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by Steph Saullo RDN

May 21, 2018

Nutrition strategies to help you maintain your performance while you’re away from home

Traveling can be stressful, but traveling to compete can be nerve-racking. Fortunately, with a little planning and preparation, you can maintain your athletic performance while you’re away. Before hopping into the car or heading to the airport, consider drafting a travel nutrition plan to help you stay adequately hydrated and properly fueled.


First, consider where you’re going and how you plan to get there. Second, will you have access to food and beverage along with way and when you get to your destination? Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself when pulling together a plan, whether you’re traveling via car, plane, bus, or train.

  • Will you be able to make pit stops on your way?
  • Are you traveling to a remote location?
  • Will there be restaurants or grocery or convenience stores that you’ll be able to get to easily?
  • Will you be staying in a hotel or renting a house? In either situation, is there a refrigerator or microwave available? (If your hotel room doesn’t come with a mini fridge, you might be able to request one.)
  • Are there foods you might need to bring along?


Don’t leave planning for the last minute—if possible, start preparation at least six weeks ahead of time. Make a list for each day you’ll be away, noting where you’ll be, each eating occasion, and available food options. Next to each meal or snack list “hotel,” “pool,” “restaurant,” or “grocery store,” etc., corresponding to your schedule. By doing this, you’ll gain a better understanding of what, if any, foods you should pack.

Sticking to your plan will help keep your preferred timing of meals in place and will help you to avoid missing a meal or ending up with food you might not be familiar with. Regardless, things happen and you only have so much within your control, so it’s important to be flexible. When dining out, use these tips to tackle restaurant uncertainty.

Choose foods that are baked, broiled, grilled, roasted, or steamed. Select broth-based instead of cream-based soups. Ask for salad dressing on the side and substitute vegetables (steamed veggies, a side salad, or baked potato) or fruit for items like French fries, home fries, etc. Avoid or limit items that are breaded, fried, or heavily sauced because these items may not sit well with you before activity. Foods or cuisines with lots of spices such as Indian, Mexican, and Thai may also not be the best option before an activity or event. Avoid sushi or other raw foods, especially if traveling abroad. If you’re traveling to a new place with new and interesting cuisine, it’s hard not to try it all. Instead of missing out, leave sampling the local or regional fare for after the event.

Don’t be afraid to ask the restaurant to modify something to meet your needs. If you have dietary restrictions, scope out restaurants that cater to your needs. Your phone can be handy to look up nutrition information on food options if needed. For more assistance, you can check out the Healthy Dining Finder. It’s not inclusive of all restaurants, but there is a large selection. You can search by location, nutrition preferences, or alphabetically.

Don’t forget about hydration. Aim for at least 16 ounces of fluid every hour, especially if you’re flying. Circulated air in airplanes reaches a humidity of 10 to 20 percent, noticeably less than the Sahara Desert’s approximately 25 percent. Yasmin Badiani, whose company Phizz produces rehydration products, told Marie Claire that men can lose 2 liters of water and women 1.6 liters of water on an average 10-hour flight. When you arrive to your destination, keep water handy.

Before you head out, explore the restaurants near the location of your meet or training place. If you’re headed to a meet, likely you aren’t the only one. Consider making reservations ahead of time to avoid fighting the crowds.

The evening before a meet, instead of going out for a large meal, opt for takeout and dine in your hotel room. Grab a sub with fruit and pretzels or baked chicken, vegetables, rice or pasta, and fruit from the hot bar or prepared food section of the grocery store. Wherever this meal comes from, you’ll want it to be lighter and lower in fiber. If you decide to go out to eat, make sure to turn in early. It’s important to maintain adequate rest.


Make a packing list that includes not only food but your equipment (swimsuit, goggles, etc.), multivitamins, probiotics, or any other supplements. Don’t forget your water bottle, but if you should forget it, don’t even think about sharing with someone else (or vice versa if your buddy forgets). Traveling increases your risk for illness, so do your best to stay healthy and well. If you’re staying in a hotel with a fitness center, usually you can fill your water bottle there.

If you have dietary restrictions, packing food is even more important, but even if you don’t have any dietary limitations, you should plan to pack your routine swim meet foods (snacks, supplements, and fluid for before, during, and after the meet) unless you’ve adequately scoped out the options, and you’ll be able to purchase these items when you arrive.

Bring along extra snacks to have for the ride, flight, or for in your hotel room, and carry them in plastic containers or bags. While not an exhaustive list, consider the following:

  • Beef jerky
  • Cheese (hard cheese can be kept out of the refrigerator for some time) or string cheese
  • Crackers
  • Fruit (bananas, apples, clementines or mandarin oranges, grapes) or dried fruit
  • Fruit and nut or granola bars
  • Fruit leathers
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • Protein bars
  • Rice cakes with peanut butter (or other nut butter)
  • Nuts
  • Tortillas (spread with peanut butter and a banana)
  • Trail mix
  • Vegetables (carrots, celery, radishes, bell peppers)
  • Whole wheat bagel with nut butter
  • Yogurt
  • Sports drinks
  • Ultra-pasteurized chocolate milk

Some of these items require refrigeration, so if you can’t keep foods at the proper temperature in a cooler for an extended period, don’t bring them along.

You should also consider TSA’s 3.4-ounce limits for liquids when flying from the U.S. Items like yogurt, applesauce, pudding, Jell-O, etc., would fall into this category. You should also wrap or contain your food in some way (except whole, fresh fruits if they are uneaten and unpeeled). Ultimately, TSA can refuse an item through the checkpoint. For more information, visit TSA’s website.

Don’t let traveling be a stress and instead take some time to plan and prepare your food and nutrition strategies before leaving your house. By the time you get to your destination, all you have to do is worry about performing your best.


  • Health and Nutrition
  • Technique and Training


  • Diets
  • Health
  • Nutrition
  • Food Shopping
  • Meal Planning
  • Competition
  • National Championships
  • USMS Nationals