You’re rushing out the door at 6 a.m. to make the travel tournament. You hit the fast food drive thru to grab a sausage biscuit or fried chicken biscuit and a soft drink. As soon as you finish that meal, you put yourself and your team at a disadvantage.

At the tournament, you get a break between games and grab a slice of pizza at the concession stand. You return to play and feel tired and sluggish. This is because your body is still working hard to digest the fat in the pizza.

How about after the tournament? You hit the drive thru again for a burger, fries, and soda, or you make poor food choices when eating out with the team. You just missed the perfect opportunity to give your body what it needs to help you recover from the tournament and be strong for the next practice.

If you play competitive sports, especially travel sports, you have to make good food decisions when eating out. Poor decision-making can result in sluggish play, lack of energy, stomachaches and more. So how can you make better decisions and fuel your body for peak performance and recovery?

Concession Stands and Convenience Stores

Concession Stand PhotoWe’ve grouped these together because ultimately, the quality of fare they offer is about the same. Concession stands are really designed to sell food that is appealing to spectators – not athletes seeking healthy food. 

It is rare to find a concession stand stocked with fruits, vegetables, and healthy carbs! So don’t count on it.  Rely on yourself to be prepared with a healthy array of snacks to give you the overall nutrition and energy you need.

Traveling for long periods of time to get to a game or tournament can cause hunger to build. And when you make a pit stop at a convenience store, it’s easy to grab junk food to tide you over until your next meal. Don’t give in to this temptation!

The solution for dealing with both concession stands and convenience stores is having the food you need with you. Whether you pack a cooler and/or an energy bag, you need to have healthy foods on hand to tide you over until your next meal. 

energy bagExamples include:

  • Fruits and fruit cups
  • Fruit juice
  • Smoothies
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese sticks (low-fat)
  • Lean meat or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Jerky
  • Nuts (roasted and honey roasted for variety)
  • Trail mix (recipe)
  • Whole grain pretzels
  • Soft pretzel (avoid fried)

Monitor “taste fatigue”.  If you always take the same five foods to every game or tournament, eventually you’ll get tired of them and give in to a convenient and probably less healthy option.

Don’t experiment with new foods when eating out before or during events. Even eating a new fruit can cause digestive issues if you’re not used to it.

Fast Food Chains

Trying to eat healthy at a fast food restaurant can be like walking through a minefield. We all find ourselves pressed for time or low on options, and fast food chains are where we end up eating. So how can you maneuver the minefield?  Start by knowing what to AVOID and what to CHOOSE.

Foods to avoid:Fast Food Photo

  • Sausage, ham, bacon
  • Fried chicken
  • Fried chicken sandwiches
  • Biscuit combos
  • Chips
  • Croissants
  • Doughnuts and pastries
  • Pizza
  • Burgers
  • French fries
  • Soft drinks

Foods to choose:

  • Grilled meat sandwiches
  • Salads (but alone, they are often not enough food for the energy you’ll need, so pair them with a healthy sandwich)
  • Salads with protein (E.g. grilled chicken) are more substantial but include crackers, bread, or fruit.Wendy's Salad Photo
  • A baked potato (easy on the sour cream and butter)
  • Grilled meats wrap with just a little sauce/dressing
  • A cup or bowl of chili with some crackers
  • Pancakes
  • Oatmeal
  • Fruit
  • Fruit juice, low-fat milk, or low-fat chocolate milk

Traditional Restaurants

Most standard restaurants offer better choices than fast food chains, and it’s not that hard to find the right kinds of meals. However, you can still end up making poor choices if you don’t know what you should be eating.  So here are some guidelines.

Foods to avoid:
Notice that all of the foods on the “avoid” list are high in fat. Fat digests slowly and zaps your energy.   

  • Sauces that are cheesy, creamy, or high in fats, such as Alfredo
  • Extra breads (you don’t need rolls AND a sandwich)
  • Burgers
  • Big steaks
  • Fried foods (chicken, fish, etc.)
  • Dessert

Grilled Chicken Vegetables PhotoFoods to choose:

  • Lean meats, like grilled chicken, turkey or lean steak
  • Good lean meats could be grilled chicken, turkey or lean steak
  • Healthy grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, pasta with a tomato-base or non-creamy sauce
  • Rolls/Breads (whole grain is best)
  • Salads with a moderate amount of dressing
  • Starch-vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas and beans
    These have more carbohydrates for energy to aid in recovery.
  • Colorful vegetables (in many restaurants, it’s common to find broccoli, spinach, and carrots)

This website can help you find healthy restaurants in cities all over the country:

The Exception

Everyone wants to indulge in the “off-limits” foods from time to time. Our guidelines are not meant to say that you can never enjoy a burger, pizza, or even fast food. 

Eating less healthy choices is not the end of the world but should be reserved for the occasional treat, like to celebrate the big win!  However, we recommend NEVER eating these types of foods before playing, as you will likely see a drop in performance.

With a little planning and by eating intentionally, you can be successful eating out while on the road for games and tournaments.

Tracy Owens

About Tracy Owens

Tracy Owens (MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN) is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She has worked in private practice, providing clinical and sports nutrition for over 20 years. Her two sons and two daughters have played AAU baseball, USSSA baseball, Legion baseball, Challenge, United, Premier, Elite and ECNL soccer at Capital Area Soccer League (CASL), USTA tennis, summer swim teams, and high school football, swimming, baseball and soccer. Two of her children played Division 1 soccer at North Carolina State University.

Change Your Nutrition and Change Your Game!