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Head of Sports Nutrition, Australian Institute of Sport
Fuelling yourself with healthy nutrition can be a challenge when your sport takes you away from home. Here Louise Burke helps with tips and cautions for the travelling athlete.
Louise Burke says to read up on the local food culture and get more specific information from talking to those who have been to the city or region before you. Look at the accommodation options and see if there are any with kitchen facilities (in-room or communal) – this can make a huge difference in how much control you have over your nutrition. Other checks to make include:
“You can lessen the impact of jet lag if you adjust your body clock to sleep and eat meals at the times you will at expect your destination,” says Burke. “You can start this when you get on the plane or even beforehand.”
Burke says that the biggest problem on flights tends to be overeating. “Athletes usually go from regular training to sitting with nothing to do on a plane, so there’s a big change in energy expenditure. Often people make the mistake of loading up with snacks, then they get bored and overeat because there’s nothing else to do.
“It’s true that in a pressurised cabin you’re losing a little bit of fluid every time you breathe – more so than with normal air – but that loss is less than that for sweating through training, so the athlete’s overall fluid requirement tends to be less than their average day. The difference is that you can’t just have access to drinks as easily on a flight as you would in your normal day.”
If you’re travelling with a squad or group, team up to manage your nutrition better.
“Have someone responsible for the management of the trip who can then make a roster to share the load of the catering or working out where to eat out,” Burke says.
“Together you’re better off than a bunch of individuals. You’ll tend to always prepare a better quality meal when you’re preparing for more than one person. Once you spread the load – with someone to do the shopping, another to talk to the chef, others cooking – you will do a more thorough job.”
“Sometimes athletes are their own worst enemies because they are too picky,” Burke says. “Often you just have to suck it up – OK, the food is cooked differently, but it still provides nutrition.”
Burke says that in your research you have to figure out what options you can work with as far as the local food or the catering arrangement goes, and what you absolutely have to supply yourself or make special arrangements for. Is it the carbohydrates? Alternative sources of protein?Snacks between meals?Fibre?
The catch with being too regimented with a limited range of foods – no matter how healthy they are – is that you can end up being more sensitive to foods you’re less familiar with.
“I think the bigger problem is that you spend so much time fluffing about with food that you also end up stressing the manager of the team or your friends and teammates – so the distraction factor is actually the number one issue,” says Burke.
“One issue to be wary of with new foods is often you have no idea what a normal serve of that food would be or you can be missing your nutritional goals because you have no idea what’s in your food,” Burke says.
In some places the local water can make you ill. If there is any risk of this, take these precautions:
Beware the “all you can eat” breakfasts and buffets at hotels and athlete villages, Burke warns. “We all tend to become fixated on the idea of getting value for money, then they overeat.” Other traps are:
Modern supermarkets are the athlete’s friend, according to Burke. “Always look for fruits or salads are vegetables that are already cut up for you. Then there are tossed salads with cooked meats, and lots of dairy products such as Greek yogurt come in single serves.”
Burke believes fresh food is always better, but here are some good non-perishable foods for the road.
Your toolkit for in-room catering should include:
A hand-held blender gives you many options – make hummus, tuna paste, bean dip, guacamole, fruit smoothies. For the more innovative, you can use a clothes iron to cook toasted sandwiches and pancakes, and use and electric kettle to boil eggs and noodles. As with training, no matter where you are or what your resources are, there’s always a way to fit in healthy nutrition!