Tips to staying healthy on the road:
About 6 years ago, I got offered a job to work alongside The PGA Tour as an athletic trainer. A very cool job, but what I noticed right away was that keeping my healthy eating habits the same as I do at home, wasn’t going to be easy. I can be on the road anywhere from one week at a time to 5 weeks at a time, and I travel up to 25 weeks out of the year!
I’ll admit, the first couple of years, I enjoyed the traveling and the “treats” that I don’t always get to enjoy at home but then I did my measurements and I started to realize that all the “I’ll just have one cookie” was starting to catch up with me and I knew that this couldn’t continue. Sounds easy enough right? Just lay off the sweets, the soda, and the desserts. Well let me give you a little sneak peak into what lunch on Tour usually looks like. Of course, this depends heavily on where we are in the county. If the tournament is down south, we have fried this, fried that, with butter on everything, then they put out fresh baked cookies, M&Ms, cake, pie, and cobbler for dessert. You try turning that down 5–6 days a week! It can challenge even the strongest of wills!
Rough? Yes! Impossible? NO!
Going from one hotel to airports to the next hotel in towns I barely know, I’ve come up with these five tips to help you stay relatively close to your normal intake even when you have no idea where you will get your next meal.
Tip 1: Plan Ahead:
If you take anything from this article it’s this: You must plan ahead while traveling! You book your hotel and rental car in advance but few of us give a second thought as to what we will eat while travelling. Healthier snack options can be the key to avoiding bad nutrition decisions while on the road.
A truly dedicated road warrior (I haven’t gotten to this point yet) may even prepare a health conscious meal in a nice ziploc container and enjoy that on the first leg of their journey. This takes all the guess work out of travel nutrition…but for the rest of us, here are some realistic ideas.
Buy your favorite protein bars, bite size veggies and beef jerky so you can pack them in your carry-on bag. Flight delays can cause short connection times and missed meals which will really set you back on calories. Having a good healthy snack in your carry on bag takes the burden away from missing a meal and forcing you into snagging that ready-made deep dish personal pan pizza right next to your next gate…been there, done that, usually regret it about an hour into the flight.
Know your airports! Look into each airports restaurant listing and find a few options near your gate that could be potential meal sites. Most airports have their full amenity listing on their site and some even include menus! Make the extra walk to a place that offers the healthier options. You’ll burn a few extra calories in the process which is never a bad thing.
The same goes for the area around your hotel. If you can research ahead of time and find healthier dining options it can save you from just swinging through the closest drive-thru and sucking down 1200 calories of regret. Luckily today’s smartphones help with this quite a bit but you still might find a hidden gem if you give the research a little more time and effort.
Tip 2: Skip the Sides!
Fries? Nope! Tots? Nope!…I’ll have the House/Side Salad please! I realize the most airport restaurants and kiosks are way overpriced but is skimping on the extra $3 worth downing all that extra fat and useless carbs?
Most likely they will just make you feel bloated and lethargic anyway. Ever notice why you are totally drained after a day of sitting on your butt in an airplane? You know those fries or tots will probably end up getting stored as the jiggly stuff we hate, and in all the wrong places so save yourself the grief, order the salad and revel in your smart decision to live healthier! If you just have to have the fries, at least ask if they offer sweet potato fries as a substitute. Your stomach will really appreciate the extra fiber in the salad helping the digestive process for what was probably a really heavy meal (cheese burger or philly cheesesteak) you just ate at the random airport diner or restaurant. This will leave you feeling energized and fresh after your flight instead of groggy, tired and lethargic.
We aren’t saying that you have to skip the carbs all together, just try to pick healthier carbs (whole wheat products, sweet potatoes, or baked vs fried chips). More on this later….
Tip #3: No Sauces, Gravy, Breading or Dressings!
Almost every restaurant will have a dry/plain option for whatever you are ordering. Salads don’t require dressing, mashed potatoes don’t need gravy and even your chicken wings can come with a dry rub at most places. Get the house salad dry instead of the caesar salad that comes drenched in dressing. These hidden calories usually taste great because they are ridden with extra calories, usually from fat or sugary sources. Simply skipping these and getting your flavor from rubs or spices can you save a LOT of calories by the end of a trip. At the very least get your dressing/sauce/gravy on the side and only use dabs of it if you just can’t stand the thought of not having it. Great flavor is not dependent on these extras! Try to ween yourself off and the difference at the end of the week/month/year can be huge…no pun intended.
Bread, breading and carbs in general are a tricky part of traveling. If you have the choice, choose whole wheat products whenever possible. If these aren’t available, choose the multigrain bread over the white. It’s not 100% whole wheat but at least you have a shot at some extra nutrients and easier digestion. Breading on wings, nuggets or fingers, whether it’s on chicken or something else, is just a giant fat/calorie sponge that can completely alter the nutritional value of your meal. Skipping the breading on wings, nuggets or even your veggies like a bloomin onion from Outback is crucial to eliminating extra useless calories. Boneless wings and the breading they are encased in can dramatically increase the amount of fat consumed vs. eating traditional (bone-in) wings. Taking it a step further, you can try to find buffalo wings that are baked instead of deep fried. The two places I have found that do this make excellent wings so it is a win/win situation, healthier and just as tasty!
Tip #4: Skip the sweets
Just because you are away from home, doesn’t mean the sugar calories don’t count. Sneaking in a extra chocolate bar or “love it” serving of Coldstone just because you’re on the road will quickly add to your waistline. This also applies to complimentary breakfast at the hotel. You’re not a kid again, with this miracle metabolism that can eat chocolate muffins and fruit loops without putting on unnecessary weight. Let’s be clear… this doesn’t mean you should skip carbs! This means you should pick smart carbs, ones that your body can use to fuel your day. Like I mentioned before, whole wheat toast, whole wheat bagel, or oatmeal are all your best options. Yes, not always our favorite, but the best. So maybe add a little strawberry jam on top of your toast, add a few raisins or cranberries to your oatmeal. Eating smart doesn’t always mean depriving yourself of what makes you enjoy the meal, it’s about finding a healthy balance between what you should eat and what you want to eat.
Tip#5: Don’t forget to exercise!
Skipping workouts is easy to do when you’re not home but it’s also a very big reason most travelers gain weight while away. You may not get in the exact workout you wanted to that day but the key is just to not skip being active all together. Get moving, get the blood flowing and break a sweat for hell sakes! I’ve heard so many excuses about “crappy” hotel gyms that “don’t have enough equipment/weight” and I’m flat out tired of it. If I can make myself sore using nothing more that 35 lb dumbbells and a cable weight machine from the early 90’s called The Apollo 452…then you, my friend, have no excuse. Instead of looking at it from a depressing point of view, look at it as a challenge. How can you tweak your normal exercise to make them harder with the limited equipment? Add a pause to your lifts, do 5 more reps per set than usual, do side shuffles on the treadmill instead of jogging since you don’t trust it above 5 mph.
While in the airport, there are some simple ways to sneak in some exercise too. Travel today has been highly automated with conveyor belts, elevators, shuttles and Ubers as far as the eye can see. Simply taking the stairs or walking instead of riding the conveyor belt will get you some valuable extra calories burned. Since you’re already in your groove cruising to you next gate, go right on by all three Starbucks on your way and don’t give in! Unless you normally order an americano, you’re likely swigging down a LOT of sugar. Next time you stop in for your favorite coffee beverage, do me a favor and log it into Myfitnesspal before you order, you may be surprised what you find.
Bottom line is, just don’t let your lazy brain start making excuses for doing what you know you need to do. Especially considering that you probably didn’t get the side salad instead of the fries with your burger like I told you to do!
In conclusion, just remember to plan ahead, choose healthier sides, take your own snacks and don’t skimp out on your exercise. Stay consistent and not only will you feel better, but you’ll look better and be happier at the same time. Now that is what we call The Fitness Life!