how to take care of your nutrition when going abroad as an endurance athlete

Read almost any article on nutrition for endurance athletes which focuses on what to eat and drink the day before racing, for breakfast on race day and during the race itself, and the point will be made that you should avoid any foods, drinks or sports nutrition products that you haven’t practised with. This is straightforward advice to follow if the event you are competing in takes place fairly close to home, and doesn’t involve an overnight stay away. But what if you having to travel the day before, or are spending several days abroad, where you may not be able to obtain your usual choices?Here are some of the pitfalls that you might be in danger of experiencing, together with my suggested solutions:

  1. You have to eat dinner out the night before the race, rather than prepare your favourite meal at home. Go for the blandest food that you can find, and stick to a mainly carbohydrate meal with a little protein, eg pasta with chicken or fish, or butternut squash risotto. Keep fats and oils (including cheese) to a minimum, and don’t have large quantities of fibrous vegetables. Avoid anything spicy in case it aggravates your stomach, and I would also suggest avoiding seafood in case of a bad reaction. This is certainly not the time to experiment with a local dish you’ve never tried before.
  2. Your hotel doesn’t offer breakfast early enough for your required start time. Find out in advance whether you have a kettle in your room, and if not, pack a travel one. If porridge is your chosen race day breakfast, take one of the pots (plus a spare) to which you can just add hot water. I like the porridge pots from www.momafoods.co.uk. Bagels keep well and can be eaten without toasting, with peanut butter or almond butter as a topping. If you like cereal or muesli, take a travel size portion from a supermarket multi-pack and buy milk locally. Practise these breakfast options back in the UK; the important thing is to have a plan you are confident in.
  3. You find the sports drink provided at the race hard to tolerate. Make sure that you have checked in advance what the available drink is and have practised using it in training. If it doesn’t suit you, you will need to carry your own gels or sports drink powder plus a water bottle to mix it in. Calculate your carbohydrate needs, based on 60g per hour, and ensure that you bring sufficient products with you, plus some spare. There may be some solid foods available on the course, eg bananas, which work for you, allowing you to carry fewer sports nutrition products. But, again, practise eating these foods during training. Never try anything new on race day.

And here are some further tips for avoiding nutritional issues when competing abroad:

  • Book an apartment with self-catering kitchen facilities – particularly if travelling with family, friends or club mates.
  • Take a selection of healthy snacks with you to use as a back-up in case you can’t buy the type of food you want. I like Trek bars (www.naturalbalancefoods.co.uk) or packets of trail mix (nuts and dried fruit). Both travel well and are minimally processed.
  • Only drink bottled water, avoid ice in drinks and be careful with salad to avoid any risk of tummy upsets.

Enjoy your overseas race experience!

Jo Scott-Dalgleish BSc (Hons) is a BANT Registered Nutritionist, writing and giving talks about nutrition for endurance sportBased in London, she also works as a Registered Nutritional Therapist, conducting onetoone consultations with triathletes, distance runners and cyclists to help them eat well, be healthy and perform better through the creation of an individual nutritional plan. To learn more about these consultations, please visit www.nutritionforendurancesports.co.uk