I travel a lot, both professionally and personally, and although it is definitely more challenging to eat healthy on the road, it is far from impossible. Travel makes it easy for us to make excuses about our diets, but where there's a will, there's a way! Here are some tips to help you execute your nutritional plan, regardless of your schedule.
Have a plan
A little foresight can go a long way. If you know that you're going to be stuck in a car, on a bus or on a plane (and let's be honest, we almost always have a pretty big heads-up if we're going to be travelling), planning ahead will save you from deviating too far from your typical diet. Here are a few key tips to setting yourself up for success:
- Make a grocery list with your travel plans in mind; what is nutritious and easy to eat on the road? Fruit, veggies, nuts, cheese, eggs (hard-boiled, obviously), milk, dried/cured meats, etc. Ensure that you have ample containers and/or resealable bags as well!
- Chop up veggies as soon as you get home from the grocery store. Not only will this make for a healthy and convenient snack when you're at home, but it simplifies the process of packing a lunch or snacks for travel. I even do this with cheese so that I have easily-accessible and acceptable portion sizes to snack on or to take on-the-go.
- Hard boil 6-12 eggs and keep them in the fridge. Eggs are essentially the perfect food and having them readily available will make everything in your life amazing. This is an overstatement, but seriously, eggs are incredible.
- Wake up 10 minutes early, even if you have no reason to. I always seem to forget something in the mornings (or something new pops up that I didn't plan for), so it's nice to have some leeway when I'm getting ready to hit the road. This additional 10 minutes can be the difference between packing proper supplies and eating fast food, making this short period of time quite valuable.
- Invest in a durable water bottle. I've had the same Nalgene for almost a decade now, and I take this thing everywhere. It's an extension of my being. A good water bottle will ensure that you are always well-hydrated and will keep your metabolism firing on all cylinders.
- Set aside time weekly to prepare meals for the rest of the week. Sunday is typically the best day for this. Take the afternoon to make a list, do your shopping, and prepare your food for the week. This doesn't have to be an OCD-thing, but taking a few hours to prepare a few things (as per the tips above) will save you loads of time in the following days and will keep you from making dietary excuses. If this once-a-week ritual seems too daunting, plan to wake up a bit earlier every day to give yourself time to prepare foods/snacks for the remainder of the day.
- Invest in a blender, some shaker bottles, and a protein powder supplement. Whole foods should compose the majority of your diet, but a quick protein shake can really come in handy! Shakes allow you to be creative as well -- blend up your favourite fruit, berries, vegetables, nuts, oils, oats, etc. and create a delicious super shake. It's quick, easy, and healthy -- you just have to be prepared with the right equipment!
- If you travel a lot, supplements will make your life a lot easier. Protein powder, meal-replacement powder, a greens supplement, fish oil capsules, etc. are ideal for those of us that are constantly on the road. Protein bars and pre-prepared protein/meal-replacement drinks can also be good, but most are filled with too much sugar, artificial sweeteners or low-cost fillers that won't do your body any favours.
Think outside the box
Just because restaurants exist does not mean that you have to eat at them when you are on the road. Grocery stores (and even good convenience stores) sell a wider selection of food than most restaurants, and you can pick and choose exactly what you want, all for a lower price. It might not be as sexy to grab a piece of fruit, a carton of milk and a quarter rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, but it will be better for both your wallet and your body. It always disappoints me when I walk into a service station on the highway and people are lined up for the various fast food options, when they could easily walk into the convenience store and get a healthier meal for less money. It doesn't make sense.
Bonus tip: Keep napkins and a few utensils in the glove compartment of your car. Prevent yourself from making excuses by eliminating small obstacles!
Even at restaurants, you can make good decisions
It's always nice to have your food prepared for you, but people use restaurants as an excuse to eat like crap. Don't get me wrong -- when I'm on vacation or out for a nice dinner, I throw my inhibitions to the wind and indulge myself. We all need a break from the usual. But if you're on the road for business and trying to stick to a plan, it is easier than you think to eat out and still adhere to your diet. Most fast food places now offer salads as a healthier alternative -- just be careful with the dressing! Other restaurants offer main protein dishes with steamed vegetables as a side option. As unsexy as they are, Swiss Chalet and Subway are my two staples when I'm on the road. All-white quarter chicken and steamed vegetables, hold the roll; Oven-roasted chicken breast salad with double meat, extra hot peppers, grated cheese, no dressing. Both options are delicious and nutritious, and don't force me to deviate from my diet at all.
It's also quite easy to eat out in most big chain restaurants or small-town diners. Many places even have "healthy" food options on the menu (be wary of these though, as restaurants can label whatever they want as "healthy"). As a rule of thumb, either order a salad (preferably spinach) with chicken breast and dressing on the side, or grab whatever sort of grilled meat they offer (sauce always on the side) and have it come with veggies or a salad. You may even have to ask for double the protein and veggies if the portion sizes are too small (most places unfortunately serve very large carbohydrate servings with significantly smaller helpings of protein and veggies). Just remember: Although restaurants have set menus, the customer is king, and most places will make whatever adjustments necessary to satisfy a paying customer. Politely ask questions and explain your needs; you'll be surprised how easy it is to get what you want!
At the end of the day it comes down to what is more important for you: your unique health and lifestyle goals, or saving a few minutes and just taking what society lays out for you. Let them have their fast food, I say, and eat it too. We'll be the ones looking great, feeling great, and banking our sick days for vacation!