Food should either be steaming hot or refrigerated. Avoid luke warm food from bain maries. Only eat foods that have been cooked thoroughly.
Take care with, and perhaps avoid, fish, pre-prepared salads, soft poached eggs, rare meats, hamburgers, stuffed meats and pastries with cream fillings – these foods are common sources of contamination.
Avoid any fruit with damaged skin. Avoid citrus fruit and melons from street vendors as they may have been injected with water to make them heavier.
Avoid buying food from street side vendors. Choose food premises that look clean and busy. Check to see that raw and cooked food is kept separate at all times, cooked food is steaming hot and staff use serving utensils to handle food.
When eating from buffets, ensure chilled food is refrigerated or stored on ice and hot food is kept steaming hot. All dishes should have their own serving utensil and food should be protected form coughs and sneezes by a guard or lid.
Eat food bought from takeaway outlets immediately.
Always wash your hands before eating or handling food, and after going to the toilet or blowing your nose.
When preparing food, always keep raw foods like salads away from foods that need to be cooked like meat, to avoid cross-contamination
Use separate chopping boards and cooking utensils for cooked and raw foods
What to do if you get sick
-see the team doctor if available, otherwise the manager or coach
-drink plenty of fluids as dehydration is the main danger with diarrhoea
-take an oral rehydration solution, to compensate for lost minerals and salts from severe diarrhea stick to a bland diet as you recover. You may need to avoid milk, icecream and other foods containing lactose, at least in large quantities for a day or two – this includes most liquid meal supplements as well.
-rest, so that you can recover more quickly to get back into training
-think about what food you have eaten in the last two days to determine what may have caused the problem. Avoid and warn others about this food as well.
-do not handle or prepare food for others while sick.