Meet weeks are the best weeks! After a long, grueling block of training, getting the chance to step up on the blocks and race is the most thrilling, rewarding feeling. Meets are a great way to assess where you are at, what you need to work on, and how you will move forward in training. Plus, it’s an added bonus getting to see friends from all around the country!
However, traveling to meets and maintaining good nutrition can be a bit of a challenge. As someone who loves cooking from home, sometimes I feel as if I lose control of what I’m putting in my body because I need to eat out for every meal. It can also become extremely expensive. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there are still ways to optimally fuel your body when on the road; it simply requires a little bit of preparation and discipline.
Packing snacks are a great way to start. Unfortunately while traveling, especially by plane, dry snacks are the only ones you can pack. I love packing protein bars or shakes for post race snacks, preferably honey stinger or balance bars. It’s super important to get something in your body within 20-30 minutes of racing, so your muscles can start recovering and protein bars are a great way to fill that need. I also like to pack Kind Pressed bars to give myself a serving of fruits and veggies if I can’t get to any fresh produce. Over the years I’ve become a huge fan of Larabars as they are made with whole, natural ingredients with nothing artificial added, as well as being delicious! Gatorade or honey stinger chews are a personal favorite of mine to pack which are great for a quick burst of energy right before a race. When traveling by car, I also like to whip up some of Erica’s Protein Power Balls from her cookbook. They are a great protein-filled snack that keep me feeling full a little longer and my taste buds satisfied! In the event I am able to get to a grocery store and stock up on some fresh snacks, I love grabbing fruit (preferably berries or whatever is on sale) and mini peppers, cherry tomatoes, and carrots. It’s always nice to munch on something fresh.
As a member of the US National Team, I’m fortunate to have access to athlete hospitality during many meets, such as the TYR Pro Series meets. We are usually provided lunch and dinner which is very convenient for us athletes to eat at the pool, as well as save some cash. Usually we are given lean balanced meals such as chicken breasts, steamed veggies and pasta. Every once in awhile, however, some unhealthier options such as mac ‘n cheese with barbecued pulled pork are catered, and those are times in which I need to go elsewhere for food. During competition I try to stay clear of fatty foods which stick in your stomach, make you feel sluggish, and aren’t as nutritionally dense. Competition time also means time to ditch desserts. Save those tempting sweets for post meet. All of that processed sugar can increase inflammation and slow down the recovery process, as well as leave you feeling fatigued.
When eating out at a restaurant during a meet, I try to stick to leaner options. For me, balance is the name of the game, so I always try to get a meal that incorporates a complex carb, some sort of veggie, and a lean protein. This type of meal provides me with the right energy to use during my races and helps me perform better and faster. I’m also not getting excess calories that will leave me bloated on race day. Everything I eat has a purpose.
If in doubt about what to eat when traveling, there are some key tips I like to keep in mind when I am glancing over a menu at restaurants. When looking at preparation of meats, avoid items that include words such as fried, breaded, and crispy. These options can be tempting, but it’s better to save those choices for another time. Rather, look for items that include words like grilled, broiled and steamed. These items will be cooked in less fat.
It is also important to add that hydration is just as important, if not more! Hydrating properly and consistently throughout the day helps your body flush out lactic acid and recover faster in between sessions as well as increase overall performance. This doesn’t mean chug a gallon of gatorade. Stick to water; it’s the healthiest option there is!
One thing to note; everyone is different. Everyone reacts to food in a different way. Some people might need to eat a little less whereas some people need a little more to feel properly fueled. Competition is not the time to try something totally new and different. Try your best to stick to what your body is used to and avoid introducing new foods into your diet that can mess with your system.
Athletes spend countless hours in the pool and weight room pushing their body past their limits to become the greatest in their sport they can be. Why throw away all that hard work on race day by not fueling your body properly when it matters most?