Foods to Fuel when on the Move

Jennifer DeWall RDN, CSSD, LD works with ICYF to provide expert advice on sports nutrition and healthy eating to the student and families of Indianola. A registered dietitian/nutritionist, Jennifer owns a private practice that focuses on helping athletes stay on the cutting edge with superior nutrition.

Late-night events and weekend tournaments are no longer considered special circumstances; they are the norm. It is especially critical to fuel your body appropriately during tournament play since you are usually competing several times a day without optimal recovery time. Having the right food and fluids readily accessible to athletes can make the difference between a championship and an early exit. With the support of food manufacturers and healthy options at many fast food and chain restaurants, it is possible to eat healthy when on the road.

Tips for Food & Fluid when on the Move

Stocking the beverage cooler*

  •  bottled water
  •  sports drinks
  •  100% juice or V-8 Fusion
  •  low-fat chocolate milk

Stocking the food cooler*

  • lunch meat sandwiches or wraps
  • peanut butter sandwiches or wraps
  • string cheese, cheese cubes or pre-sliced cheese blocks.
  • low-fat yogurt or greek yogurt tubes
  • low-fat pudding or regular Jell-O cups (not sugar-free)
  • frozen fruit bars
  • individual cups sherbet
  • hardboiled eggs
  • a batch of pre-made waffles or pancakes
  • 1 cup Honey Nut Cheerios mixed with dried fruit and 1⁄4 cup honey roasted soy nuts*

Stocking dry-foods cooler*

  • sports bars & nutrition bars
  • pretzels
  • fresh fruit, dried fruit, fruit cup
  • bagels
  • peanut butter or almond butter
  • hummus
  • whole-grain crackers
  • Erin Baker’s Wholesome Breakfast Cookie
  • air-popped popcorn or light microwave popcorn mixed with dried fruit & peanuts
  • baked potato chips or corn chips
  • rice cakes
  • Fig Newton cookies, low-fat animal cookies
  • graham crackers
  • dried fruit strips
  • reduced-fat Nabisco Wheat Thins or Triscuits

* To prevent food-borne illnesses always maintain a cooler temperature of below 40 degrees.

Convenience Stores & Vending
Sometimes we fail to plan and have very limited choices on how we can fuel our bodies. These situations are certainly not ideal. However, eating something is often better than nothing. To promote stomach emptying and optimal fuel utilization, select foods that are familiar, carbohydrate-rich, and low in fat.

In a pinch list

  • Bottled water or cup of ice water
  • Fountain cup with extra ice
  • 100% fruit juices
  • V-8 Fusion????
  • Sports drink
  • Low-fat chocolate milk
  • Fruit (if available)
  • Packaged turkey sandwich on wheat bread
  • Lemonade (over soda)
  • Packaged peanut butter crackers
  •  dry cereal with low-fat milk
  • Box of crackers (Wheat Thins???? or Triscuits????)
  • Baked chips or pretzels
  • String cheese
  • Kellogg’s ???? Rice Krispie Treat
  • Peanut butter sandwich. Purchase a loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter
  • Granola bars (Nature Valley????, Clif????, PowerBar???? Harvest Energy)
  • Snackwells???? Cookies

Note: some of these foods are not ideal but pose a better choice than other high-fat convenience foods. The best weapon for proper fueling is to plan ahead.

How much should I eat?
Now that you have your cooler stocked with superior foods for fueling, it’s important to know how much you need for peak performance. This answer is really based on the intensity of the sport and your individual physiology. A sports nutritionist can develop a specified plan for you. However, some general tips include:

  • Eat a variety of the familiar foods offered.
  • Skip an unfamiliar food you have never tried to avoid the possibility of stomach upset.
  • Eat enough to feel satisfied but not overly full.
  • Eat slowly. Eating too fast does not allow your body to properly respond to the food eaten. It takes about 20 minutes from the time you begin eating before you will even start to notice whether you are getting full.
  • Take sips of liquid while you eat. Hydration is equally important.
  • If you have a touchy stomach and food doesn’t appeal to you, sip sports drinks to assist in muscle glycogen synthesis.
  • The closer you are to your next event, the less you should eat to avoid stomach upset. If competition ends and another begins within an hour, you may need to continue to fuel during your next activity.


  • Order two hamburgers instead of one super sandwich (ie Big Mac???? ) to increase carbohydrate and decrease fat and calories.
  • Skip the fries and enjoy something healthier. Instead order apple slices with a smoothie, yogurt parfait or extra hamburger.
  • Always request a cup of ice water or purchase bottled water.
  • For breakfast order the hotcakes (easy on butter) or the Egg McMuffin???? sandwich. Have your own fruit handy or order a Fruit N’Yogurt Parfait or fruit smoothie.
  • If you get dessert, order the Fruit N’ Yogurt Parfait, vanilla ice cream cone, McCafe Cherry Berry Chiller or McCafe Frozen strawberry lemonade.
  • Good beverage choices include water, low-fat milk, low-fat chocolate milk, 100% juice, smoothies.
  • Omit “special sauces” creamy salad dressings and mayonnaise. Opt for ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, vinaigrette, low-fat mayonnaise
  • Grilled instead of fried is always the better choice

Taco Bell ????

  • Softshell taco instead of hard shell
  • Chicken tacos instead of beef
  • Rice is a better side than refried beans since restaurants often add lard.
  • Fajitas are often a better choice than a burrito, chimichangas, or enchilada.
  • Ask for extra salsa. Salsa is an ideal sauce for any Mexican dish.


  • Classic Roast Beef Sandwich at Arby’s???? is your best sandwich option. Order with apple slices and chocolate or white milk.


  • High-fat meats to omit on your sub sandwiches include; pepperoni, Italian sausage, Philly style steak, bacon, meatballs, salami, tuna, or crab in mayonnaise. Good choices: turkey, roast beef, ham, and chicken breast.
  • Order baked chips or pretzels instead of regular potato chips.


  • Select broth-based soups instead of creamy. Ask to substitute sourdough bread if your sandwich comes with asiago to decrease fat intake.
  • Ask for two sides (apple + French roll) instead of dessert.
  • Bagels with light cream cheese are a good carbohydrate-rich choice.
  • Limit breakfast sandwiches with bacon, sausage, and cheese. Choose breakfast sandwiches with eggs, ham, and vegetables instead.
  • Quiche dishes are typically low in carbohydrates and loaded with fat so not a good option for an athlete.
  • Oatmeal with fruit is a good option at any time of day.
  • Order white milk, chocolate milk, or a fruit smoothie instead of soda or designer coffee drinks.


  • Select classics that are not breaded. Chargrilled chicken sandwich, chargrilled chicken club sandwich, or grilled chicken nuggets are better choices.
  • For sides choose fruit cup, chicken soup, or cinnamon applesauce.
  • If you decide to get dessert, the mini-sundae is your best choice.

Basic Tips for Sit-Down Dining

  • Make sure that your water glass is staying full.
  • When fuel needs are high, order a basket of plain bread to share.
  • Choose meals that focus on carbohydrate choices such as rice or pasta with the exception of rich lasagnas or risottos. Opt for sauces without cream, such as a marinara sauce. Get whole grain pasta, if available.
  • If your main course is steak, fish, or poultry, order a baked potato or sweet potato for a side combined with a vegetable and salad. Ask for vinaigrette or balsamic-based dressings on the side.
  • Select steamed rice instead of fried rice. Order dishes from the menu made with vegetables and chicken that have not been fried.
  • Select pizza with ham and vegetables. Ask for less cheese. Although your carbohydrate needs are higher, still ask for thin crust since hand-tossed crust and thick crust contain excess saturated fat.

Most restaurants now have nutrition facts online or free apps. Visit the restaurant’s website BEFORE you order to discover additional healthy options.

References Healthy Dining Finder The healthiest choices, fast food to fine dining. App available.