Eating on the Road - How to Stay Healthy while Travelling

Eating on the Road

Never miss a meal - learn to stay in shape while travelling.

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Many of us do a fair amount of business travel. We may take one or two (or more) trips per month lasting from one to a few days each. If we're lucky-and we plan well-we can arrange to takes these trips on days when we're not scheduled to train.

It's not easy to work out on the road, although it's not as difficult as it was a few short years ago. Most larger towns and small cities have at least a few good places to train these days. The more difficult task, frequently, is eating well on the road.

Many of us like to eat often but stay away from the usual travel fare of high-fat foods. Although the situation is changing, it's difficult and expensive to come up with three nutritionally acceptable meals under these conditions, much less three meals and three or four snacks.

I'm pretty compulsive about what I eat, and I usually eat six times a day. This has made eating on the road a challenge, but it's a challenge I've met. Not all of my tricks will be right for you, but some of them should fit your situation. Overall they give you practical ideas about how you can manage your diet when you travel and how a good nutrition plan can really help you on your business trips.

Eating Strategy

The approach is simply to bring a lot of your food with you. This takes some planning. The first step is to buy a small, very sturdy cooler that meets the following criteria: You can put food for 1 1/2 days in it, and it fits under an airplane seat. This brings you two immediate advantages- you're not lugging around a large cooler, but you're not dependent on airline food. While your fellow passengers are loading up on salted nuts, you can be eating almost anything you want. Of course, you need to consider carefully what you bring.

The second step is to request ahead of time a refrigerator for your hotel or motel room. This way everything from the cooler stays fresh, and you can replenish your food supply.

The third step is to come up with a good portable breakfast. Not having to worry about this meal saves a lot of time and money. While other travelers are dressing and waiting for breakfast, you could be reviewing your work or even training. My best portable breakfast is instant oatmeal. I put the amount I need plus dried fruit and protein powder in a sealable bag. I take my portable hot-water heater, coffee, a Melita cone for dripping coffee and, of course, a cereal bowl, spoon and coffee cup. Sometimes I even add fresh fruit. It's quick and convenient, it tastes good, and it's nutritious.

A final addition to my food supply is snack bars. The largest acceptable ones I've found on the market are Bear Valley (Meal Pack) bars. These are typically about 450 calories, 25 percent of which come from fat, 15 percent from protein and 60 percent from carbohydrate. As you can see, they're slightly too high in calories and fat to be an ideal snack, and the highly concentrated consistency makes them kind of stick to your gut. Still, at about $1.15 and with several different varieties available, they're not bad for the road.

Another product, Power Bars, contain a little more than 200 calories apiece that are virtually all carbohydrate (80 percent) and protein (20 percent). These are primarily designed as pre- and postworkout energizers and glucose replacers, but they make a good snack. Their drawbacks are the small number of calories and the cost, which is about $1.35. These also come in several reasonably tasty flavors.

One solution for a quick lunch or postworkout meal on the road is to eat one of each of these products. Together they give you about 650 calories, with about 17 percent coming from fat, 16 percent from protein and 67 percent from carbohydrate. Add a fresh or dried fruit if you want more variety, flavor, calories and carbs, and you've got a low-cost, convenient meal.

Of course, business travel also offers a chance to enjoy a special meal, perhaps something you don't often have at home. A good guide for your palate, health and checkbook is to reserve one time each day for the special meal. Have a great, leisurely lunch or dinner. Save the food you bring for the times when convenience is a necessity.

Reap the Benefits

As you can see, with a little planning you can maintain your good nutrition inexpensively and easily when you're on the road. Some of you may wonder, however, "Why go to all this trouble?" The answer is that the benefits extend far beyond your controlled calorie count.

To begin with, once you have a plan and follow it, the plan eliminates the problem of what to eat. As a result you can be more effective in your business transactions. There is also a great value in being consistent in your eating.

One of my graduate students, Tamara Neubauer, did a thesis project in which she developed and evaluated several programs to help middle-aged men alter their diets to reduce high blood cholesterol. One of the programs involved dietary instruction, detailed diet monitoring and frequent measuring of serum cholesterol with a portable chemical analyzer.

While the men were generally successful in altering their diets and reducing cholesterol levels, there was one hitch with this plan. Many of the men traveled a lot for business and found it hard to stick to their lowfat, low-cholesterol regimens on the road. The week after their return from a trip, their cholesterol levels were often elevated. Since there is a metabolic lag before a dietary change shows up in cholesterol, a reading taken during the week after a trip is a reasonable indicator of what went on during the trip. Other factors such as stress may have been involved, but diet seemed to be the culprit. Needless to say, your body is quite sensitive to changes in how you eat.

Here's an example of how a little planning can help you avoid some of these changes and be more effective in business. Many of my trips involve early-morning presentations. Some of these are command performances; for example, presenting interim results of projects to the funding agencies. You have to be at your best. Here's my routine for preparing for these situations:

I get up very early-maybe 5:30 a.m.-and have a cup of coffee with one of my snack bars. I try to get myself to relax, but at this point I'm usually nervous and unfocused. I go for a walk at a slow pace for about an hour. As I walk along, I concentrate on relaxing and then focus on rehearsing my presentation. By the end of the walk I'm almost at the peak performance point. Back at my hotel room I do some slow stretching and then have the breakfast I described earlier. By the time I get dressed, I'm still relaxed and focused, but I'm at that peak point, primed to give my presentation.

Good nutrition on the road takes planning, but there are some very tangible benefits. You'll maintain your good health and find you can be even more effective in your business dealings

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