The Traveling Athlete—Maintaining A High Performance Diet!

Consumption of foods based on cost and convenience, rather than nutritional value can eventually 'slow down' athletes ... Learn about what options are available to a traveling athlete right here!

Athletes spend a lot of time traveling to and from competitions. With fast food chains at every rest stop and meals eaten in unfamiliar restaurants, it is easy to develop poor eating habits. Often, it is convenient to settle for a "number two value meal" at McDonald's instead of perusing the menu for items that might supply the right balance of nutrients and calories necessary for enhancing athletic performance.

Consumption of foods based on cost and convenience, rather than nutritional value can eventually "slow down" athletes, making them incapable of performing at their full potential. However, with a little knowledge and effort, the traveling athlete can maintain a nutrient rich, high energy, high performance diet.


Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Failing to eat early in the day will likely lead to such hunger by the afternoon that the athlete will care less about what he/she eats, most likely resulting in poorer food choices.

On the other hand, a carbohydrate-rich, low fat breakfast can energize the body and provide the right direction for fueling the body wisely throughout the day.

In a pinch, blend up a MRP with some frozen fruit, which has a nice dose of fiber and healthy fats right in it!

Here are some other energy-packed whole grain breakfast choices:

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat
Whole-wheat toast 282 9.9g 51.3g 4.4g
Bagels 275 10.5g 53.4g 1.6g
English muffins 223 8.7g 44.8g 2g
Pancakes 227 6.4g 28.3g 9.7g
Hot or cold unsweetened cereal 382 29.1g 49.6g 10.7g
Low fat milk 35 3.4g 4.9g 0.2g
Yogurt 63 5.3g 7g 1.6g

Of course you shouldn't skimp on the protein in the morning—an egg sandwich on a whole grain English muffin or toast, for example, or throw a scoop of whey protein in your oatmeal.


At lunchtime, the quickest and easiest to grab is often a double cheeseburger and a Coke at the nearest fast food restaurant. The high fat, high sugar content in this meal provides many empty calories, and the caffeine in the soda will act as a diuretic, dehydrating the body.

A burger can still be a decent meal choice, but without the cheese and mayonnaise. Another option is a deli sandwich made with whole grain bread and lean cuts of meat. Add vegetables and a little mustard to transform an ordinary sandwich to a delicious, performance packed meal!

Here are some energy-packed food choices for lunch:

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat
Turkey 189 28.7g 0g 7.4g
Chicken 197 29.8g 0g 7.8g
Hamburger with veggies 254 11.7g 24.8g 12.3g
Hummus 171 4.9g 20.2g 8.5g
Veggie burger 153 20g 7.8g 4.6g
Whole grain bread/bun 260 9.1g 47.2g 4.1g
Salad with light dressing 260 9.1g 47.2g 4.1g
Low fat milk 35 3.4g 4.9g 0.2g
Yogurt 63 5.3g 7g 1.6g

I'm not encouraging you to just drink 100% juice; it should be combined with whole grain and lean protein choices, or better yet, have the entire fruit.

Consume the following in moderation:

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat
Fried chicken 269 28.6g 3.2g 14.9g
Fried fish 232 14.7g 17g 12.3g
Cheeseburger 329 16.3g 25.6g 17.8g
Hot dogs 73 12.6g 4.3g 0.6g
Bologna 312 11.7g 2.8g 28.3g
French fries 200 3.2g 31.2g 7.6g
Potato chips 501 5.6g 64.9g 25.7g
Cheese 403 24.9g 1.3g 33.1g
Mayonnaise 334 0.6g 8.5g 32.9g
Creamy salad dressings 377 0.9g 15.2g 35.7g
Soda 41 0g 10.4g 0g


A restaurant that serves pasta, salads, broiled foods and hearty soups is an ideal place for a pre- or post-game meal. Dinner rolls are great sources of carbohydrates, but try to limit the amount of butter that is used, making these high in fat. High fat foods eaten within 2-3 hours of competition can lead to stomach discomfort, slower digestion and sluggish performance.

If there is no time to sit down at a restaurant, supermarkets are a great dinner option. Many grocery stores have salad bars and/or a deli, and there is always a wide variety of drinks, fruit, bread, yogurt and other nutritious foods to help satisfy the athlete's appetite.

A fast trip down the grocery aisles can yield such goodies as bagels, graham crackers, fig bars, granola bars, and 100% juice boxes—all which are suitable for a pre-performance snack about 1.5-2 hours before the competitive event, when combined with a bit of protein.

After the game, a pizza with thick crust topped with lots of vegetables, rather than meat or extra cheese, provides quality nutrients. You get carbohydrates and some protein, which is what we're looking for. Another simple option is a low-fat chocolate milk: Horizon makes a product that doesn't need to be refrigerated, so is perfect for times when you're on the go.

Here are some other energy-packed food choices for dinner:

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat
Baked potatoes 93 2.5g 21.2g 0.1g
Rice 365 7.1g 80g 0.7g
Pasta 131 5.2g 24.9g 1.1g
Steamed vegetables 64 3.3g 13.5g 0.5g
Vegetable/minestrone soups 53 2.1g 8.6g 1.2g
Black or red beans 341 21.6g 62.4g 1.4g
Roasted Chicken 239 27.3g 0g 13.6g
Low fat milk 35 3.4g 4.9g 0.2g

Consume the following in moderation:

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat
Chicken with skin 213 18.3g 0.1g 14.8g
Butter 717 0.9g 0.1g 81.1g
Gravy 367 10.7g 59.4g 9.6g
Creamy/cheese-y sauces and dressings 197 10.3g 5.5g 14.9g
Mashed potatoes 106 1.9g 16.7g 4.2g
French fries 200 3.2g 31.2g 7.6g
Stuffing 386 11g 76.2g 3.4g
Meatball/pepperoni or extra cheese pizza 255 14.3g 28g 9.8g
Soda 51 0g 13.3g 0g


Restaurants often have tempting dessert selection. By understanding when and how to indulge a sweet tooth, one can enjoy foods yet not hinder performance. The sugar and fat content in pies, ice cream, chocolates and cakes add a lot of excess sugar and fat calories with little performance or nutritional value.

If a sweet craving arises and it is close to competition time, then a dessert that is lower in fat and calories might be satisfying yet have little detrimental effect on performance.

Here are some recommended choices for dessert:

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat
Frozen yogurt 159 4g 24.2g 5.6g
Pudding 133 2.7g 22.8g 4g
Gelatin 381 7.8g 90.5g 0g
Angel food cake 258 5.9g 57.8g 0.8g
Hot cocoa made with low-fat milk 361 10.8g 79.1g 4g
Sherbet or sorbet 138 1.1g 30.4g 2g

You may be wondering why I'm suggesting any of these foods. If you're preparing for a show, don't indulge, but when the alternative for many of these options are the high saturated and trans fat options, such as pies, pastries, etc, these are the better of two evils. We're not striving for perfection, we're striving for progress!


Boredom and desire for snacking often arise during long road trips. Cravings for snacks can easily be remedied by packing non-perishable, wholesome snacks to take along. Some examples include, small bags of pretzels, dried fruit, crackers and dry cereal.

Also try containers of yogurt, applesauce cups and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are also easy to pack in preparation for road trips. Convenience stores are another possible source for high performance treats. Many of these stores carry a variety of high quality snacks (e.g. granola bars and energy bars, cartons of milk, trail mix and packages of crackers and peanut butter).

Some convenience stores even sell soup, sandwiches and fresh fruit. Or do some shopping right here on to load up on protein bars, RTD meal replacements, or other quality products. Don't live off supplements, but the fast food alternative can be much, much worse!

In summary, since long road trips can lead to dehydration and poor eating habits, it is important that athletes are especially careful in their food and beverage selections when traveling.

Athletes can maintain healthy and high performance eating habits, even when they are on the road and eating their meals in unfamiliar places. With a little sports nutrition savvy, the traveling athlete can fuel his or her body with the nutrients needed to achieve peak performance!