Being away from the comfort of your home, favorite grocery store, and local restaurants you’ve identified as “healthy eats” can make feeling nutritionally balanced tough on the road.
Having spent years in the Navy traveling for both the long and short haul, and now traveling frequently for work, I have picked up tried-and-true tips for maintaining your food habits on your next temporary additional duty assignment, family vacation, road trip, or even port call.
1. Eat a big meal before you hop on the plane.
Plane food, generally, is junk. To prolong shelf life, most of it is loaded with preservatives and the “bad things” that make food taste good — bad oils, butter, shortening. Admittedly, many airports are incorporating healthy eats, and I love an oyster platter and sauvignon blanc while I wait for my flight to depart, but as a general rule, the only thing I eat on the plane is what I’ve brought myself.
2. Bring healthy snacks.
Whenever I go somewhere, there are two edible staples in my luggage. Re-sealable bags of nuts and dried fruit, and meal replacement and protein bars. Snacking can sabotage your daily calorie intake without you even realizing it. Portioning out zip-lock bags containing a certain amount of nuts, dried fruit, or both can help you keep your calorie intake under control. Bars have the nutrition information printed on them and a high-protein content will keep you satisfied until your next meal.
3. Pack individual protein packets and a shaker you can easily rinse.
Instead of a big vat of protein powder, purchase the individual packets. It’s portioned for you, reduces the mess, and allows you to try all sorts of different flavors. I brought my Mini Blender Bottle with me when I moved to Paris. I now carry around a few colors of the miniature Smart Shake. A protein shake as a snack or even for breakfast will both keep you satisfied and keep you from spending too much money.
4. Hit the grocery store and pick up healthy meal components.
Plan ahead and scout the local health and grocery stores near where you’ll be staying. If you have a fridge, maybe grab some whole wheat bread or pitas, cold cut meats, pre-shredded lettuce, and mayo to make a sandwich. That’s just an example. I can think of a dozen ways to make breakfast, lunch, or dinner healthy and delicious with grocery staples. Shout out in the comments if you’d like to see this as a separate article. This is what I do.
5. Eat out only once per day.
This is a trick I’ve been using for a long time. As a chef, a lot of my travel involves food-related outings, and having local friends doesn’t help because friends catch up over food and drinks, of course. My routine is typically a power protein shake in the morning, snacks of fruit and nuts, some sort of healthy sandwich or meal replacement bars, and then, at the end of the day, I know I have a little leeway to enjoy a decent-sized meal where I don’t have to obsess about what I order. At the one meal per day, I suggest you make a smart choice. Spaghetti meatball marinara is a hundred times better for you that fettuccine alfredo. Even better, skip the Italian and go grab sushi. I never feel guilty after some good sashimi.
6. Make a choice: alcohol or dessert.
As a sailor, and someone who holds a wine and spirits certification, this is a no-brainer for me. I choose alcohol. At a destination wedding, it’s hard to say no to a piece of the cake, but just be smart and use moderation. A fine dining dessert can pack over 1,000 calories and dozens of grams of fat. Two servings of red wine has 254 calories, only 11 grams of carbs, and no fat. If you don’t like alcohol or dessert, congratulations, you’re boring, but possibly in very good shape.
7. Log your calories.
If you really need to reign it in, I and my registered dietitian sister (also a veteran!) suggest using myfitnesspal to track your calories. It’s a website, but also an app, making it easy to track everything you ingest. You can even scan barcodes. The trick with this plan of attack is to stick to it. You spread some mayo on that sandwich? It gets logged. This is a surefire way to make sure you don’t gain weight on the road.
8. Pick a time to stop consuming calories and stick to it.
I know, this is tough, but if you do it, you will see positive results. When I’m on a health kick, my cut-off time is 9:00 p.m. After that, I’ll drink water or seltzer, but that’s it. Calories consumed late are often the most detrimental to your diet.
I recently spent almost three weeks in Hong Kong. I ate a lot of good things, and by no means is the Rugby sevens a low-alcohol event, but by following these tips, despite eating out every day, I came back in even better shape. Sure, I was working out occasionally and hiking too; and I’m assuming you take fitness steps if you care about your healthy eating, but it’s an unbeatable combination for success. Plan ahead, follow these steps, and add fitness outings to your time away from home.
Folks may give you hell for sticking to your nutritional guns, but you can laugh when they keel over and die well before you. Just kidding. That’s twisted. You can laugh when you are fit, strong, healthy, and look better at your next high school reunion. Yeah, that’s nicer.