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Five Nutrition Strategies for Long-Distance Travel

Long-distance travel for competition can wreak havoc on your body. From less than healthy food options and over-indulging, to cramped seats and chatty passengers, your nutrition choices can ready you for performance or it can undermine all your hard work. Food, drink, sleep and keeping all muscles at the ready are the areas that will make or break your performance on race day. Focus on these, and you will be ready to go when you get to your destination.

Food is Your Friend

No matter how far you travel, or the mode, having your own food will ensure you eat the right things and don’t go hungry. Bring it with you. If you rely on the flight provisions, you will be relegated to small servings of peanuts, pretzels or crackers, which won’t be adequate. On the other hand, with food on hand, don’t make the mistake of grazing all the way to your destination, as this can result in overeating. If an energy-dense diet is your angle, bring along energy bars, trail mix or whole grain cookies. If low-calorie is the plan, make sure to have plenty of fruits and veggies on hand. Try to eat at usual times and bring along activities to prevent boredom like a deck of cards, a book, movies or music.

Food can be your enemy if it spoils. Keep food safe by chilling foods in a small igloo or lunch pack. Or, freeze food ahead of time and make sure to eat it first. If meals are available on a long flight, choose the carbohydrate-rich vegetarian option, which will likely be a rice or pasta-based meal. You may need to request this ahead of time, so double check with the airline. If travel is by bus, the food options may be limited to fast food establishments. In this case, opt for whole grain breads, salads with protein, hearty soups and breakfast options with eggs, potatoes or breads.

Stay on Top of Fluid

Flying is naturally dehydrating. The humidity on an airplane can be 10-15%, which encourages more water evaporation from your skin and lungs. This type of dehydration is subtle and may cause headaches or constipation. Water is by far your best option for a beverage, along with an occasional 100% fruit juice or a sports drink. Drink at least a cup of fluid each hour. Bring your own water bottle and ask for a refill from the flight attendant as needed. Remember to go through security with an empty water bottle and purchase water near your gate.

Avoid Painful Muscle Cramps

Rowers may feel cramped on a plane flight, as the seats are compacted together and legroom is at a minimum. It is also difficult to get up and move around. Get an aisle seat if possible and make sure to store extra baggage overhead to optimize legroom. Get up and walk around and stretch every hour or so to minimize cramping and encourage blood flow. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids because dehydration is one of the top reasons for muscle cramps. If you experience cramping, be sure to drink more fluids with electrolytes from a sports drink, or drink water and eat salty carbohydrates like pretzels or crackers.

Cut Constipation

Everybody’s “system” is different, but long distance travel can mess up anyone’s regularity. It’s a drag to feel bloated, have gas and not be able to “go.” Part of this is due to dehydration, eating the wrong foods and immobility on a long trip. The antidote: eat high-fiber foods (fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans) and keep up with fluids. If you do become constipated, try some natural remedies such as prunes or prune juice, apricot or pear nectar, or celery. Be sure to move around and drink plenty of fluids.

Get Some Sleep

Sleeping on a plane can be very challenging. The excitement (or stress) of traveling, odd positioning for sleep and the noise of others around you can keep you awake. But you will be better off in terms of adjusting your body clock to the new time zone at your destination if you can get some. Use noise-reducing ear plugs, eye covers and a pillow. These will help you fall and stay asleep. Eat a high-carbohydrate snack like a granola bar before snoozing to increase brain serotonin, which will help you sleep.

These strategies will help you be ready to compete at your destination, no matter far you have to travel. With a little forethought and planning, you can journey with confidence!

Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a childhood nutrition expert and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School ( She is the creator of Just The Right Byte (, a childhood nutrition blog. She lives with her husband and four children in New Canaan, CT. Questions? Contact her at

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