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  • Writer's pictureHaley Schlechter, RD, LDN

Athletes Eating on the Road: What to Choose?

What do I eat when I am traveling with the team, at the airport, or staying in a hotel for a competition? This is a common question I get from athletes and it is a very important one especially when considering nutrient timing! Below are my recommendations for most athletes eating on the road. My only caveat to these recommendations are regarding my weight sensitive athletes who have large caloric restrictions to make weight. For them this is a good general guide but they would most likely be very carbohydrate restricted as well as eating much smaller amounts. Calorie restricted athletes should have a dietitian to educate them individual on their options for these critical meals surrounding their competitions. Below is my general guide for athletes eating on the road:

What should you be looking for on the menu night before game?

  • Low fat:

  • Look for terms like: boiled, steamed, grilled, marinara

  • Ask for sauces on the side: you control how much you put on, which should not be alot.

  • Moderate Lean Protein

  • Look for: chicken, turkey, fish (tuna), ham, lean beef

  • High Carbohydrates (endurance athlete) Moderate Carbohydrates (strength athletes)

  • Look for: pasta, whole grain bread, brown rice (rather than fried rice)

*Remember Speed of Digestion: Carbohydrates digest and metabolize first then proteins then fats


  • High fat foods:

  • Fatty cuts of meat, greasy foods

  • Avoid foods described as: fried, breaded, cheese smothered, crispy, scampi style, creamed, buttery, au gratin, gravy

  • High Fiber foods: slow down digestion and create gas build up possibly

  • Spicy foods: Could upset GI tract if not used to it. Don’t try new foods on the road as a general rule.

  • Alcohol: slows performance


  • High carbs, moderate protein, low fat

  • Ex: bagels, graham crackers, fresh fruit/ fruit juice, dried fruit, rice cakes, Fig Newtons, pretzels, energy bars, trail mix (not just the M&Ms out of it)

10 Tips to use for picking BEST options when eating on the road:

1. Is the food fried? Don’t pick it. It will be higher in fat than in protein and carbs.

2. Eating in Mexican restaurants: order burritos, tacos, fajitas. Watch how “smothered in cheese” the entrée is. Beans are good for you but high in fiber. Don’t over eat before workouts.

3. Eating in Italian Restaurants: pasta is an excellent carbohydrate source. Sauces make the difference in the healthfulness of the entrée: Alfredo sauce is high in fat; marinara sauce is the better choice. Adding protein to marinara sauce is the best choice for added protein.

4. Be aware of sugary drinks in restaurants. Lemonade, soda, sweet tea all have a lot of sugar. Better choices are water, milk, or fresh juice (in that order).

5. Chinese restaurants: pick an entrée that is high in non-fried meat and vegetables. Pick white or brown rice over fried rice. General Tso’s chicken is fried chicken, orange chicken is fried chicken. If the chicken is covered in breading, pick something else.

6.Breakfast Joints: focus on your protein sources (eggs, milk, yogurt, ham) and carbohydrate sources (toast, bagel, French toast, oatmeal, cold cereal). Add fresh fruit/ fruit juice whenever possible. Bacon/ sausage are fats, NOT proteins. Omelets are great for adding vegetables, potatoes are usually fried, if you order them share them or eat half.

7. Sandwiches are great for lunch. Choose wraps over pannini’s – a pannini is a fried sandwich with added fat on the outside of bread. Stuff a sandwich with lean protein, lettuce, tomato, and other vegetables for the healthiest variety. “Italians meat” is lowest in protein (prosciutto, salami, and pepperoni), order roast beef, chicken, turkey or ham.

8. Order fresh fruit over juice whenever you can in a restaurant. Fruit has fiber in it and less total sugar.

9. IF IMPOSSIBLE TO AVOID- Fast food restaurants: order—salads, multiple single burgers vs. quarter pounders, get milk, if you order fries get small order, apple slices, juice if no other fruit is available, grilled chicken vs. fried, a baked potato with stuffed with broccoli, bowl of chili, egg sandwiches, egg burritos.

10. If ordering dessert try to order something that offers “some” nutritional value such as ice cream (protein, calcium, vitamin D), fruit pie (fruit), pudding (protein, calcium, vitamin D), frozen yogurt (lower in calories but the same benefits as ice cream nutritionally). Regular ice cream vs. sundaes; skip high fat cheesecakes – or share it with someone; if it’s your birthday have cake.

Hope this helps answer some questions for you all!!

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