Travel nutrition

Nutritional strategies are necessary to overcome many of the eating challenges you may be faced with when travelling both locally and internationally.

Achieving all your nutritional goals is possible provided you are organised, plan ahead, and leave very little to chance.

Jet lag and nutrition-related travel illnesses (such as diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting) are specific problems often more associated with international air travel. Strategies for minimising jet lag and preventing travel illness need to be put in place long before departure. Jet lag is the result of the rapid crossing of the time zones between countries causing fatigue, disturbance of the day/night cycle, sleep difficulties as well as mood and bowel disturbances, all of which can affect performance. Westbound travel tends to cause less jet lag than flying eastwards.

Before and during travel – eating and drinking in the air

Nutritional tips to prevent dehydration, digestive problems and to counter jet lag:

  • Ideally, work towards adopting destination sleep times, and if possible, even training times and meal times in the week before departure.
  • Pack portable carbohydrate-rich snacks (breakfast and dried fruit bars, fresh and dried fruit, whole-wheat crackers). These snacks are also rich in fibre and so will help if you suffer from constipation.
  • Drink regularly according to your own fluid schedule as planes are particularly dehydrating. Carry water bottles and sports drinks with you. Water, mineral water, juices and sports drinks are the best fluid choices. Tomato juice, with its higher salt content, is also a good choice.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine-containing fluids (tea, coffee and cola drinks) as they can exacerbate fluid losses.
  • Once on board the flight, set your watch to the destination time and adapt meal and snack times accordingly.
  • Avoid eating out of boredom on the flight.
  • Eat a high protein breakfast (e.g. eggs, cheese, mince) with caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea) and switch to caffeine-free carbohydrate-rich drinks and foods (e.g. fruit juices, fruit, rolls, crackers, pasta) in the afternoon and evening to help adjust sleep-wake cycles.
  • Exercise and move around as much as you can - walking, standing and stretching in your seat helps to reduce swelling of legs and feet. If your time of arrival is at night, you should avoid sleeping in the plane close to arrival time.

On arrival and after

  • If you arrive in the day time, rather than going to sleep, get outdoors for exposure to sunlight which helps to adjust your body clock.
  • On arrival, adopt a regular meal and snack pattern and sustain a higher fluid intake until well hydrated (i.e. until urine is clear, not dark).
  • Allow one full day of acclimatisation for every time zone crossed (eastward)
    • If you ever experience traveller’s diarrhoea (which can cause a major impairment of performance), consume a bland diet of dry toast, crackers, biscuits, bananas and avoid alcohol, dairy and fatty foods.
    • Only use bottled water and be aware of food hygiene standards.
    • It is very important that you keep to your diet whilst travelling. To avoid "menu fatigue" vary your food choices as much as possible.

Drug interventions: the use of any medication, drug or supplement to minimise fatigue and jet lag should only be on the advice of the team doctor. - (Shelly Meltzer and Associates, consultant dieticians to SARugby)

(Article used with permission from

- (Health24, updated December 2010)

Read more:

How sports teams beat jet lag
Diet tips when flying
Hit the road - safely

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