It is exciting to know that it is only one year to go until the Rio Paralympic Games!
But one year out also means even more travelling for athletes, both domestic and international, to training camps, competitions or even sponsorship opportunities geared toward that one big competition – the Paralympic Games.
With more travelling means more nutrition challenges. It is important for athletes to remain focused on their training and competition goals, and that all involves good nutrition preparations. (Note: Travelling for sport is NOT a vacation!)
Simply put, athletes should eat similar to how they would at home and make sensible choices at buffets.
Here are more tips for athletes:
Before you go:
•Understand the location you are travelling to and its food availability, as well as your own itinerary for travel. Work out when you will have opportunities to eat from the time you leave home to the time you arrive at your destination accommodation, and plan accordingly.
•Understand the food customs where you are going. For example, in some countries, you can get food at any time of the day. In others (such as those who celebrate the midday ‘siesta,’ or during Ramadan), stores and restaurants may close at certain times during the day.
•Check customs rules of the country in case there are certain foods you cannot bring.
•Understand the potential food-related risks:
•Is the tap water safe to drink or will you need to drink bottled water?
•Can you eat salads / fruit that are not peeled? Generally, if the tap water is not safe to drink, salads / uncooked vegetables and fruit that are not peeled may not be safe either
•Are there any risks associated with eating meats, dairy or eggs?
Things to take with you:
•Eye mask, travel pillow and ear plugs to help you sleep
•Any medication or vitamins/minerals you take (plus a letter from your doctor)*
•Water bottle (one for your carry-on, and one as a backup in your checked luggage)
•Sports drink powder (if you usually use this during competition – e.g. Powerade, Gatorade)
•A box of healthy granola bars (as a backup if you need a snack)
•Hand sanitizer (personal hygiene, especially around eating food, is important to prevent illness)
•Any other specific foods you think you will need either for your particular dietary needs or for your own food preferences.
•Understand whether food is served on your flight and when it will be served. If no food is served, either have a well-balanced meal before you leave OR take your own food on board (especially considering the potential for flight delays!)
•You should take some nutritious snacks on board – e.g. fruit (fresh or dried), jerky, trail mix, healthy bars, a sandwich
•Complimentary snacks may be available if you ask the flight attendants. Do not be shy to ask!
•If you have specific food needs, make sure you let the airline know at least 48 hours in advance.
•Take a water bottle with you – you will not be able to take water through security, but you can fill it up once you are in the boarding area near your gate.
•Work on staying adequately hydrated on the flight. Drink small amounts of fluid regularly. Avoid drinking lots of juice or soda. Stick mostly to water or milk.
•Sleep when you can on the flight if it is an international or longer distance flight.
•Eat at the meal times at your NEW destination, and snack lightly in between meals. This will also help to reset your body clock.
•Arrange an early trip to the supermarket to pick up extra healthy snacks to have around training and when racing.
•If you have a fridge in your room, include yogurt and milk / flavored milk for recovery. If you do not have a fridge, you should be able to find Ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) milk that does not need to be kept cold.
•Remember to drink regularly throughout the day – water mostly, but other fluids will also contribute. Add some salt to your food to ensure sufficient electrolytes.
•Aim for pale yellow urine colour most of the day.
*Please note that the IPC urges athletes to exercise extreme caution when considering the use of supplements. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has information on the risks of supplements.
Elizabeth Broad is the Senior Sports Dietician at the United States Olympic Committee. She is the author of “Sports Nutrition for Paralympic Ahtletes.”