How to Eat Well when you’re on the Road

How to travel for work, health and fitness by Lorna Harper, Vice President of Transformation at American Express Global Business Travel.

Last month we talked about achieving our fitness goals when we travel.  Can we do the same with our dietary goals and create more energy for ourselves…?  

Is it easier or harder to eat well when we’re away from home?   Trains and planes offer us pre-packed sandwiches, crisps and chocolate or…starvation!  When we dine out we have options, but the temptation to eat three courses and a side of fries is big.  Even if we already have great habits, there are so many barriers when we travel, it can be hard to stay on the right path.  

When work started taking me away from home most weeks, I was seriously at risk of my diet becoming like an all-inclusive holiday.  I went from not eating before 10 am to a breakfast of cereal, croissants and a few nibbles from the hot buffet (and a small tray of Nutella for my bag).  I managed to stick to a light salad or soup lunch, but then room service, restaurant menus and wine would jump in front of me waving like an old friend I couldn’t turn down.  

Big breakfasts made me lethargic, wanting to go back to bed.  Carby evening meals with wine stopped me from getting good sleep.  I found the quality of my day was impacted by what I put in my body and travelling most weeks, taking in 30% more food/alcohol was going to have an effect, right?   

Alongside making sure I stayed active I gradually incorporated some better dietary habits.  Some only needed a bit of planning, others needed more perseverance, but it has been worth it.  The biggest difference has been in my energy levels and my outlook. I’ve had more optimism, positivity and I’ve felt focused.  I’ve also managed to maintain a healthy body/ size.

As you read the rest of this article, I would love it if even one of my ideas is helpful for you.  

It always starts with a bit of preparation and advance decision making.  

  • Review your day/ week ahead in detail and get prepared;
  • When will you eat your meals?
  • What food options will you have?
  • Decide to break unhelpful routines.

If you usually eat breakfast at 8am and you know you will be on a train at that time, unless you prepare in advance your options are going to be bacon sandwiches and biscuits.  Delay your breakfast or bring it with you.

There will always be times where you prepared perfectly, but hunger can still swing by, killing your beautiful plan.  When this happens there should be something in your bag and I don’t mean a cereal bar. Fruit, a raw bar or a handful of nuts. (Don’t do what I did when I swapped chocolate for cashew nuts.  I gained weight because I was eating the calorie equivalent of a Big Mac every single day).  

  • Look forward to your meals

Preparation will give you time to select your favourite things to eat that are healthy and fill you with nutrition.  You’re travelling! It’s a lovely opportunity to find new and interesting meals. In Cities, there are so many options for healthy food like sushi bars, make your own salads, home-made soups and stir fry.  It will become easier and more natural for you to make great choices once you start to tune into some alternatives.

  • Break your routine

Do you usually wander into a pub in a zombie like state and order a burger and a pint without even thinking?  Do you order a glass of wine while you read the menu and nibble on the bread course? Make the decision at the start of the week to do something different.   You will need to know what the alternative is in advance, because when it’s the end of your day, tired and hungry, you won’t be in the mood for shopping around.  Make the decision that when you travel, you love to make healthy choices that fill you with energy. In your mind, cut off from all other possibilities. As you replace old habits with new ones you will put the pubs and pints back where they belong – for the occasional, the holidays and the weekends.

  • A few words about the wines, the beers and the gins…

My suggestion is not to drink during the week, but that’s a personal preference and it might not be yours.  I simply ask that you make your choice knowing that alcohol is zero nutrition, puts calories where food should be and is likely to influence how much you move and how much you eat the following day.

  • Before you go, consider making one or two of these changes;

    1. Don’t have hotel breakfast.  For £20, will you honestly only have a small plate of eggs?
    2. Make a small bowl of porridge and let it cool overnight in an old glass jar.  (Make sure it’s clean and doesn’t smell of pickles!). In the morning add a few berries, seeds and honey and take it with you.
    3. Always, order a side of mixed veg, salad or greens.  Eat this first as it will calm your appetite and fill you with nutrients.

Look at the menu.  Get into the habit of greying out unhelpful carbs like pasta & bread and don’t even glance at the burgers or the deserts.  Your eyes should navigate to the grills, the soups, salads, rice…. (Remember to ask for the soup without bread. If bread arrives you’ll be dunking it in your soup before giving it any thought what so ever).

    1. If healthy choices are limited, look at the starter menu.  Order two starters and a side of veg.
    2. If it’s a sandwich versus starvation make it an open top sandwich.
    3. Hunger won’t kill you for a few hours.  Your body could use a break from constantly digesting food and you’ll feel less sluggish.  But…
    4. …If you are working out, make sure you eat enough of the right food and drink water, so you don’t get depleted.  
  • Finally, if it’s low to zero nutrition, don’t eat it.  

You don’t have to do all these things at once and I’m guessing you won’t want to. Perhaps make one or two small changes at a time, let them take root, start to enjoy the benefits and then add another.  

I’m already looking forward to talking to you next month.  I want us to talk about habits and some simple changes that can make a massive difference for you.

SharpLifeHow to Eat Well when you’re on the Road

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