This is a guide for athletes traveling to Sri Lanka, 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, it may seem overwhelming. Sometimes it is just knowing where to look. This article is to help guide someone who is planning to travel to Sri Lanka in their chosen sport.
General Sri Lankan Food Guide
Sri Lankan food has many similarities to Indian food, being such a close neighbor, as well as many differences. Sri Lanka was part of the spice trade, and consequently the cuisine has many different combinations of aromatics and spices. The most common dishes would include curries served with rice and flat breads. It is a hot country, but still they love their hot spicy food. Sri Lanka is not all about curries though, they offer a range of interesting options, one of which is Kottu, made from chopped up roti bread, stir fried on a flat grill with meat, vegetables and egg, a delicious surprise meal that is well balanced and healthy.
There is an array of eating places from fancy restaurants to street side stalls, with everything in between. Many of the tourist hubs do cater to the more western palate, with some less-spicy options. It is advisable to stick to hygienic looking places for all meals before competition, and reserve the more local, potentially less safe, but occasionally more interesting establishments for post-competition eating.
Self-catering is often the best option for traveling athletes. You will find many major supermarket outlets to purchase the food supplies you will need. There will be more options in the larger cities, but you will find smaller local 'mini-marts' in the smaller towns. It would be beneficial to Google search prior to departure to find some that are close to your accommodation, and if you don't like spicy food, self-catering would be the best option.
Restaurant meals in Sri Lanka are fairly inexpensive depending on the type of meal you are buying. Some of the local establishments are fairly cheap; however, you will need to determine the cleanliness of the place before choosing. As the more local eateries can have a poor level of hygiene. There is a broad range all the way up to the more upmarket/tourist places which will be pricier, but will have a higher level of hygiene.
Where to Find Major Nutrients
Carbohydrates are the basis of this cuisine, with rice and flat breads being the staples, so there should be no problems getting enough. Rice is rather more versatile here than in other Asian countries, being mostly steamed and served with curry dishes, or it is also made into flour to make string hoppers which are like noodles, and thin pancakes called hoppers. Roti is also a very commonly eaten staple for breakfast lunch and dinner, or anytime really. They are filled with a range of different ingredients, and often pan fried or cooked on a flat BBQ plate, delicious as a meal or snack.
The plentiful fruit selection, especially the tropical varieties, will add to your carbohydrate choices, if rice and bread are not your fancy!
There is usually a small amount of meat included in meals in Sri Lanka, and it can often not be 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. Lentils are also very common with daal served commonly with meals. There was a special new year sweet pastry filled with ground split pea. In regards to dairy foods, they are not overly common. Buffalo milk is made into a curd that is used extensively here, eaten with breakfast, curries, and blended with banana or mango to make a delicious lassie. This can be a great protein source, and doubles as a hydration option too! You can always find plenty of coconut milk which is always used in curries, plus condensed milk which is used in desserts and for coffee.
Oil is used a lot in cooking especially with some of the curries; also coconut cream is commonly used in the saucier curries. 'Short eats' are common snacks found on the streets which are mostly deep-fried batters. Beware of these mostly for the fat content, but also due to the higher risk of food poisoning as they sit for long periods in the hot sun. Avoiding deep-fried foods is the number one rule to help reduce fat intake. Thankfully curry dishes get served with steamed rice which keeps the fat content lower. Include plenty of fresh fruits and order side dishes of vegetables to go with a meal to reduce the number of fatty meat options. Choose fish, or other seafood dishes too.
Fruit & Vegetables
The fruit available in Sri Lanka is nothing short of impressive. In this tropical environment there are so many beautiful juicy tropical fruits grown. Particularly sweet and juicy pineapple, watermelon, papaya and mango grow prolifically here and are plentiful. The locals not only eat ripe mangoes, they also eat them green with chili powder, which is surprisingly tasty but very hot. An unusual fruit we came across was the katu anoda, also known as soursop or custard apple, with quite an interesting texture. Many curry meals do have a variety of vegetable-only curries, such as okra, unripe banana, eggplant, onion, lentils/daal, jackfruit, and even beetroot. 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 most items you need, but you need to be flexible.
Dairy is not too common in Sri Lanka, with most milk available being UHT long life, or powder form. These forms can be convenient when traveling around without access to a fridge, even if you're not used to the taste. Milo is available in a can or a tetra box and is readily available and popular, and can be used as a good recovery option. Yoghurt is used a lot as an accompaniment with curry, and for making their famous lassies. Cheese is most commonly found as highly processed long shelf life varieties, which have a lower protein content than regular cheese.
Sri Lanka has a very hot climate, with a distinct wet season increasing humidity and creating hydration challenges for travelers to this region. The further north you travel, the cooler the climate in the dry season. Hydration for most athletes will become a real focus 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.
With such a hot climate, it is easy to access drinks, although they are not always well cooled. Freshly squeezed juices are popular, fresh coconuts are always hydrating with the carbohydrate and electrolyte content.
Sports drinks are becoming more readily available in Sri Lanka, and you can access a few different brands, with some interesting flavors. Some local alternatives to the big brands include, Yeti Isotonic, SL Sport and SMAK. Also available is the broader Asian favorite 100Plus.
Sri Lanka is a developing nation, and there are many aspects that are unclean, unhygienic, and you need to be careful when eating. Good practices for safe hygiene in Sri Lanka include:
- Always wash hands before meals, there is always a hand basin with soap at restaurants,
- Otherwise use waterless hand wash to ensure germ free hands
- Be sure to choose freshly cooked food that is served hot, and avoid bain maries or eateries with food sitting out in the heat of the day.
- Avoid unpeeled fruits, locally washed salads, and undercooked foods
- Only eat seafood if you are near the coast, and you are sure it is fresh
- Avoid street stalls and local markets where hygiene looks poor
- Do not drink the local tap water; only drink bottled or sterilized water.
- Avoid ice in drinks
See more on food safety while traveling
Things they may need to bring from home?
Gels, supplements, medications, favorite snacks
- 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.
- 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 Sri Lanka