Travelers commonly complain that they can’t eat right. Many share tales of gaining weight on a trip. The good news is that with a little planning and common sense, you can eat right and maintain the good habits you follow at home. Below are healthy eating tips that we use in our travels. We hope they will help you too.
Plan ahead. Before heading to the airport, eat a sensible meal to avoid fast food while waiting for our flight. When thinking of where to eat dinner, go online and look at the restaurant’s menu. (Even better: Check the restaurant’s website to see if they publish a nutritional menu, like this example from Subway restaurants, or an extensive .pdf menu from the Daily Grill restaurants on the U.S. west coast.) If a nutritional menu is not available, talk to your waiter about your dietary needs. That’s especially true if you suffer from food allergies, IBS, Celiac Disease, gluten or lactose intolerance, or other condition. Be assertive. If your server doesn’t have an answer, ask him or her to talk to the chef.
At chain restaurants, it’s easy to get enticed by a sexy sounding entrée and forget about the downsides of sugar, saturated fat, sodium, and calories. Exercise self-control by using a diet and nutrition app to review entrées on the menu before going out. Apps like LoseIt!, My Fitness Pal, or MyNetDiary can help you determine if that tempting burrito is full of calories and fat. Keeping score can help you make smarter choices.
Eat dinner early. Try to avoid eating dinner late while you’re on the road, especially after 8 p.m. Target having dinner by 7 p.m., if possible. The later you eat dinner, the tougher it can be on your body. If nothing else, take a good post-dinner walk to help your digestion before you call it a night.
Stay hydrated. Many hotel rooms are dry as a desert. Keeping a bottle of drinking water at your bedside is a smart idea with an added benefit: water significantly reduces jet lag. And best of all, water contains zero calories. Pro Tip: Skip sports hydration drinks and soft drinks. Both contain a shockingly high amount of sugar.
Slow down. How can you control temptations and not overeat on the road? The answer: eat slowly and take a 5-10 minute mid-meal break to let your stomach catch up. Also, drink a glass of water before your meal. These two tips can protect you from stuffing yourself and gaining weight as you travel.
Protein is your friend. Stay alert by starting your day with a healthy dose of protein in your breakfast. Greek yogurt, poached eggs, and egg white omelets are great breakfast protein sources, and will help you avoid nodding off later in the morning. Whole grain bread and cereals or a protein/fruit shake are a good way to carry your energy through the morning too. Minimize sugar, carbs, and starches (including bread) for the rest of the day. Focus on fiber and protein-rich foods and snacks instead. You’ll feel full, stay alert and energized later in the day.
Shake it, baby. Squeezing in a square meal is sometimes tough on the road. Knowing this, we pack a travel shaker bottle along with bags of protein powder, cinnamon, chia seeds, and even toss in some espresso powder like Medaglia D’Oro to keep us energized anywhere we go.
Powdered peanut butter brands like PB2 can be added to a protein shake, or mixed with water to make a tasty spread or dip on the road and in-flight. Compared to regular peanut butter, two tablespoons of PB2 have just 53 calories and a mere 1.8 grams of fat. And it’s easy to carry in a Ziploc bag. Mix it in a shake with a sliced banana for a healthy snack.
Limit portion sizes. Whether you’re traveling on a vacation or for business, eat smart. Limit yourself to meal portions you would eat at home, and balance your guilty pleasures with wise choices. While on the road, allow yourself one or two “cheat” meals, while limiting your other breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to plates of lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
Opt for healthy food choices. When eating out on the road, request steamed or fresh vegetables. Your restaurant should be able to accommodate that. Grilled fish and meats are healthier than fried foods. Cut back on starches like bread, potatoes, and rice, and avoid French fries. Skip sugary soda, and don’t supersize any beverage except water.
Instead of going out for steak, or French or Italian food every meal, we like to find a local Whole Foods Market and eat at their well-appointed, healthy salad bar. Doing so allows us to pick the ingredients and portion sizes we know are healthy and avoid sodium, sugar, and fatty sauces.
Eat healthy to stay healthy. We’re big believers in taking vitamins and trying to stay rested on our trips. Jet lag, close contact with people, and the exhaustion of travel can make you vulnerable to catching colds — or worse. Emergen-C packets, oranges, and strawberries can give you an extra vitamin C boost. Vitamin D and extra magnesium, even blueberries and acai, can supercharge your immune system and metabolism. And on the road, that’s important.
Lemons are a great addition to your travel diet. They’re packed with vitamin C, contain virtually no sugar, and are rich in minerals. Plus, lemons offer many antibacterial benefits, helping keep your intestines healthy when traveling. Drink hot water and lemon juice in the morning, or add lemon to tea, and bring a glass of water to life with fresh squeezed lemons at every meal. Lemon can help curb your appetite. A bit of lemon can help you feel more alert in the morning without having to drink so much caffeine. You will be awake and calm, and not jittery and anxious.
Be calorie conscious. It’s easy to spoil yourself with additional trips to coffeehouses or the bar. Limit the amount of calorie-packed drinks you consume. Choosing lower-calorie options will help your waistline and wallet. Espresso with Stevia will put you back only five calories. Coffee with skim milk and sugar equals around 70 calories. By contrast, a café latte with nonfat milk is about 130 calories. Reduce your alcoholic beverage intake by drinking a glass of sparkling water in between rounds. Doing your homework and drinking lower-calorie options like light beer instead of a heavy premium beer, and using diet tonic or club soda for mixers can save you a ton of potential weight gain.
Make your own. If your hotel or home rental has a kitchen, take advantage of it. Making your own meals is a great way to control what and how much you eat. If you have food allergies, staying in a hotel or rental property with a kitchen can help you control what you eat to avoid food conflicts. Search the web for local farmers’ markets for fresh produce or stores such as Whole Foods or Sprouts. This way, you can be selective about what to buy, and how much to eat while traveling.
Protein bars. If you’re buying a protein bar to hold you over on a busy travel day, closely read the nutrition label on the back before making your purchase. Many so-called “protein” or “energy” bars are basically candy with little nutritional benefit. Look for a bar that’s high in protein and fiber, and low in fat and sugars. Carefully check the ingredients on the back of the wrapper — you might be unpleasantly surprised.
That’s why we like bars from GoMacro, NuGo, Rise, and Tosi for their balance of nutrients and quality ingredients. Many performance bars are great for athletes but can be packed with excess sugar and calories if you’re sitting on a plane or in a conference room all day. Also, be careful about packaged granola bars, which can contain a ton of corn syrup, chocolate, and preservatives.
A healthy alternative to packaged protein bars is a homemade bag of trail mix. Blend raw unsalted nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Trail mix is portable, doesn’t spoil, and is rich in whole grains and fiber, helping you feel full until your next meal.
When traveling, there’s no sense punishing yourself for eating something you might not at home or living a Spartan lifestyle when everyone around you is having fun. The trick is following the 80-20 rule by focusing on eating right 80 percent of the time and allowing 20 percent for an indulgence. If you enjoy a rich meal, plan on taking a long walk after dinner to help burn it off. Don’t just mindlessly eat, but think about what you will be eating, and how you’ll address it. With a little planning, you can enjoy yourself and eat right wherever you go.
Learn more about how to stay healthy on the road in our new book, 300 Healthy Travel Tips. You will discover a wealth of ideas on healthy eating, exercise, minimizing jet lag, sleeping better, avoiding travel nightmares, and staying safe wherever you go.