Malaysian Travel Food Guide for Athletes
This is a guide for athletes traveling to Malaysia, what to expect and how to be prepared.
For athletes traveling around the world, there are challenges not only finding food that you like, but finding healthy food that can meet your requirements as an athlete. For someone traveling to a new country and culture, this may seem overwhelming. Sometimes it is just knowing where to look. This article is to help guide someone who is planning to travel to Malaysia in their chosen sport.
General Malaysian Food Guide
It is not easy to clearly define Malaysian food, as it is made up of three distinct cuisines; Chinese, Indian and Malay or traditional Nonya style. Restaurants catering to each of these styles can easily be found. It is generally spicy food, but you can often ask for a less spicy version. There is also plenty of western food available in most big hotels and in tourist areas.
There is a broad range of eating places from fancy restaurants to street side stalls, with everything in between. Many of the old style hawkers have been encouraged by local authorities to join together and form a food market place, and there are many of these. This creates a venue with a vast array of choices for the consumer, allowing a great, clean atmosphere for the diner, and a busier establishment for the multiple vendors. The street side stalls that can provide a plate of noodles for just 3 RM / $1AU (2010 prices) are often the tastiest! The down side of these venues is the hygiene aspect, and with meat sitting out on plates all day in the hot humid conditions, it can be questionable. It is advisable to use your own judgement and stick to hygienic looking places for all meals prior to competition, and reserve the more local, potentially less safe, but occasionally more interesting establishments for post-competition eating.
Self catering is relatively easy to do in Malaysia. There are lots of mini-marts and supermarkets which are cheaper, and stock a large range of foods. It is not always cheaper to self-cater, but for planning purposes it can be better for you as you will know what you are getting. For athletes with food allergies or intolerances this is always the best option. Most accommodation will not have facilities to enable you to cook your own meals.
Restaurant meals range in price from 3RM up to 30RM ($1AU - $10AU) depending on the meal (prices from 2010). They usually have a selection of small, medium and large sized meals to choose from, which might be 3, 4 and 5RM for some stir fried noodles. A meat based meal like chilli crab would of course be at the higher end of the scale. Also the décor of the restaurant would influence the price. A buffet meal at our fancy hotel was 45RM per person. You could eat a lot, but it wasn't better in quality than other establishments we tried. Buffets of course provide a good selection of choice so you can best balance your intake and meet nutritional requirements, however beware of overeating at these types of places. Fast food and western places cost similar to at home. If buying food from a supermarket and self-catering, it may be cheaper.
Malaysian Food Guide For Athletes
As in most Asian countries the staples are rice and noodles. Rice is either steamed to be served with stir-fried meat/vegetable dishes, or fried itself in a mixed dish, nasi goreng. Noodles come either wet or dry, which is literal meaning in a soup or stir fried. Carbohydrates is the basis of this diet, so there should be no problems getting enough.
There is usually a small amount of meat included, and its generally not of the greatest quality. Eggs are a valuable source of protein included in many dishes, they come either boiled or stir-fried into a dish. Nuts are occasionally added to meals, but dairy is not something that is common. Due to the weather conditions, milk, yogurt and cheese are not always readily available. You can buy these items at supermarket and mini marts for snacks and drinks, but they are not incorporated into meals a lot. Indian dishes are the most likely to contain paneer, which is a soft white cheese.
High fat eating is easy to do here, so beware. Indian food is probably the main culprit; many curries are oil based; breads are fried in butter; many sweets are deep fried. Chinese and Malay food are also littered with high fat options from deep fried spring rolls, coconut cream based soups (laksa), and oily stir fries. Avoiding deep fried foods is the number one rule. To help reduce the amount of fat intake, choose steamed rice with a meat/veggie stir fry, steamed buns with a variety of fillings are a good option. Choose the least oily breads, like Chapati? (tandoor oven cooked one?), instead of Roti. Include plenty of fresh fruits and order side dishes of vegetables to go with a meal to reduce the amount of fatty meat options that you may order. Choose fish, stingray or other seafood dishes rather than chicken or beef, which tend to be very fatty.
Fruit & Vegetables
There are so many amazing fruits available in Malaysia. Starting with the tropical fruits of dragon fruit, star fruit, durian, jackfruit, water melon (yellow and pink), lychees, rambutans, longans, which are all great in their own sweet way. Unfortunately you have to order vegetables separately to your meal, because most mixed dishes, e.g. fried rice or fried noodles do not contain many veggies. There seems to be a limit in variety as well. Always Asian style greens (bok choy, choy sum, or similar) but not much other variety. Supermarkets stock all the usual stuff, plus some more unusual items (for westerners anyway), so if you are self catering it is easy to get hold of these items.
Dairy products are not too common in Malaysia.
- Milk - milk in the supermarket is labeled fresh milk but is actually UHT long life milk. It is hard to find low-fat milk, most of the milk stocked in shops is full-fat. Milo is available in a can (and a tetra box) and is quite popular, because fresh milk is so hard to come by. This would provide as a good option for athletes to fulfil dairy needs, especially if you are traveling for long periods. They don't need to be refrigerated.
- Yogurt – yogurt is available in supermarkets, but is usually only in full-fat varieties. Flavours are fairly unique, tropical fruit, orange, plus the standard strawberry.
- Cheese – cheese is also not a common item in Malaysian cuisine, although you can buy it in the shops. It tends to be the processed cheese varieties that are available, and again not many low-fat options.
Malaysia has a typical hot and humid climate, meaning hydration will be a challenge for anyone traveling there (even if you're not competing). Hydration for most athletes will become a real focus and is very important to maintain good hydration practices. Even when simply standing around and walking at a low pace, sweat rate will be high. Many venues are air-conditioned, but not to a chilling degree, but planning to stay indoors with air-con will help to keep you cool and reduce possible sweat rate. See more information on hydration
There was a fair selection of drinks available. Fresh squeezed juices are popular, to which they always add a sugar syrup, unless requested not to. Juices are always great as they have such a variety of delicious tropical fruits; melons, mango, papaya, dragon fruit, orange, lychee, star fruit, apple, as well as coconut juice from the shell and sugar cane juice – which is a real carbohydrate boost. Even carrot was fairly popular in use. Many fruit juices come in cans as well!
Soft drinks are also readily available, and often in unusual flavours. An important one for athletes is 100Plus, more like a carbonated sports drink which is sweet and contains electrolytes (the amount was not written on the can) and heavily promoted for rehydration due to the hot nature of Malaysia. I didn't see any other sports drinks available, there may be however it is wise to take your own supply if you can.
Malaysia is certainly not a developing nation, though there are still some aspects that are unclean, unhygienic, and you need to be careful when eating. Always wash hands before meals, occasionally there are hand basins with a tap and soap, but not always a clean way to dry, otherwise use waterless hand wash to ensure germ free hands. Be sure to choose freshly cooked food, and avoid bain maries or eateries with food sitting out in the heat of the day.
Ice in drinks is ok. We drank plenty and never got sick. The water is quite clean and safe to drink, however it just doesn't taste great, so stick to bottled water consumption. See more on food safety while traveling.
Many staff at establishments including the big hotels will speak English, but some places won't. Menus may not always be easy to decipher either, so you may need to ask wait staff for descriptions of what is in dishes. Here are some basic items you should know:
- Nasi = rice
- Goreng = fried
- Mee = noodles
- Ayam = chicken
Things they may need to bring from home?
Gels, supplements, a drink bottle, medications
- Sports Nutrition for the Traveling Athlete
- Travel Nutrition Guidelines for Athletes
- list of tips for travel – mostly for on the plane
- Food Safety — When traveling, foods and water can be a source of contamination and have the potential to make you sick.
- Guide to watching what you eat while traveling.
- If you are traveling to a hot climate, hydration also becomes a very important issue.
- Fitness and Traveling
- Tips For Healthy Restaurant Eating — while traveling you may need to eat at restaurants.
- For information about foods available around the world, read Clare Wood's travel food blog.
- About Sport in Malaysia