Thursday, February 24, 2011

Travel Health Basics: Carbohydrates

A new post from April Davis,' our resident dietitian, in her series on basic travel nutrition.

Most people have heard the term “carb-loading” in relationship to endurance sports. In fact, traveling can be a rather athletic activity. Many novice travelers are not expecting or used to the and constant motion that traveling often entails, especially the day-long site tours and hikes. A proper diet with the correct portion of carbohydrates will provide the energy needed to sustain your student throughout his/her daily adventures while traveling abroad.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. The body converts carbohydrates into a simple sugar called glucose. They provide the main source of fuel for all physical activity, along with being the sole source of fuel for the brain. Adequate intake of carbs is crucial for recovery from long-term physical exertion and maintaining the correct amount of carbohydrate stores, known as glycogen, in the body.

Where can I find carbs?

There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbs are made up of only one or two sugar molecules, whereas complex carbs are composed of two or more linked simple sugars. The complex carbs found in foods are starches and fiber. It is important for your student to include complex carbs in his/her daily diet because they help keep the digestive system healthy, lower cholesterol levels, and aid in controlling blood sugar. During travel, it is extremely beneficial to maintain a healthy gut and stabilize blood sugar levels. A high-fiber diet will also help your student feel fuller for longer, which is important with an energetic travel itinerary.

Most of the foods found in the grains section of the USDA pyramid are excellent sources of complex carbs, fiber, and B vitamins. The key is to choose whole grain products that are more nutrient-dense to sustain energy longer than simple, or refined, carbs. In addition to whole grains, fruits and vegetables are ideal for traveling because they contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products provide a convenient mix of carbohydrates, fiber, and protein – a perfect combination for active travel days.

Healthy Complex Carbohydrate Snacks for Travel
  • Popcorn with chocolate soy milk
  • Yogurt topped with fruit and nuts
  • Whole wheat crackers with string cheese
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Banana, celery sticks, and peanut butter
  • Hummus and veggies
How much carbohydrates should be consumed daily?

Your student should be getting about 45-65% of his/her daily intake in the form of carbohydrates. In the days leading up to travel, encourage your student to trend toward the upper end of this range by consuming slightly more complex carbs than normal. On days that are particularly active, your student should “graze” on nutritional snacks (I highly recommend the granola bar recipe above!) that are rich in carbohydrates. Most importantly, your student should remember to replenish his/her energy stores by eating extra complex carbs after a markedly physical day. A good rule of thumb is to eat about 0.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight after prolonged strenuous activity.

Remember, a proper intake of complex carbohydrates will ensure your student has enough physical and mental energy to meet the demands of his/her dynamic travel experience!

For more information of carbohydrates and fiber, please visit

By April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

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