Healthy Travel Tips & Restaurant Recommendations

It has happened to all of us at one time or another: waiting too long to stop on a road trip, being stuck traveling with no food and no time or place to stop and even grab something small. So by the time you make it to a restaurant, you are starving and end up making a poor choice or have too much to drink before dinner. It can also happen in everyday life, where we are busy during the day at work and struggle with how to eat when we have to try to squeeze in a workout before dinner and life takes over. Sure, we all try to be smart about our choices, but some of us are better at it than others.


Many athletes struggle with figuring out what snacks they should have on hand, what will help them perform best and how to eat healthy in large groups. Keep in mind that your strategy is unique – no one else will be quite like you. But since fueling is so important for athletes, especially for recovery while traveling or competing, or during periods of heavy training or stress, figuring out a routine that works for you is imperative. During these periods, it can make the difference between feeling fast and unstoppable or feeling one step off.

COMMON CHALLENGES AND HEALTHY TRAVEL TIPS

Many of us face similar challenges. In daily life, we hurry from meeting to meeting or to our next obligation (which can include workouts), barely allowing time to eat, let alone cook or go grocery shopping. Traveling also presents the additional challenges of not knowing where your next meal will come from; limited and mostly unhealthy choices; long, unknown periods of time without food; and group decision making. The best we can do is try to prepare ahead of time and make good choices on the road, but it can help to have specific strategies.

Particularly when traveling, there are sometimes long or unpredictable times between meals, it is hard to always get all the food groups, and food quality is usually poor. In order of importance, eating at the right times is the top priority. Second is getting all the food groups, and third is nutrient quality. You can usually find all the nutrient groups, but the quality and timing may suffer. Just remember that eating as often as needed is the highest priority. These common challenges are explained in more detail below, along with some ideas for travel snacks and eating healthy at restaurants.

Challenge #1: Long Periods without Food or Meals

Tips: Plan meals ahead of time, bring snacks, focus on caloric fluid intake.

Athletes may face this challenge while training and working as well as during travel and competition. We can all try to be prepared with pre-made food, but a lunch box is not always practical or possible. It can be difficult to maintain the recommended frequency of food intake on the road, especially when you are not always in control of the circumstances. Groups are a specific challenge for some of us, so when traveling with a group, it is important to stick with people who have similar routines to yours or people who will make sure your needs are met during a grocery-store run.

A few basic healthy snack ideas are outlined in Table 1, but first it is important to understand the overall goal. For athletes, the goal is to stay fueled – getting enough calories when you need them – so timing is most important, rather than worrying about quality when choices or time is limited. The exception to the rule is if you are trying to lose weight, but you still never want to starve yourself, or you will not feel good or perform well. In general, planning ahead means preparing healthy snacks as well as thinking ahead while on the road. Be prepared to fuel every two to three hours, and always have fluids with you: water and fluids with some calories but no added sugar.

What makes snacks healthy is their ingredient quality, as well as having good protein content. Healthy snacks have more good fat, fewer processed carbs and complete protein combinations. Common complete protein combinations include grain and seeds or nuts (e.g., bread with seeds or pretzels and nuts), beans and grain (e.g., hummus and pita) and some legume and grain combinations (e.g., beans and rice, black beans and flour, refried beans and corn).

 

Challenge #2: Lack of All Food Groups

Tips: Prioritize going to a grocery store as soon as possible, choose meals at restaurants that include all the food groups, choose snacks with all food groups represented.

Missing out on food groups is frequently a problem on the road since meals are not always served in proper proportions, and you have to try and make good choices about what to buy and what to order when you’re out of your normal routine. This can be solved by being prepared and thinking ahead. Prepare well-thought-out snacks that are lightweight and sturdy. Pick foods that are fresh but won’t go bad within a day or two (e.g., pretzels and nuts, dried fruit). When you arrive at your destination, make it a priority to get to a grocery store as soon as you can. It can sometimes be difficult in large groups, but this is an obvious and useful solution. At restaurants, try to think ahead to the next meal, and order some food to go or take leftovers.

When shopping at a grocery store, convenience and taste are often more of a concern than healthy ingredients, but make sure you plan for all nutrient groups. Complete protein can be the most difficult since there is rarely pre-cooked meat available, but in these situations, you can make exceptions if needed and choose Italian dry sausage, the least processed pre-cooked meat possible or hard-boiled eggs. Some people can also eat canned tuna and sardines, which are good ways to get seafood on the road. The nut and grain combinations mentioned in Challenge #1 also make complete proteins and can suffice for most protein needs between meals.

Challenge #3: Healthy Options while Traveling and at Restaurants

Tips: Be as prepared as possible, snack and fuel between meals to help yourself make good choices later, choose the healthiest ingredients available as often as possible.

Hint: Use the activities below to practice making healthy choices!

Making healthy choices is often the biggest challenge facing athletes on the road. Always try to be as prepared and thoughtful as possible using the snack ideas and restaurant meal choices in Tables 1 and 2, but you will likely have to make some exceptions to your personal rules to get the calories you need. When faced with choices at restaurants, healthy snacking before

The more you can snack and stay fueled during the day, the easier it is to make healthy decisions when eating out at a restaurant.

arriving can help improve your choices when browsing the menu. But sometimes the food being appetizing is more important than nutrient quality. After going long periods without nutrients, just getting calories is a top priority for the body.

At restaurants, start with a healthy appetizer if possible, then make the healthiest choice you can based on the ingredients and meal composition. If you do not eat out very often, enjoy yourself, and do not over-analyze every decision. But if faced with these challenges regularly, the healthy meal versions above can help you make better decisions. The more often you can snack and stay fueled and the more often you choose the healthy versions, the better you will feel and the better you will perform!

 

ACTIVITY SUGGESTIONS

Activity #1: Healthy Snacks

Instructions: Write down three snacks you could make out of your fridge if you had to go on a trip tomorrow. Make sure to include some of each nutrient group! A snack = half a meal.

Activity #2: Healthy Meals at Restaurants

Instructions: Choose three menus and pick a healthy meal from each. Jot down any modifications you could make to be healthier.

Top 5 Tips to Avoid Inflammation and Increase Performance

Even though athletes can typically get away with not eating healthy and stay at a healthy weight, we should all admit to ourselves that bad foods still harm the body and can decrease performance. If you typically eat healthy, and every once and a while at a tournament you gorge on fruit snacks, you are probably not going to suffer any harmful consequences longterm. But even during a tournament, the body will perform better when the foods we are consuming are working for us and not against us.


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Foods that are bad for you are typically bad because they require more processing than the calories are worth, overwhelming the body with stress hormones (i.e. cortisol) and free radicals (particles that can damage cells) and eventually inflaming the body. This is not only detrimental to your health, but can lead to serious health consequences (e.g. having a heart attack during marathon even though at a healthy weight). Below are the top 5 things you should know to help decrease inflammation and increase performance. Incorporating this knowledge will also increase your overall health. See Tables 1 and 2 for lists of the healthiest, mostly healthy, not very healthy, and foods to avoid in each nutrient group on a regular basis.

Even though every athlete is different and has a variety of other health factors to consider at one time, diet is one aspect of our performance we can control to a certain degree. The knowledge that exercise and training is inflammatory should translate to engaging in behaviors and eating foods that reduce inflammation. This will in turn increase performance and overall health, and could be the edge you need for the championship.

Tip #5 – Avoid Dyes

Dyes are not always harmful when derived from natural sources (e.g. betacarotene, paprika, beet juice, turmeric), but many companies find cheaper, brighter, and more stable sources by deriving them from petroleum (they were originally derived from coal tar when first developed). There are dyes in many foods, including everything from gatorade, to candy, cereals, fruit snacks, cosmetics, and dog food. Although dyes are tested by the FDA for levels determined to be safe, there are many studies that show links between dyes and kidney, thyroid, and bladder tumors, and cancers in mice or rats, and ADHD in some children. Limit or avoid US these dyes if possible due to their lack of need in the diet and potential harmful effects.

 

Tip #4 – Avoid Sugar and Fake Sweeteners

 


Sugar spikes glucose levels in the blood and is highly inflammatory. Sugar also feeds unhealthy bacteria in the gut, further contributing to inflammation. A small amount of organic sugar on some grapefruit every once and while or honey in your tea is not necessarily harmful, but regular consumption of sugar in breads, cereals, dairy products, salad dressings, jellies, etc., can elevate the blood sugar too much on a regular basis, leading to higher than normal levels of sugar in the bloodstream, leading to insulin-resistance and eventually diabetes. Fake sweeteners are two to seven times sweeter than table sugar and can also interfere with the normal blood sugar response6 . In addition, if the body is always full from sugar and then is not getting needed nutrients from whole foods, protein, fruit and vegetables, etc. that help decrease inflammation. There are many healthier ways to get a sweet taste after a meal, such as dark chocolate, coconut ice cream, and fruit with natural chocolate syrup, that are not full of sugar (also desserts made with nut flour, eggs, and smaller amounts of sugar). Look at your food labels, and if sugar is in the first three ingredients, that food should be avoided or eaten as little as possible. You will gradually lessen your taste for sweet foods, and you will naturally eat more of the foods you need like protein, fruits and veggies, and good fat.

Tip #3 – Avoid Partially-hydrogenated Oils

These oils are other highly processed oils that are added to foods to make them less perishable (e.g. margarine, baked goods, potato chips). They have an extra bond between the molecules, making them very difficult breakdown, both on the shelf and in the body. They sit in the fat cells of the body and increase the LDL (bad) and decrease the HDL (good) cholesterol, as well as increase inflammation, and they are associated with insulin resistance and obesity. Light-colored oils that are processed and unstable to begin with are high in free radicals, and avoiding consuming foods fried in these oils and will help decrease inflammation.

Tip #2 – Limit Dairy and Wheat 


Dairy and gluten may be included in the diet as a useful sources of calories if desired, but they are best used as condiments to meals and not the main course. Athletes should be aware of the inflammatory properties in both the lactose (milk) and casein (cheese) in dairy. Wheat proteins, including gluten, can be inflammatory to the gut, as they mimic certain foreign substances and can cause an immune response (i.e. inflammation). Gluten is found in much higher concentrations now than in the past, leading to more frequent gluten allergies (called Celiac’s disease).

As for dairy, most of us lose the ability to digest lactose after weaning, so it can be slightly inflammatory for everyone. Greek yogurt contains bacteria that have already digested the lactose for you, making it less inflammatory and easier to digest. Many dairy products also contain hormones and added sugars and have had the fat removed (the healthy part from an organic source). Lactose-free milk, coconut milk, and full fat almond milk are good alternatives. Full-fat dairy sources from organic and grass-fed cows, e.g. cottage cheese, sour cream, and cream cheese, and butter are also healthier choices.

Tip #1 – Eat Up!

The foods we should be eating more of to fight inflammation include fruits and vegetables, probiotics for the gut (available in pills or formulated dairy-like drinks), and more Omega 3 fatty acids from olive oils, fish, shellfish, walnuts, and avocados. The type of fat in olive oil (monounsaturated) turns into anti-inflammatory molecules that help prevent asthma, arthritis, and protect the heart . Other spices like ginger, turmeric, rosemary, and basil, can be anti-inflammatory. Ginger acts like an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aleve), suppressing inflammatory molecules, but with no side effects. Turmeric, the yellow colored spice in curry, contains curcumen, which blocks inflammatory chemicals in the body. Fruits and veggies specifically known for their anti-inflammatory properties include broccoli (vitamins C and K, beta-carotene, and calcium), pineapple (contains bromelain that helps break down proteins, aid in digestion, reduce swelling, and aid in circulation), and sweet potato (contains lots of vitamins B6 and C, manganese, beta-carotene, and fiber).

Back to the Basics — Foods to Fuel Ultimate Workouts

With the club season and championship series now behind us for another year, are you already hungry for more and thinking about next year? Ideally, the off-season is where most of your fitness, strength and power gains should occur. You will likely be doing many different types of workouts throughout the year, and each type of workout and training has its own nutritional demands.

BACK TO BASICS

Because there is no one specific diet or calorie requirement for all athletes in any given sport, it is up to us as individuals to see how our bodies react to training. What we do know is that ultimate is a demanding sport, requiring both cardiovascular and muscular fitness, strength and power. Similar to determining when to eat, the simplest way to determine what to eat is to go back to the basics and decide 1) what type of workout you are doing (e.g., strength, agility, endurance, etc.), 2) how intense the workout is going to be (e.g., how hard you will be working on average, on a scale of from zero to 100 percent), and 3) how long the workout will be. Then you decide what to eat and when. Done.

Well, okay, maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you can answer those three questions, you can use the resources below to choose your foods and decide when to eat them.


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The next step is to understand each type of workout and what kind of energy you are using for the workout, so you know what you’ll need to replace. Below are two tables describing each type of workout and the foods needed to fuel each of those workout types before, during and after. All recommendations are based on starting exercise three to four hours after a meal (so you basically have an empty stomach) and are assuming individuals are at their goal weight. Carbohydrates refer to healthy grain-based sources (e.g., dense bread, pasta, flour products, etc.) with no added sugar. Protein sources include meat, fish or eggs and some vegetable and grain combinations (e.g., beans and rice), and sources of good fats are high in Omega 3s, including nuts and nut oils; coconut and coconut oil; olives and olive oils; avocados; and whole-fat, organic dairy sources.

DETERMINING FOODS BASED ON TYPE OF WORKOUT

Keep the five tips listed below in mind when planning what to eat and when for your workouts. Then use the tables to determine what energy source is used and how to refuel after the workout.

 

Things to Remember when Planning Meals and Snacks around Workouts

1. Blood starts to leave your stomach and go to the muscles once you are exercising at approximately 70 percent of your heart rate max (HRM), about when you start sweating.

2. Leaving undigested food in the stomach when you start your workout can leave you with a bad stomachache a few hours later, and your performance may be affected due to a delay of energy and blood flow to the muscles.

3. One handful of carbs takes about one hour to digest.

4. One handful of protein takes four hours to digest.

5. One handful of good fat can take up to nine hours to digest!

 

Using the tables above can help you determine which foods are best at supporting your workout. For example, you can see that if you eat a meal within three or four hours of an endurance run, you probably won’t need a pre-workout snack. But if you are a little hungry, you can follow the instructions in the table to determine that, for an endurance run, you would only need about one handful of carbs within an hour of the run, then liquid carbs about every 30 minutes during the workout, and some carbs (one or two handfuls) and good fat (about half a tablespoon) after the workout. If this is how you work out most often, your normal diet would only require about one handful of complete protein per meal.

The requirements for an ultimate tournament are quite different. As an extreme example, during a tournament, ideally you would have a small meal an hour or two before playing and continue fueling during and between games with liquids and carbohydrate beverages, handfuls of carbs and protein. Then you would have a snack – two or three handfuls of carbs, one or two handfuls of protein and some good fat – right after playing AND a normal meal a few hours later.

FOODS TO FUEL WORKOUTS

As an ultimate player with a defined season and pre-determined tournament competition dates, you should ideally be following a periodized workout cycle. This means you will rotate through different types of workouts to 1) build an endurance base in the off-season, 2) focus on strength and speed during the pre-season, then 3) focus on power and agility during the season. Your dietary and caloric needs will need to cycle as well, which can sometimes catch us off guard. Using these simple guidelines and charts can help keep you healthy and performing well all year long!