Meals for Road Trips: Easy Ideas for Athletes
When preparing for a road trip, it can be helpful for athletes to have ideas for meals to enjoy while traveling. Let’s take a look at the nutrition needs of athletes. Then we will explore meal ideas to keep athletes fueled on the road.
Sports Nutrition Needs of Athletes
When planning healthy road trip meals, athletes should focus on choosing nutrient-dense, carbohydrate-rich foods as well as foods that provide a lean source of protein.
Carbohydrates for Athletes
Carbohydrates provide athletes with the energy needed to train and perform at their best. Athletes can get carbohydrates in their diets from the following food groups: grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, and dairy (milk and yogurt).
When possible, athletes should focus on choosing whole grains to enjoy with their meals. Whole grains contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them a nutritious addition to an athlete’s diet.
Protein for Athletes
Consuming protein is important for athletes, as it has many important roles in the body. Protein is important for helping athletes to build and repair lean muscle mass.
Athletes are encouraged to spread their protein intake throughout the day with meals and snacks to support their sports nutrition needs (1). It is important for athletes to consider ways they can add protein to their road trip meals.
Easy Meals for Road Trips
Now that you understand the components for building a healthy meal for athletes, let’s explore breakfast and lunch meal ideas that athletes can enjoy on road trips.
Road Trip Breakfast Ideas for Athletes
There are a variety of simple items athletes can take on a road trip to build a healthy breakfast. Prior to the trip, athletes should consider meal-prepping breakfast items that can be eaten on the road. This may include:
- Package individual servings of dry cereal or granola
- Prepare high-protein muffins (Kodiak Cakes® makes high-protein muffin mixes)
- Hard-boil eggs
- Prepare overnight oats
- Wash and chop fresh fruit
Healthy Road Trip Breakfast Ideas
Here are several ideas for healthy road trip breakfasts for athletes.
- Individual container of Greek yogurt, dry breakfast cereal or granola, berries
- Bagel, nut butter, banana
- Hard boiled eggs, fig bars, apple slices
- Breakfast bars, string cheese, orange
- High-protein muffins, grapes
- Cottage cheese with pineapple, granola bars
- Protein overnight oats
Easy Road Trip Lunch and Dinner Ideas
In addition to breakfast, athletes should be prepared with easy meals they can enjoy for lunch and dinner on a road trip.
Sandwiches: Easy Road Trip Meal for Athletes
When it comes to easy road trip lunch ideas, sandwiches top the list. Enjoying a sandwich on the road is an easy way for athletes to add carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy fats, and veggies to their meal.
In addition to whole wheat sandwich bread, athletes can make their sandwiches on bagels, sub rolls, or wraps. I have found that sometimes just changing the type of bread makes the sandwich a more appealing option.
For best quality, I suggest packing all the components for your sandwich separately and then preparing the sandwich when stopping for lunch. Athletes can then enjoy the leftover sandwich fixings as an easy meal in your hotel room during your trip.
If athletes pre-make their sandwiches to take with them on the trip, they should wait to add the condiments until they are ready to eat the sandwich. Adding the condiments, when initially making the sandwich, can cause the bread to get soggy.
Easy Sandwich Fillings to Pack for Road Trips
Here are a variety of ideas for healthy sandwich fillings to purchase for the road trip.
- Deli Meat: When selecting deli meat, choose leaner varieties, such as turkey, chicken, ham, or roast beef. Also, when possible, purchase deli meat that is sliced fresh for you at the store.
- Cheese: Low-fat sliced cheese is a great way to add protein and calcium to a sandwich or wrap.
- Individual Packets of Tuna and Salmon: Tuna and salmon both provide lean protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, making them a nutritious addition to sandwiches.
- Nut Butter: Nut butter is a great way to add protein as well as healthy, unsaturated fat to a road trip meal. Nut butter makes a great topping for sandwiches, spread for crackers, or dip to enjoy with apple slices on the road. Don’t forget to pack the jelly if the plan is to make PBJ sandwiches on the road.
- Individual Containers of Hummus: Hummus is a plant-based spread made with chickpeas. Hummus provides protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making it a nutritious topping on sandwiches and wraps.
- Vegetable Toppings: Pack a variety of fresh vegetable toppings to add to the sandwich, such as tomatoes, spinach, sliced cucumbers, and onion.
- Healthy Condiments: Don’t forget to pack favorite condiments, such as: mustard, Dijon mustard, olive oil-based dressings/mayonnaise, and individual containers of guacamole.
Mini-Meals to Enjoy on Road Trips
Another easy option on a road trip is to create mini-meals by combining items high in carbohydrates with a food containing protein. Athletes should also aim to add fruits and vegetables to their mini-meals for added vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Many of the items discussed above for breakfast and sandwiches are great options for mini-meals on the road. Here is a list of food items athletes can consider packing for their trip.
Whole Grain Food Items
- Pita chips, pretzels
- Whole grain cereal
- Snack crackers, graham crackers, animal crackers
- Whole grain bread, bagels, wraps, rolls
- Granola bars, breakfast bars, fig bars
Foods Containing Lean-Protein
- Individual containers of Greek yogurt and cottage cheese
- Sliced cheese, cheese sticks, string cheese
- Deli meat: Turkey, chicken, ham, roast beef
- Individual packets of tuna or salmon
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Beef or turkey jerky
- Nuts and nut butter
Fruit and Vegetables
- Fresh fruit, dried fruit, applesauce squeeze pouches, fruit cups (in natural juices)
- Baby carrots, sliced cucumber, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes
- Sugar snap peas, mini peppers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes
- Sliced cucumbers, celery sticks
- Raw broccoli and cauliflower
- Individual containers of guacamole and salsa
Drinks for the Road Trip
When planning meals for the road trip, it is important that athletes remember the importance of packing drinks as well. Dehydration can negatively impact an athlete’s health as well as sports performance.
There are a variety of healthy drinks at the gas station that athletes can purchase to help stay hydrated on their trip. Options such as bottled water, low-fat milk, 100% fruit juice, sports drinks, and sparkling water are all great choices.
I find it helpful to pack individual packets of sports drink mixes to take on road trips. The mix can be easily added to a bottle of water and enjoyed on the road or the athlete can enjoy it during their sporting event.
Road Trip Meals: Food Safety
When packing food to take on a road trip, it is important for athletes to keep food safety in mind. A critical aspect of food safety is holding food at the correct temperature. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F, as the “Danger Zone” in which bacteria can rapidly grow.
Perishable foods should not be left in the temperature danger zone for more than 2 hours. This time frame decreases to 1 hour if the temperature exceeds 90 °F, such as in a hot, parked car. Consuming food that has been left in the temperature danger zone, over the recommended time limits, increases one’s risk of getting a foodborne illness.
Food Safety: Foods to Hold Cold
Perishable food items that need to be held cold (below 40°F) include:
- Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese (including overnight oats made with dairy items)
- Produce that has been cut or sliced (i.e., sliced melon)
- Meat, poultry, seafood, deli meat, hard-boiled eggs
- Mayonnaise or products containing mayonnaise (tuna, chicken, or egg salad)
- Cooked leftover food items (including leftover food from restaurants)
If food is left out over the two-hour limit, athletes should throw it away. They do not want to risk getting a foodborne illness on the trip.
Meals for Road Trips: Best Fast-Food Choices for Athletes
Finally, athletes should be prepared when traveling with ideas for making healthy choices at fast-food restaurants. Example meals athletes can enjoy at fast-food restaurants to help them meet their sports nutrition needs include:
- Whataburger (or similar burger restaurant): Single patty burger (topped with extra lettuce, tomato, and onion), apple slices.
- Chick-fil-A: Grilled chicken sandwich on a bun, Greek yogurt parfait, side salad.
- Jersey Mike’s, Jason’s Deli, or Panera Bread (sandwich shop): Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, baked chips, chicken noodle soup, fruit cup.
- Taco Cabana (Mexican food): Chicken or steak fajitas, Spanish rice, black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, sliced avocado, and salsa.
- Chipotle: Build a high-protein bowl with chicken or steak, cilantro lime brown rice, black beans, lettuce, fajita veggies, roasted chili-corn salsa, and guacamole.
- Mod-Pizza: Pizza with Canadian bacon or chicken and vegetable toppings, side salad.
Meals for Road Trips: Ideas for Athletes
You are now set with a variety of ideas for meals athletes can enjoy on their next road trip. Athletes should remember to plan ahead to ensure they have the right foods and drinks available to support their sports nutrition needs throughout the trip.
For additional sports nutrition tips for travel, check out my blog: 10 Healthy Gas Station Snacks for Athletes.
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About the Author
Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.