By Melissa Wagenberg Lasher
Travel Smart: Know Your Needs
Lots of runners think they have to stick to high-carb, low-fat, low-fiber foods in the days before a big run. But exactly what you eat is less important than knowing what you can eat. "You've got to train the gut," says Jackie Dikos, R. D., a nutritionist and competitive runner. The key is to test out different prerun meals, take note of how your system handles them, and remember what works (and doesn't) for you. If you know your prerace fave is chicken-vegetable stir-fry with white rice, you can search out Chinese restaurants. If you must have coffee before morning runs, you can make sure your hotel offers in-room coffeemakers (or an on-site Dunkin' Donuts).
Travel Smart: Pack For Transit
You have less control over what and when you eat on travel days. So if you want to make smart nutrition choices while in transit, "you can't leave home empty-handed," says Suzanne Girard Eberle, R. D., a board-certified sports dietitian and author of Endurance Sports Nutrition. Foods that are high in energy bars, granola, trail mix, crackers, and peanut butter will keep in your car trunk or checked luggage. Hit a local supermarket once you arrive at your destination or to restock midway through your trip.
Travel Smart: Remember the Drinks
According to a 2008 review article by the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, the dry air onboard planes causes a gradual fluid loss, so if you rely on the airline's tiny (and infrequent) rations of water, you're likely to land parched. To avoid dehydration, have at least one energy drink on your travel day. "Sports drinks contain sodium, which aids fluid retention," says Dikos. To navigate pesky airport liquid restrictions, pack an empty water bottle and a stash of single-serving sports drink powders and hit a water fountain, or ask the flight attendant to fill it once you're on board.
Travel Smart: Have a Plan B
If the airline loses your luggage filled with your pantry stash; if your favorite restaurant has an hour-long wait; if your spaghetti arrives smothered in spicy sauce—don't let the snafu rattle you. "There's the worry that every bite is the only determining factor in your performance," says Eberle. "Try not to get locked into the mentality of, 'I must eat perfectly.'" To avoid a food panic, try to remain flexible—and choose easy-to-find foods. Eberle used to eat cheese pizza before her races. Andy Martin is a two-time Olympic Trials qualifier who travels once a month to race and almost always eats his prerace dinner at an Italian restaurant. Last year's Big Sur Marathon tested his resolve. "I didn't do any research ahead of time, so I drove around for a while looking for a pasta place," he says. "I finally settled for pancakes and sausage at a diner." How did Martin's plan B work for him on race day? He won.
Get the best out of every on-the-go meal.
Nutritionist and runner Jackie Dikos stays at a hotel with a continental breakfast, which usually includes healthy options like hot cereal, whole-grain bagels, and fruit. But before you book, find out exactly what's on the spread—otherwise, you might end up debating the relative healthfulness of strudel versus Danish.
According to a study published in 2004 in Obesity Research, people eat 43 percent more calories when they're served a large restaurant portion versus a standard portion. To avoid feeling overstuffed, Dikos gets lunch at a supermarket salad bar. Her picks: precut fruit, vegetables, chicken, and hearty soups. Grab a whole-grain roll for a carb boost.
Consistency is key. Andy Martin has relied on the same prerace dinner for years: spaghetti with tomato-meat sauce. Before travelling, he usually researches eateries, and even tries to find The Old Spaghetti Factory, since he knows he functions well on the chain's food. "I do my best to not end up walking around for an hour the night before, looking for a restaurant," says Martin.
Healthy, handy single-serving foods for the road.
Sports Drink One Gatorade Thirst Quencher powder pack mixes up to 17 ounces.
Energy Bars Clif Bars and Kashi TLC Bars supply both carbs and protein.
Instant Oatmeal Heat water in the hotel coffeemaker.
Granola Top your yogurt with Bear Naked Snack-Packs.
Honey Snag single-serving packets at any fast-food joint.
Crackers Kashi TLC crackers are 130 calories a bag.
Fruit Apples, oranges, and bananas hold up well.
String Cheese A good source of low-fat protein.
Hard-Boiled Eggs Be sure to peel before you leave.
Hummus Try squeeze-tubes of Wild Garden hummus.
Carrots Mini snack bags pair perfectly with hummus.
Chocolate Portion control with individual squares.