Travel Food Guide to Costa Rica for Athletes
This article serves as a preparation and expectation guide for athletes visiting Costa Rica.
Finding food that tastes good and can also meet an athlete's nutritional needs can be difficult for athletes who are traveling the world. This might seem overwhelming to someone visiting a foreign nation and culture. It might be challenging to find the foods that travelers from places other than South America are accustomed to. Knowing where to look and some of the local languages can sometimes help you find what you're looking for. This article is meant to serve as a resource for anyone who intends to compete in their chosen sport in Costa Rica and needs to make some independent nutritional decisions.
Research the area before you travel.
1. Research your travel destination. What cuisine is consumed in Costa Rica?
2. Is there a particular cuisine unique to the area you are visiting?
3. Consult with previous competitors or event organizers. Are there any good restaurants at the location or close by?
4. Does your lodging offer cooking amenities? Is there a nearby grocery store where I can buy supplies?
5. Is the water safe to drink and how "food-safe" are the restaurants?
Costa Rican cuisine
The food in Costa Rica might not be what you're used to. Most foods are either served spicy or with some kind of chili. The following are the main nutrient sources:
Carbohydrates: tortillas, rice, beans, corn, fruit
Protein: beans, chicken, eggs, beef, and fish
Fats: mixed meat grills, cheese, pastries, and desserts
The majority of towns have access to bread products, but they are typically very sweet and have a higher carbohydrate content than regular bread. Costa Rica is home to the Mussanni chain of bakeries. They support a local triathlete through sponsorship! Additionally, packaged corn chips are a typical snack food worldwide. For vegetarians, Costa Rica is home to the Vishnu chain of vegetarian restaurants.
Some Costa Rican food (called 'Comidas') and drinks:
Casado - the word means 'marriage', but if you order this off the menu you will usually be served a mix of beans, rice, meat, cabbage salad, and pasta. This can be a fairly well-balanced meal, although can be high in fats if the meat cut isn't of high quality.
Gallo Pinto - the word means ´painted roster, but as food, it is a mix of leftover rice and beans, and it is served with almost every meal.
Frutus Bebidas - mixed fruit drinks served with agua (water) or leche (milk) and comes in a variety of tropical fruit flavors or mix too. This can provide an excellent recovery option, providing a source of carbohydrates (and proteins for the milk version) as well as good hydration.
What if you don't enjoy the cuisine there?
1. Experiment and try local cuisine without fear but be mindful of timing in relation to rival restaurants.
2. In order to be safe before a competition, hotels might offer more "western" foods.
If you can't find anything to eat, at least eat some rice or bread for some carbohydrate energy.
3. Make sure you find a substitute, such as 1-2 glasses of Sustagen (or another meal replacement beverage) per day, if you are not eating the meat, chicken, fish, or eggs.
4. Many fast-food restaurants serve more recognizable "western food" because of American influence. Considering the amount of fat in these meals, make informed decisions.
5. Take some "extras" from home if you are a particular eater, without a doubt.
Self-cater when visiting a foreign country is typically less expensive. Although the majority of the accommodations you stay at won't have kitchens, self-catering is an option in Costa Rica. There are numerous supermarkets and mini-marts that carry a wide variety of foods. You might be able to read the labels because English is a common language, or at the very least, you might be able to ask someone. You must exercise extra caution when working with athletes who have food allergies or intolerances. Buying snacks to complement your meals is simple, especially with all of the fresh fruit that is readily available.
Food Safety in Costa Rica
The water from taps is not always safe to drink. To be safe you should drink bottled, boiled, or sterilized water only. Always check the seal.
Avoid ice, and foods washed in local water.
Avoid raw foods, unpeeled fruit, locally washed salads, and shellfish.
Be careful with the self-preparation of foods.
Avoid local markets and street food where the hygiene looks poor.
Avoid undercooked meat or unpasteurized milk products.
Look for well-cooked food that is steaming hot.
Avoid food from buffets that are not very hot or very chilled.
Take live cultures (acidophilus/bifidus) or cultured yogurt prior to leaving.
If you experience diarrhea, make sure you replace lost fluids and try to avoid further dehydration. Use Gastrolyte powder (or similar rehydration powder) to rehydrate mixed with water &/or a sports drink.
What might you need to bring from home?
Gels, supplements, medicines, sports drinks, favorite snack foods, and high-protein snack options if you want to stay away from the protein sources in this article.