Nutrition Navigation: Traveling for races

Welcome to back to my ongoing series: Nutrition Navigation. The idea behind the series is part of the vision behind the cookbook I am working on, that is, bridging nutritional knowledge/needs and great food. In this series, I will focus on specific training periods or training needs (like peak training or post-long run), on a specific nutrient (like Vitamin D) or a specific food (like Kale) and show you how that translates into real, healthy, gourmet meals. Often times that means I will provide a snapshot of a days worth of meals or a collection of ideas, recipes or methods. Have questions or want to see something specific covered. Email me with your special requests! Please note, I am NOT a registered dietitian and these views reflect only what have worked for me as a runner and personal chef.

One of the hardest things to navigate through for me as a special needs eater is traveling for races, especially internationally. After being careful and consistent through my training with my diet, it would be a shame to things go to the crapper, literally, before a race. After 3 years of being on the 100k National Team and traveling internationally for those races plus others (like NF100k) and numerous races all over the country, I have devised some strategies to make sure I go into the race feeling good, without stomach issues and also well fueled. 

  1. Pack your bags. Although most countries will not allow you to bring in fresh produce, meat, dairy, nuts or seeds, you can bring in things like gluten free granola, packets of peanut butter (I use individual Justin's Nut Butters), real food bars, gluten free pastas and breads.
  2. Find a grocery store. The first thing I do when I arrive somewhere is fine the closest health food store. In the states, this likely means a nearby Whole Foods but I managed to find one in Australia too. If you have a fridge in your hotel room, stock up on perishables you'll need (like Almond milk for your GF granola) and fresh produce. 
  3. Be boring. I am a foodie (obviously) but before a race, I am not trying to mess with anything new and so I stick to simple things (like salad) that I will know all the ingredients in. Often times I will go to a salad bar for multiple meals before a race (like they have at Whole Foods-with lots of options) and build my pre-race meal for that.
  4. Eat a big breakfast. If I bring my own granola or cereal plus nut butters, I can make a sizeable breakfast by adding fruit and eggs from the morning buffet at most hotels. I tend to eat a bigger breakfast when I am traveling because I am not certain there will always be food available to meet my needs while I am out and about.
  5. Stick to your plan. I have a normal prerace meal I like to eat and while on the road I work very hard to have the same thing: plain potatoes, salad and meat: either chicken or steak, but with no sauce or additions. If you need special accommodations for your pre-race meals, don't be afraid to ask. Most hotel restaurants should be able to make you something according to your needs or point you in the direction of a place that can. Call ahead and plan accordingly.
  6. Get enough. One of the things I struggle with the most while traveling is getting enough food. Often times, before a race when traveling I will be so concerned at not eating the wrong foods, that I don't eat enough or let myself get too hungry. Arm yourself with bars you can eat and pieces of fruit you can supplement with.
  7. Ethnic eats. Thai, sushi, mexican are some of my favorite types of cuisine. They also happen to be predominately gluten free or way more so than American/European cuisine. I seek out restaurants that are ethnic when I need a heartier option than salad. I try to aim for sitdown restaurants of these styles, skipping the processed and fast food style places. But that goes for all eats.
  8. Treat yourself, after the race. This one is two-fold. In the spirit of not doing anything different, it is smart not to add back anything new before the race. It also means saving yourself from potential stomach issues from trying the local delicacies or special treats. After the race, by all means- reward yourself with the local fare or special treats!
  9. Plan for the plane. I am not a fan of airplane food and I try my best to bring my own food for the plane. This is important on the way to a race (so you don't ingest something your body won't like/to stay properly fueled) and equally important on the return trip when you are likely to be radically more hungry.
  10. Ask the question. One thing I got over pretty quickly was the embarrassment of asking for special requests. Need soy milk? Ask for it. Wondering what options they have for a gluten intolerant? Inquire. For example, at our hotel in Leura in the Blue Mountains, Australia, they actually had gluten free bread on hand and all I needed to do was request it. I would have never know if I didn't ask.
What works for me:

I personally learn from examples. Even though I can understand a list (like above) or a set of instructions, often times I am able to synthesize it best by viewing an example. I thought for this series, I would include an example of what a typical travel day of meals looked like.

Breakfast: gluten free granola (from home) with soy milk, fruit and scrambled eggs from hotel buffet. Coffee with soy milk.

Lunch: salad and chicken from a local cafe. dressing on the side.

Dinner: thai food out. Got my favorite curry which has potatoes, coconut milk and chicken (though there ended up being about two bites of potato in this). Served with rice.

Snacks: fruit with peanut butter packet from home or a "long-black" and a artisan chocolate.