The Dietitian’s Guide: 6 Tips for Staying Healthy while Traveling
As a registered dietitian, people are always asking me what they should eat. And since I travel more than 80% of the time for work (and a bunch for pleasure), I also get asked how I stay healthy on the road.
Given the enormous amount of food options (and sometimes lack thereof) and the stress frequently associated with travel, making good choices can sometimes be an exercise in futility.
But don’t worry! I’ve navigated the pitfalls for you, and am here to share the tips that have kept me healthy on the road.
Just to set the stage a little so you know what a typical week is like for me: I usually travel four to five days a week using planes, trains, and automobiles to get around. I also stay in business hotels most nights.
So, how the heck do I not turn into a puddle of slovenly stressed out mush through all this? Glad you asked!
Pile on the veggies.
When I go out to eat (which, admittedly, is a lot!) I look for plant-forward or vegetarian restaurants, because I know I’ll be able to eat healthier.
Fill your plate with at least half vegetables, and if you eat meat, go with smaller portions like 2 oz so that the meat is more of a side dish, rather than the main event.
In fact, I usually have a big salad for lunch or — if it’s not safe to drink the water — a stir fry, since I know I’ll be able to get my veggies in then if the dinner menu is super limited. A good rule of thumb is to pile on the produce at breakfast and lunch so that by dinner you can rest assured that you’ve met your fruit & veggie goals for the day.
Always pack workout (or yoga) gear.
I love exploring a new city on foot. Even better if I’m running through it.
Exercise burns off stress, and is a fun way to see the sites while I’m at it, so I always pack sneakers and some workout clothes just in case. I look ahead for trails or parks nearby that I can easily get to.
If you don’t want to or can’t exercise outdoors, try to book a hotel with a workout room, or download an exercise app on your phone and workout in your room. In fact, there are some great apps that can sub-in as a personal trainer no matter where you are . My favorites are Map My Run for running workouts, Sworkit for strength training sessions, and Down Dog for your yoga practice. As long as you have your smartphone you can carry around your own personal trainer.
I love getting outdoors for a stress-busting hike or trail run. My go-to resource for trails in the USA is alltrails.com which provides user ratings, level of difficulty, pdf maps, directions and much more. It’s like having your very own park ranger in your pocket.
Unfortunately, I’m often stuck on a long train ride or flight and a workout just isn’t possible. In those moments I focus on moving around at least once every 45-60 minutes. I sit in the aisle seat so I can get up often without dirty looks from the person sitting next to me. Walking up and down the aisles, doing knee-lifts, squats, side bends and ankle rotations are some easy movements I do to stay limber on long trips.
Don’t drink your calories.
Oh, liquid calories you are so tricky. Even for a dietitian, they can be deceiving.
My advice? Stick with just water, water, water all day long. Or, if you need something with a little flavor, try an unsweetened iced tea or flavored seltzer. You’ll save on calories and hydrate after all that dry airplane air.
You can also pack a reusable water bottle so that you can fill up on the run without using so much plastic. I really like Hydro Flask because you can keep hot beverages piping hot, and cold beverages ice cold for hours.
And hey, I’m human, so I won’t pretend that I don’t also need some tea or coffee. But I keep it black and unsweetened. If you need a little something sweet though, go with agave or raw sugar which you can buy in single-serve packets that travel well. For a little creamer, opt for organic milk or milk alternatives like almond milk. Die hard tea drinkers are in luck! Green tea has been shown to support your immune system and can increase metabolism.
I usually have a glass of wine with dinner, which is my treat rather than a sugary dessert. Plus there’s the added health benefits of alcohol too. Moderate alcohol consumption may lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Cheers!
Check out local fitness studios.
Sometimes you want to try something new, or you just need your yoga fix. I love checking out local yoga and barre studios, but there’s also kickboxing, HIIT, mountain climbing, you name it!
Look for an active Meetup group and join them during your stay. It’s a fun way to meet like-minded locals, even in your own backyard. My best Meetup experience was actually right in my home town. I had just bought a new bike and was looking for a beginners cycling group so I could get some confidence riding on the street. Not only did I have a blast but I made some great friends that I still ride with today.
We’ve all been hangry, and it’s not pretty.
To avoid getting to that point and making choices I’ll later regret, I grab a banana from the hotel breakfast and stash it for just these moments. If bananas aren’t your thing, go with what works for you. But just make sure it travels well.
Almonds, apples, trail mix, fruit strips, single serve nut butter packs, an all-natural protein bar, roasted pumpkin seeds…the possibilities are endless these days with all the fun snacks on the market! One of my favorite packable snacks that makes me feel like a little kid again are Once Upon a Farm’s baby food pouches. Hey don’t knock it until you’ve tried it…trust me. These locally sourced 100% organic pouches travel amazingly well and give you a fruit and veggie boost on the go. My favorite is Green Kale and Apples – yum!
Food is one of the best ways to explore a new culture so don’t pass up the opportunity to try a tasty local street snack either. One of my favorite food memories is from Colombia where I tried mango biche, thinly sliced unripened mango topped with lime and salt. It’s an unexpectedly delicious flavor and also happens to be a pretty healthy snack.
Cook at home.
Eating out can get old after awhile, and I always start to crave some home cooked food after a long time away.
When I get home from a trip, I always go food shopping to stock up on breakfast and dinner ingredients for the next few days. That way I can control what goes in my food, plus I love chopping veggies, smelling the garlic and onions cooking, and tasting it all as I go. To top it all off, open a bottle of wine and invite friends and family to reconnect over dinner!
I always make sure I have staples in the pantry that store well while I’m out galavanting around the globe. Good options are canned low-sodium beans and tomatoes, whole grains, lentils, and frozen veggies. Plus I throw some veggie burgers and whole wheat buns in the freezer so I have a super quick meal I can whip up when I get home after a long trip. Trust me there’s nothing worse than getting home on an empty stomach and realizing you need to go food shopping because there’s not a speck of food in your kitchen.
We’ve just scratched the surface of how to stay healthy while traveling here.
But if you follow these tips at least 80% of the time, they will help you stay healthy on the go while also not denying yourself the local specialties.
One of my most memorable meals was the fresh beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. Fried dough covered in melted powdered sugar isn’t my definition of health food, but it was worth every delicious bite. You’ve heard this a million times before, but it’s all about moderation. I eat great most of the time plus I stay active, so I can allow myself 20% wiggle room for indulgences. Food is one of our main pleasures in life and is meant to be savored, especially while traveling.