May 2021

What Pros Eat on the Road

By : Mark Hicks

With so much time in transit and out on the water, fishing pros have to find smart ways to eat well so they're sharp come tournament time. Mark Menendez and Kevin VanDam share their tips.

A major challenge for professional bass anglers is maintaining a healthy diet during a multi-day tournament. Given the long days on the water, it’s easy to develop unwholesome habits for the sake of convenience.

Veteran pros like Michigan’s Kevin VanDam and Kentucky’s Mark Menendez plan ahead to avoid the fast-food trap. They know that eating well is essential to sustaining the physical and mental stamina needed to perform at their best during a tournament.

Both anglers bring most of the food they intend to eat that week with them. “Going out to a restaurant wastes time that you need to prepare for the next day,” VanDam said. “You can eat twice as good for half the money by fixing your own meals.”

 

Home Away From Home

Menendez typically stays at motels when fishing a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. Only a room with a mini fridge will do. He fills it with fruit, salad vegetables, cooked chicken for salads, rotisserie chicken, sandwich meats, and other foods that must be refrigerated.

“I eat a lot of chicken salad dinners that I make myself,” Menendez said. Breakfast is usually Greek yogurt.”

At some tournaments, Menendez may have dinner at a restaurant once or twice, particularly when the event takes place in frigid conditions.

“Cold weather kicks my butt after a few days and saps my energy,” Menendez said. “That’s when I go to a restaurant and order a warm meal.”

VanDam rents a house near the tournament waters with Marty Robinson and two other MLF pros. With a full-size refrigerator, a stove and ample cupboard space for the food they bring, the crew can cook whatever they wish for the evening meal.

“We don’t get real extravagant,” VanDam said. “We typically bring chicken breasts, burger, pork tenderloins and a lot of venison. ”Common side dishes include steamed vegetables like broccoli and asparagus, macaroni and cheese and garlic bread.

“We do a lot of grilling on my little portable Traeger Ranger pellet grill,” VanDam said. “It fires up fast and cooks slowly. I can put pork tenderloins in it, work on tackle for 30 minutes and not worry about burning the meat.”

In the morning VanDam usually starts his day with coffee and a Cliff protein bar.

 

Boat Food

Protein bars are also a mainstay in VanDam’s boat. He also brings sandwiches he makes at the house--typically ham, turkey or homemade tuna salad. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich often serves as his second breakfast in the boat. His boat’s cooler is stuffed with water and zero calorie sports drinks.

“Lately I’ve been getting into flavored powders I can put in a water bottle,” VanDam said. Menendez also adds flavored powder to spice up his water. On hot days he will alternate water with sugar-free Gatorade. He never drinks a soda.

“I got off soda pop eight years ago and I’ve not had one since,” he said. “If I take in sugar I’m just a sloth.”

His boat food includes low fat sandwiches on quality bread, such as turkey on whole wheat, nuts, bananas and other fruit. “I don’t believe in the banana jinx,” Menendez said. “Bananas havea lot of potassium. That cuts down on cramping in my back and hands.”

 

Fuel Your Brain

“Most people don’t realize how mentally draining competitive bass fishing is,” VanDam said. “You’ve got to eat to fuel your brain or you’ll lose your mental capacity.”

The MLF events VanDam fishes have period breaks that make it easy to grab something to eat and drink. Because Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments do not have breaks, Menendez often eats or drinks when he’s running the outboard.

“I keep a gallon jug of mixed nuts behind the steering console where I can reach down and grab a handful,” Menendez said. “That curbs my appetite. If you’re thinking about being hungry you’re not concentrating 100 percent on fishing.”

At around 10:30 in the morning, Menendez will stop fishing if necessary to eat a sandwich and some fruit. He claimed that this is “an absolute must” to help him stay focused and make better decisions. He also keeps water bottles handy and drinks frequently. Staying hydrated is just as important as eating.

“My fiancé, Melissa Wilson, is an exercise instructor,” Menendez said. “She stays on me to keep hydrated and eat well.”

VanDam stressed that the waning hours of a tournament day are critical. If you don’t stay hydrated and feed your body during the day, you will be too drained to make the most of this time.

“The most important part of day is the last hour or two,” VanDamsaid. “By then you typically have the bass figured out. You need to be at your peak to make the most of what you’ve learned.”

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