Traveling can be stressful under any circumstances. When you fly to compete in a race or for important business, the stakes are higher and all the ordinary concerns are magnified. Will I have everything I need? What if my flight is delayed? Will the strange food and water upset my digestion? What if I don’t get enough sleep?
I am writing this article from a plane en route to Sweden, where I will be competing in a 230-kilometer (about 140 miles), self-supported footrace through the Arctic. I will carry all of the food, medical supplies and gear necessary for me to survive four days of running through temperatures down to -30 C (-22 F). Succeeding in a race this extreme requires hard training, determination and careful planning, right up until the last flight over. As I make my way across the Atlantic and then north to Scandinavia, I am pulling out every travel trick in the book to make sure I have the best possible chance of making it to the finish line.
After hundreds of trips for competitions and business, I’ve learned a lot about how to stay healthy and ready for peak performance when you arrive at your final destination.
The best way to ensure you’ll have healthy food to choose from when you travel is to bring your own. But don’t wait until you get to the airport to stock up, where your healthy choices are limited.
Stock up before. The best way to ensure you’ll have healthy food to choose from when you travel is to bring your own. But don’t wait until you get to the airport to stock up. Your healthy food choices will be limited. Stop by a grocery store and pick up fresh or dried fruit, raw vegetables, and individual servings of humus or nut butter. Together they make a filling, nutritious snack that’s easy to eat in the confines of an airline seat.
Choose nuts. If you have no other option but to rely on airline snacks, choose peanuts, which are more nutrient-dense than chips, pretzels or other common choices. The protein and healthy fats in the nuts are nourishing, and keep you from feeling hungry longer than the high-carb foods.
Order ahead. Standard airline meals tend to be high in salt, fat and preservatives, which can leave you feeling tired and bloated. At least 24 hours before a long-haul flight, most airlines let you reserve vegetarian, low-calorie, low salt and/or gluten-free meals that almost always are healthier options.
Carry water. The air on planes is extremely dry, dehydrating you faster than normal. Bring water on board and drink it before you feel thirsty. If you don’t bring water, ask the flight attendants for a bottle rather than just the small cup.
Skip the alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates you and may affect you more profoundly in the air than when you are at ground-level pressure. Save the celebrations for after the race – or at least once you land.
Carry on gear. If you’re traveling for a race, bring all of your essential gear with you on the plane. At minimum, pack your running shoes – clothing and other items can be more easily replaced. In the event that your bags are lost, you will still be able to compete without too much hassle. I did learn, however, before getting on my flight today that snowshoes must go in your checked baggage!
Sleep when possible. Research has found that an extra hour of sleep improves athletic performance. When you have the chance, power down your laptop, take off the headphones and try to capture that hour while you are in-flight and have no place to go.
Get out of your seat. You will feel better while you’re flying and when you land if you move around the cabin every hour or couple of hours. It keeps blood circulating and helps combat jet lag. A few simple stretches, even calf stretches in your seat, will help you avoid post-flight stiffness.
Do you have tricks or hints for healthy travel? Share them in Comments so we can all learn from each other.