Have Snacks, Will Travel: Eat Well, Feel Great On the Road

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“It’s just so difficult to stick to a healthy diet because I’m on the road at least three days a week.”

I hear this exclamation of defeat on a regular basis in my practice as a nutritionist. And it’s understandable–when you’re away from home without the ability to prepare your own food, it’s not uncommon to feel as though you’re at the mercy of the nearest airport temptation. Moving between time zones can leave you feeling hungry in the middle of the night and full during mealtimes. Add in the stress that travel often provokes and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for an ‘I just can’t do this healthy eating thing’ moment in the form of a caramel macchiato with a chocolate brownie on the side.

Travel makes healthy eating a challenge, but there are some tricks of the trade to help you regain control. First and foremost: be prepared.

Before You Depart

The best way to prepare yourself for eating on the road is to stop at your local health food store to stock up on some easy-to-pack, travel-friendly snacks before you leave. Protein and healthy fats are key–they help keep you satisfied for longer and give you a longer lasting energy boost than a quick cup of coffee. Here are my suggestions for pre-departure packing:

1. Make a Mix of Nuts and Seeds

To avoid added sugar and salt, consider making your own trail mix. Include raw, unsalted nuts–walnuts, almonds, and pecans work well–and toss in some pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Resist the temptation to put chocolate or candies into your mix! Instead, try unsweetened dried (desiccated) coconut to give it a hint of sweetness.

When you dig into your snack, don’t overdo it. Stick to approximately three small handfuls of trail mix per serving. And if you know that you won’t be able to stop yourself from overeating this type of snack, pack it in individual snack bags.

2. Nourish Yourself with Nut Butters

Nut butters are yet another tasty, easy, way to get some healthy fats and protein. To keep things interesting, look beyond plain old peanut butter and try raw, 100 percent organic almond, walnut, pecan, or cashew butters. (Artisana is a brand that I recommend and it’s available at Whole Foods.) Raw nut butters maintain more of their original essential fatty acids, enzymes, and vitamins than processed versions. I like to have a few tablespoons on hand to enjoy with a piece of fruit when I’m on the road.

3. In Case of Emergency: Protein Bars

I’m not usually a fan of protein (aka energy) bars, but if your only other choice is some roadside delight of the fast food variety, then reaching for a reasonably healthy protein bar can be appropriate on occasion.

Always read the label–even if you’ve eaten the same type of bar in the past. The ingredients may have changed. Look for these ingredients:

  • Protein from an unprocessed and recognizable source, such as nuts or seeds instead of soy or whey protein isolates. Protein content should be in the range of approximately 10g per serving.
  • Minimal sugar, also from a natural and recognizable source such as honey or molasses instead of chemical sugars such as mannitol, aspartame etc. Sugar content should be as low as possible, and should not exceed approximately 12 to 14g per serving.
  • Some healthy fats and fiber. These two things, in conjunction with the protein, will keep you feeling full.

Here are some brands to try, based on the above criteria.

  • GoRaw –Note: Some of their flavors contain too much sugar compared to the amount of protein. For example,  I recommend their Live Pumpkin Bar (which contains 14 grams of protein and 8 grams of sugar) over their Banana Bread Bar (which contains only 4 grams of protein and 9 grams of sugar)
  • Vega
  • Zing Bars — Note: I recommend the non-dairy Zing bars.

While You’re on the Road

4. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

You hear this all the time, but it cannot be emphasized enough. Staying hydrated while you’re on the road will help you combat fatigue and keep cravings at bay – two standard issue travel complaints.

Aim to drink approximately half as many fluid ounces as you weigh in pounds. That means if you weigh 150 pounds, try to drink at least 75 ounces of water while you’re traveling.

5. Be Wary of Sweets and Stimulants

If your 8 AM breakfast consists of an enormous sweetened coffee followed by several pancakes with maple syrup from your favorite hotel buffet, it is highly unlikely that you’ll make it beyond the midmorning mark without craving another sweet or caffeinated treat to keep you going. When you’re on the road and surrounded by these processed temptations, it’s even more important to steer clear of them or you’ll keep craving more. You’ve got to give yourself a fighting chance from the outset, so do your best to make healthy choices at every turn.

6. Choose Nutrient-Rich Foods

Look for nutrient-dense foods instead of sugary or processed snacks. Do your best to include a lean protein, healthy fat, and fiber-rich carbohydrate at every meal and snack. Doing so will help you avoid blood sugar swings, and will likely keep you feeling satiated longer.

7. Make Wise Menu Choices

The key to ordering well in a restaurant is to know what a healthy, well-balanced plate of food looks like. Half of your plate should consist of vegetables; ideally leafy greens, and crunchy non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, snap peas, asparagus, or bok choy. One quarter of your plate should be a lean, clean protein, such as chicken or fish. The remaining quarter should be a complex carbohydrate in the form of a fiber-rich whole grain, such as brown rice or legumes.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your server about how certain items are prepared, especially sides of vegetables, which are often slathered with butter. If you think it’s necessary, ask for the sauce on the side. You don’t need to worry about being high-maintenance–you’ve seen the Starbucks regular who has no problem ordering his tall, ristretto, non-fat, extra-hot, no-whip gingerbread latte, right? If he can be that specific about a coffee order, you can request to have food prepared in healthy, nourishing way.

Wishing you happy and safe travels and let me know how these tips help you on your next trip! Better yet, share your own tips below.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.