8/6/15

The traveling endurance athlete


In 10 days, Karel and I will be traveling to Boulder, CO for 10 days of swim, run and primarily cycling fun. Yay for a real train-cation!!
We will also be watching the USA Pro Cycling Challenge
Not only are we super excited for our vaca (I can't remember the last time we took an actual vacation - not for a race, not for supporting our athletes who are racing, not for a camp and not for business - a real vacation!) but this will be Karel's first time to Colorado. 

Whether you travel for work or for fun, it's important that you remember to meet your energy and fuel needs when you are away from your home environment. 

It's very easy (and highly recommended) to establish a routine when it comes to eating, hydrating and fueling in a way that supports the demands of your training (as it relates to performance and health). And this starts at home. 
The food you eat helps you meet your energy needs, specifically as it relates to protein and carbohydrates as well as meeting vitamin and mineral needs for optimal body functioning and overall health.
Also, when at home, having a plan for eating assists in good recovery and helps with keeping your body at a healthy body weight/composition which is ideal for good health and performance. 

It's very easy for athletes to lose sight of eating for fuel and for health when traveling (which is certainly fine on occasion to indulge a little) but what often ends up happening is a very type-A athlete returns home and becomes extreme, restrictive and obsessed with the diet and body because of the previous vacation which left the athlete feeling out of control and off with "normal" eating.

Whereas some athletes may feel as if the concept of traveling nutrition is manageable and even easy to execute, I'd like to think that many athletes feel as if there are many challenges and limitations which make it difficult to eat healthy AND meet the energy demands of training while on vacation (for work or for play). 

For most athletes, the struggle occurs when athletes experience a change in appetite (either loss of appetite or different cravings due to exposure to different foods), they have little access to normal foods (particularly fruits, veggies and energy dense foods that may minimize GI distress when training) and they experience distraction from normal eating due to other activities, a change in schedule and to-do's occurring during traveling. 

The most important thing when training outside of your home environment is to achieve your optimal energy intake while traveling, specifically when you are taking your training on the road during your vacation. Here are a few tips:

Nutrient Timing
Prior to travel, create a simple food log that demonstrates your typical eating around and during your key workouts and throughout the day of workouts that you plan to be doing while on vacation. Take note of specifics like how much fluid, calories, carbohydrates, electrolytes and of what types of foods/drinks works best for your body and when. For athletes who have yet to master the art of nutrient timing, this may prove to be beneficial to do more regularly as it may help you better understand your fueling/eating requirements and to prevent underfueling or overeating. 

Do not neglect sport nutrition when you travel. Remember, the "magic" of training (whether to experience a change in body composition or to improve performance) does not simply happen during or immediately post workout. The positive adaptations that take place from training occur between workouts so neglecting to fuel/hydrate before during and after workouts can bring more harm than good to your body composition and health/performance goals. Do not forget to bring your well practiced sport nutrition products (which make for very convenient fueling options when you travel) and make it a habit to always eat before workouts, consuming sport drinks during workouts and have a recovery snack post workout. 
The athlete who neglects proper fueling will likely end up overeating throughout the day, especially when put into circumstances where typical "off limit foods" are now available. 

Whereas the fuel you consume before, during and after workouts is important, it is additionally important to make the switch to "healthy" eating throughout the day (when you are not working out) in order to keep your body (and immune system) in great health. Focus on foods that you can bring, prepare or buy in your home away from home that can nourish your body and do some food/meal research prior to traveling. As always, be prepared when you travel because it is easy to feel overwhelmed and rushed, or the opposite, apathetic and nonchalant when on vacation and you do not want food to be an afterthought. 

Overcome nutritional challenges when traveling
-Try to establish a routine as soon as possible. Still keep your vacation as a vacation if traveling for play and relaxation but adhere to a similar warm-up, eating and fueling routine to help you feel more relaxed and comfortable with training and eating during vacation. 

-Accept the challenge in food availability. Yes, you will likely not have your normal meals, foods or grocery store options but that doesn't mean you can't be comfortable with the foods/snacks that you put into your body. Be assertive with the foods that you know work for you when shopping or eating out at restaurants and seek out places to dine that cater to your energy/diet needs. 

-Minimize temptations but enjoy your new food culture. It can be welcoming to try new foods/meals and to be inspired by a new way of eating. Many times, an athlete who eats the same things all the time may experience a boost in energy/performance simply by introducing more vitamins, minerals and macronutrients to the diet. However, it is important to not have a free-for-all when it comes to eating whatever, whenever just because you are on vacation. Always be mindful of food/water safety as it relates to food borne illnesses but get yourself excited to be in a new food environment. 

Every athlete is different. What works for one athlete may not work for another. The most important thing when you travel is to not stress. Just because you are not able to eat similar foods at similar times in similar amounts, does not mean that all is lost or ruined with your training or body composition goals. 

A vacation is meant to be enjoyed. Allowing yourself to stress over a change in eating or training can make your time away from home feel less enjoyable (for you and for those around you). 

If you are not comfortable eating outside of the home, my suggestion is work on your mindful eating strategies right now by reading this article and applying these tips.  Learning how to eat mindfully can help you create a healthier relationship with food and your body in your home environment and eventually you will be able to take your new or improved eating habits with you no matter where you are in life (or in the world).