Traveling for Sports With Food Allergies
Traveling for sports with severe food allergies is a challenge. Planning in advance increases the chances that safe food will be available.
Guest post by Teen Advisory Group member Matthew Doucette
Traveling for sports with severe food allergies is a challenge. Since the age of 13, I have played for soccer teams that travel nationally, and I have attended several camps at universities across the country. It is crucial that I communicate with college coaches, dining hall staff, and my own coach/manager about my allergies to milk and eggs before each trip. Planning in advance increases the chances that safe food will be available; however, sometimes last minute decisions are made about where the team will eat and if I am not careful, mistakes can happen resulting in an anaphylactic reaction. Traveling with all my medications such as two to four EpiPens, Benadryl, and my ProAir for asthma symptoms is of utmost importance. Preparation is key to a successful trip.
I recently had two soccer games in Round Rock near Austin, Texas—one on Saturday, one on Sunday. The manager informed me Saturday morning that he was ordering Olive Garden to our hotel for dinner after our 6:00 pm game. He asked if I would be able to eat Olive Garden or whether I would need to get my own food. I have eaten safely at Olive Garden before; however, all I could have was egg-free noodles and tomato sauce since most of the food contains either cheese or butter. As an athlete, I know the importance of protein in my diet, so I informed my manager that it would be best if I ordered food separately with my father. After the game—which we tied 2-2—my father and I went to Texas Roadhouse which is luckily safe for me since I am not allergic to peanuts (found all over the floor). I informed the waiter of my dairy and egg allergies and ordered a steak. I asked the waiter what comes on the steak and he said butter and seasoning. I informed him I could not have the butter and asked if he would mind asking the chef if the seasoning is safe. He returned and said it was safe. Not only was the meal safe, but it was also delicious. The next morning, I had a Kind bar that I brought from home before my 10:00 am game. After the game, I stopped at Panda Express and ordered chow mein with teriyaki chicken. This experience was an example of how planning in advance and being safe can prevent an allergic reaction. However, despite planning, I have sometimes experienced problems.
One time I traveled across the country for a college soccer recruiting camp. I had contacted the head coach a few weeks in advance to discuss the plans for meals for the weekend. He introduced me to the head chef, with whom I exchanged emails regarding my allergies. I was to meet with the chef when I arrived on campus. I discussed with him the meals and where I would be for each meal since I would be in different locations across the campus depending on the day and time. The first lunch was successful. I had beef, sweet potatoes, and rice and was able to return to training immediately after the meal. Despite having discussed with the chef that I would be eating at another dorm that evening, I arrived at the dorm and my special meal was not there. Often having food allergies means you need to be flexible and problem-solve when this occurs. I was able to contact my parents staying nearby who were able to order a safe meal for me. If I was alone, I would most likely order safe food for delivery unless a safe restaurant was within walking distance.
With planning ahead and a little flexibility, traveling for sports with severe food allergies is not only possible but can also be a wonderful experience.