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Traveling for a race can be stressful. Whether you’re taking a long car trip or flying, food options aren’t always ideal. Instead of having your familiar chow, you’re often at the mercy of whatever you can find at a highway rest stop, restaurant, or airport terminal.
As someone who’s done a fair bit of flying, airport terminals are not where you want to be if you’re trying to find a healthy meal. They are like food deserts.
And in the days before a race, nutrition is critical. It can often be the difference between a break-out personal best, or a disappointing bonk.
So instead of leaving your race day result to chance, and risk disappointment after months of hard training, consider these 4 strategies to make sure you get the nutrition you need when traveling for a race.
For me, one of the primary prerequisites for booking a hotel the weekend of a race is its proximity to a good grocery store. Yes, being close to the start/finish line is important, but I’d trade a few extra minutes of travel time on race morning for the assurance of having good quality food the day or two before a race. I don’t mess around when it comes to nutrition. It’s foundational, and therefore shouldn’t be compromised. Most grocery stores will carry some simple pre-race staples, like vegetables and fruit, sweet potatoes (which can be microwaved in a hotel room), nuts/seeds, avocados, and rice crackers.
If you know you won’t be able to make it to a grocery store, or you don’t trust the food options where you’re traveling to, bringing your own food can be an option. This is a little tougher when flying since space is more limited, but I usually bring a few go-to food items whenever I travel to a race (my “mobile pantry,” as my dad has called it). When you can control the fuel you put in your body and it’s familiar, you’re not wasting your mental energy worrying about, which helps minimize some of those pre-race jitters. There are a bunch of nutrient-dense food options that travel well and won’t spoil: nuts/seeds, rice crackers, coconut oil, sweet potatoes, dried berries, or make your own energy bars and pack those.
If grocery stores and bringing your own food aren’t options, or if you prefer experiencing some of the local cuisine, order foods that are simple and familiar. The night before a big race is no time to experiment with your food choices or chow down on foods known to cause GI issues, like dairy, legumes, lots of fruits or vegetables, wheat, and soy. A reasonable guide is to stay clear of FODMAPS, which are carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine.
I always find getting your primary nutrition from real food to be ideal, but there are a few options to supplement when it’s needed. The first is one I’ve found particularly helpful when flying: a greens powder. Instead of hunting for vegetables or nutrient-dense food, all you need to do is mix a greens powder with water in a bottle. One popular brand is Vega, but Living Fuel Super Greens are another great option. If you’re worried about having a clean carbohydrate source (see previous point about FODMAPS), there are some engineered fuels on the market that are primarily used during competition, but can also be consumed as part of pre-race meals. This is one way I use Generation UCAN’s Superstarch, for example. I’ll mix with some water, coconut oil, nuts, avocado and a banana for breakfast the day before the race.
Whatever strategy or combination of strategies you end up using, find those that work for you and stick with it. Most importantly though, consider your food options when you’re making your race-day travel and accommodation plans. The more you can plan ahead of time, the more prepared you’ll feel. And when you feel prepared and positive about your preparation, that’s your ticket to a solid race.