Nutrition Nightmare – Traveling healthy

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Nutrition Nightmare

By Paula Inserra and Wesley Smith

So, you’ve decided to branch out and sign up for an out-of-town race. What could be better than traveling to some exotic place AND running? Your hopes are high! You picked a flat, fast course. Your training was spot on. You’ve endured set-backs, sure, but you’ve pushed through the nagging injuries. You’ve put in the hard work and hammered out a ton of miles in preparation for race day. You’ve done well staying hydrated on runs and your recovery drinks, well, let’s just say they were magical! You’ve eaten right; enough calories, but not too much. High carbohydrates, check. Moderate protein, check. And low fat. You’re fit, your muscles are strong and your glycogen stores are topped off! You are ready!

Then, three days before the big race you pack your bags and head out to the airport. Going through security; “better toss my water bottle”. Uh oh, flight delayed. “I better get something to eat. Hmm, only fast food here. What, $6.25 for a liter of water?! Maybe I should just wait until I get on the plane?” Then the flight attendant hands you a measly 14 pretzels and 6oz of water. “Well this isn’t going to cut it; I’m running a MARATHON in a few days! I guess I’ll just make up for it when I get to the hotel.” You arrive. Your running buddy is dying to try this Italian restaurant he’s heard about. You think, GREAT, finally I’ll get some good carbs. You both order the specialty, lasagna; and I guess one glass of wine can’t hurt, right? Here comes the meal, wait…I thought it came with marinara sauce? This is alfredo!Panic sets in when the waiter explains that they are out of marinara and to make up for it the manager is giving you a BOTTLE of wine on the house….

Does this sound familiar? All of your months of preparation can be jeopardized in a few short days. So what’s a nomad runner to do?

Prepare. Pack healthy snacks and an empty water bottle you can easily refill at water fountains. Search restaurants and come up with healthy options to order in advance. Hit a grocery store when you arrive at your destination to stock up on sports drinks, snacks and to pick up your tried and true pre-race breakfast foods. Don’t leave anything to chance. Most hotel rooms have refrigerators or at the very least an ice-machine. If your room includes a free breakfast, find out what is offered when you check in and if they will be serving early enough for you to make it to the porta-potty before the gun goes off. It’s also always a good idea to have your own foods ready to go. You can always take advantage of the hotel breakfast for the non-necessities like plates, utensils, toaster and condiments; this way you can avoid any extra pre-race anxiety in the event they do run out of bagels and bananas…

Here some power packed options for the nomad runner:

Shopping list (no refrigeration needed)

Fruit: bananas, apples, oranges, raisins, etc.

Bagels, breads, crackers


To-go peanut butter or chocolate hazelnut spread

Salty pretzels


Sports drinks

Bottled water

Juice boxes

Shelf-stable chocolate milk or soy milk


Restaurant Options

Sushi: It’s low in fat, high in carbs and has moderate lean protein. Just make sure it’s fresh and from a reputable place. Add an extra bowl of rice and some miso soup for added carbs and sodium.

Mediterranean: Hummus, pita, rice, grilled skewered meat or chicken, tabouli; great sources of carbs and low in fat.

Italian: Avoid lasagna, ravioli, stuffed shells etc. Stick with plain pasta with a small amount of marinara or other red sauce. Consider non-cream based seafood sauces for all the carbs plus some natural sea salt. Add some bread on the side for an added punch, but skip the butter or olive oil.

American/Pub: Keep it simple. Order some plain grilled fish or chicken, baked potato, small salad or veggie. Add some bread or rolls and avoid sauces, mashed or fried potatoes.

Asian: Simple stir fry with extra rice and soup. Avoid tempura or other fried options to keep it low in fat but max out the sodium with a nice dose of regular soy sauce.


Paula Inserra, PhD, RD, is an associate professor at Virginia State University, where she heads the Didactic Program in Dietetics. She holds a doctorate in nutrition science from the University of Arizona.

Wesley Smith, BS, is completing a post-baccalaureate certificate program in nutrition and dietetics at VSU.

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