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When You Travel To a Race

By Monique Ryan

planeIt is possible that one of your important races this season will require that you cross one or more time zones. Flying to a race can result in jet lag, disrupting sleep as well as eating habits and your digestive system. Symptoms of jet lag include periods of tiredness during the day, disturbed concentration, reduced energy, and of course irregular sleep at night.

When traveling to a new time zone to race, try to adjust your eating and sleeping schedule to your destination ahead of time. This may help to minimize the effects of jet lag or a time change. Smaller meals before and during travel may be better tolerated as well.

There is also increased risk of becoming dehydrated during travel. Pack your own fluids whether traveling by car or airplane. Aim to drink one cup of fluid or more per hour of travel. Caffeine containing fluids can contribute to positive fluid balance, but don’t overdo caffeine intake, especially later in the day as it may affect sleep that night. Alcohol should be avoided on flights.

While pharmacologic approaches to promote sleep are available, some may be on the prohibited list for athletes or incur next-day drowsiness. Melatonin supplements have been promoted as a jet lag strategy, but can have varying affects among athletes. Side effects in habitual melatonin users are not known. Behavioral strategies are favored over pharmaceutical strategies.

Research your destination via the internet and phone and plan ahead for food intake. Look into the availability of food at local shops, locations of chain restaurants where you can make good food choices, and pack training, snack, and race foods. You can even ship out some food and sport supplement items for convenience. Make restaurant reservations ahead of time, especially for dinner the night before your race. Eat early and provide time for relaxation and adequate sleep. You can also pack some of your favorite foods for race morning.

On your travel day, try to stick with your normal food intake. It can be easy to overeat when bored during car rides and flights. But it can also be easy to miss meals and snacks required for fueling prior to a race. Research has not really determined if altering the carbohydrate or protein content of specific meals helps with jet lag, so just stick with the nutrient requirements for your next rides and race plan. Packing food for the car and especially air travel appears prudent given the high fat selections often available in airports and on the road, and limited availability of food on flights.

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Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN is the leading endurance sports nutritionist. Her nearly 30 years of professional experience working with Olympic (consultant to USAT and USA Cycling), elite and age group endurance athletes and professional sports teams make her one of the most experienced and qualified sports nutritionists in the U.S. Ryan is founder of Chicago-based Personal Nutrition Designs and the best-selling author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes (3rd edition, VeloPress) and three other sports nutrition books. PND provides detailed nutrition plans for triathletes across North America competing in all race distances, with programs at  Ryan is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.