I had an incredible start to my the 2015 year. I’ve had the opportunity to represent Canada at 7 world cups in the past 3 months on my road to Rio 2016. Starting the journey in Tunisia, Africa then visiting France, Belgium, Poland and Bulgaria. The going over to South America to compete in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. As amazing as it was, it did come with its challenges : making weight every single weekend without an access to a kitchen.
Making weight meant I had to lose 3-5kg to step on a scale on Friday night weighing less than 73kg (my weight division). Then I had to rehydrate and refuel to fight the next day at an optimal 76-77 kg.
The entire 2 and half months abroad I had no access to a kitchen which meant that if I wanted to perform well, I had to be smart about my diet.
Below are 6 tips that helped me eat healthy while on the road.
1. Going for nutritional value rather than cost or comfort
The first principal that I had to keep in mind when traveling for competitions was to seek nutritional value rather than cost or comfort. Althought this made the trip more expensive, I figured it would pay off in the long run.
There are many reasons to go for a healthier meal rather than the corner diner that can dish-out a greasy burger in less than 5 minutes. First, when you are on the road, your training volume is much lower - you are usually tapering off and preparing for the competition. You do not need as may calories. Although, your body is expecting the same calorie intake. So try to control your cravings. Second, you are about to compete and your body needs to be fueled up and ready for war. Lastly, you are naturally a bit more stressed because you are in a new environment. Your stress hormones have increased and your will power declines from all the travel - it becomes very easy for you to give into the temptation of choosing meals that are convenient and cheap.
Keep these reasons in mind to help you resist the temptation of fast and cheap meals.
2. You still have a choice of WHAT to ORDER.
We had a training camp in Paris for two weeks and the hotel we stayed at had no kitchen and no fridge. Some meals like breakfast, we were able to get by with some fruits, bread and peanut butter but lunch and dinner were a bit harder. That meant that at least once a day we had eat at a restaurant.
So we’d sit at the restaurant or stand in front of a cashier at a fast food place glaring at the menu trying to decide what to eat. It was a disaster because you had no idea how the food is prepared or the quantity or quality of the ingredients. Also, a study published in 2012 found that 96 percent of restaurant meals exceed USDA recommendations for fat, salt and overall calories.
So if you have no choice and you end up at a restaurant, you can at least make some educated decisions about what you order. Here is a chart from the The Department of Health and Community Services of Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to help you choose the right foods when looking at a menu.
Also, I’d always make sure to select baked, broiled, or grilled foods - anything fried wasn’t going in my body before a competition. I’d always order toppings and dressings on the side because you never want to have the amount of Mayo they actually put on your salad.
3. “Can I have the rest to go?”
One of the biggest issues with eating out at restaurants for me was the portion sizes. I have this obligation to always finish my meals so I found myself often in a food-coma for the hour or two following a large restaurant meal. Here is a fun fact, the average restaurant meal today is more than four times larger than in the 1950s and the surface area of the average dinner plate has increased 36% since 1960. So what I started doing is eating half the meal and then asking to take the rest to go. They’d wrap up the rest of my meal and I’d eat it in couple of hours. Surprisingly, this has made a big difference in the amount of weight I gained between tournaments. I also didn’t have a crash so that was good as well.
Unfortunately, midway through my training camp in Paris, I ended up catching a cold. I guess the stress, the lack of nutrients all added up to a weakened immune system. Realizing that I’m not getting the vitamins and nutrients I needed, I asked my nutritionist what is the best thing to take. She recommended a multivitamin and a probiotic.
The first one was a Centrum Junior Complete Multivitamin which had just the right amount of all the good stuff I needed. She said that usually the adult or the performance multivitamins are overly packed with vitamin C and other ingredients for those that are severely lacking in their diet. This multivitamin was great to supplement the lack of nutrients during my weight cuts, less than ideal meals and the increased stress from the tournament.
The second supplement that she recommended was the probiotics. Choosing the right probiotic is important and she recommended Probaclac - the golden bottle. I found it very helpful and did not get as sick as I did on my previous trip. Probiotics deliver more of the good bacteria to help with digestive health so your body is able to fight off any infections.
5. No kitchen, no problem
When you are abroad you rarely have access to a kitchen, making it very hard to eat healthy. However, having no kitchen shouldn’t be an excuse for not going to the grocery story. The grocery store is filled with healthy food some of which don’t need a kitchen to prepare. Here is a list of some of the things I buy at the grocery store when I don’t have access to a kitchen :
Pre-made oven roasted chicken
Fruits - bananas, oranges, apples
Bread and peanut-butter
Nuts and dried fruit
If I have a fridge :
Sliced up cheese
6. Research the country you are traveling to
I’ve always left this to the last moment but researching the place where you are traveling is super important. At first, figure out the if the tap water is safe to drink. If it is, then you can be a bit more liberal at the restaurants that you eat at. Most of the food at restaurants will be prepared with the tap water. If it isn’t safe to drink tap water, then try to avoid restaurants as much as you can. Also, if the tap water isn’t safe, make sure you wash your fruits with the bottle water and even use bottled water to brush your teeth.
The second thing to find out the national or seasonal food of the country while you are there. This will help you make the right decisions at the grocery store. For example, we discovered that in South America mango was quite popular during the time period that we were there. Not only was it delicious but it was healthy and cheap!
7. Hydration is key!
Drinking water is a habit I took from my fellow MAKEACHAMP co-founder, Michael Shpigelman. Since I started to do the same, I immediately noticed a dramatic difference in my mood. I realized that I was constantly dehydrated.
Beyond the fact that drinking water simply makes me feel better, it has the benefit of detoxification and controlling cravings and hunger.
Let’s start with detoxification. The more water you give your body the more it is able to detoxify and get rid of all the unnecessary byproducts in your blood. When you’re stressed from all the travel, increasing the intake of water will help your body detox.
Lastly, every time I had a craving for a sugary snack or felt hungry, I’d immediately grab some water. This has helped me control my cravings and hunger. This is a great habit to get into!
Those are the little things that I follow on my travels to get ahead of my competition. I am sure that you would agree that traveling for competition is great and you are very lucky if you get to do it. However, when the goal is to have the best performance possible, the road might not be very accommodating to your body’s needs. So, if you have any tips and tricks that have helped you stay healthy while traveling for competitions, please share them in the comments below.