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Food Fast vs. Fast Food: Surviving Pit Stops

Food Fast vs Fast Food Surviving Pit Stops

Travel is a part of every athlete’s life. It can be tremendously difficult to maintain a healthy diet on the road where there is much less control over food choices.  It IS possible to eat healthy when traveling if you have some education on how to navigate restaurant menus and rest stop offerings.

On-The-Go Nutrition Trips

When road trips call for long bus or car rides, you can almost always count on making stops for food. Some athletic teams go as far as having pizzas delivered to the bus. It is important that athletes have the opportunity to eat frequently, but every effort should be made to give them access to healthy options. Pizza on occasion is fine but should not be a regular occurrence.

Athletes are encouraged to bring along their own food whenever possible. At the very least they should come prepared with snack foods. Pack things that store and travel well and can be eaten easily. Pack a small, insulated bag with an ice pack if food needs to be kept cold. Otherwise, stick to foods that don’t require refrigeration so there’s no worry about anything going bad. Don’t forget to bring some extra napkins and hand sanitizer too.

Easy foods to carry along include:

  • Granola Bars
  • Trail mix (nuts, dried fruit and pretzels, and whole grain cereal)
  • Fresh fruit (bananas, oranges, and apples travel well)
  • Sandwiches or wraps (peanut butter & jelly (or any fruit instead of jelly, to up the nutrition) doesn’t need refrigeration.  Athletes love peanut butter and banana, as an example))
  • Yogurt
  • Whole grain crackers and string cheese
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Protein bars
  • Chocolate milk (certain brands don’t need to be refrigerated until opened).
  • Water and sports drinks

Rest Stops

Candy, chips, fast food, ice cream, cinnamon buns, and coffee stands can make healthy choices more challenging; however, many restaurants – even rest area convenience stores – offer options that can work in a pinch.  Snack items like beef jerky, nuts, and even fresh fruit are usually available.

Check online menus for fast food chains ahead of time. Large chains are required to post all nutrition information, so take advantage and help athletes by suggesting better options at the restaurants near their hotel or on their way to their events.

Foods to Choose:

  • Granola Bars
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Menu items with chicken breast, turkey breast or other sources of lean protein
  • 1-2 slices of pizza and a large salad
  • Fresh fruit
  • Beef jerky
  • Trail mix
  • String cheese

Foods to Avoid:

  • Anything fried
  • Lots of candy
  • Greasy burgers
  • Sugary coffee drinks
  • Super-sized cookies and other baked goods

Sit-Down Restaurants

When eating at a diner or other sit-down restaurant, read menus carefully to make the smartest choices.  Diners typically serve lighter foods like omelets and sandwiches throughout the day. Many restaurants also post their menus online so they can be reviewed ahead of time. Pass on free refills of sugary drinks and stick to water or milk.

Distance Travel: What to pack in your suitcase

Staying at a hotel without access to a kitchen can be tough but there are some things you can pack up so you don’t have to rely on takeout for a meal.

Foods to Pack Up:

  • Instant oatmeal (prepare with hot water from the in-room coffee maker or microwave)
  • Granola bars
  • Trail mix
  • Whole grain cereal and dried fruit (grab a container of milk from the nearest coffee shop)
  • Peanut butter crackers

Vending Machine Tips

Sometimes you are stuck with no other option than the vending machine. Instead of resorting to chips and cookies, choose foods that have some nutrient density.

Foods to Choose:

  • Pretzels
  • Granola Bats
  • Snack Mixes made with nuts and dried fruit
  • Beef jerky
  • Peanut Butter Crackers

Choose This, Not That

Reading menus can be confusing. Some options are healthier than you might think, while, many of the ones that appear healthy are anything but. Choose meals with a balance to choose whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats and lots of fruits and vegetables. The table below has some examples of smarter choices.

Choose This, Not That

Learn more about nutrition and nutrition for athletes in the Fitness Nutrition Coach program, the Sports Nutrition Specialist program, or the Certified Personal Fitness Chef program.