Last year, I spent 10 months traveling around South and Central America. Most of those countries are known for their fatty, meat-centric, and low-in-vegetable dishes — not ideal for a nutrition coach like myself.
Does this mean it’s impossible to stay on track? No way! Many of my traveling clients say that they always put on weight when they’re on vacation, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Whether you are traveling for vacation, for work or heading home from the holidays, there are always ways to eat healthy. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years.
How to stay healthy while traveling?
1. Don’t skip meals
Eating something is better than skipping a meal. Following an irregular eating routine can confuse our metabolism, lead to unstable blood sugar levels and trigger cravings.
When we skip meals in order to compensate for the calories might have later in the day (e.g. a late brunch, holiday dinner, or BBQ), the body will likely store that next meal as fat. This is because the body is in “survival mode” – it can’t be certain when the next meal is coming, so it stores calories as fat to survive the next phase without food.
When traveling or on vacation, try eating at regular times as often as possible. If options are limited, choose a snack such as some crackers, fruits or veggies with nuts. This will keep your metabolism revved up and fat-burning mode activated long-term. One of my favorites is fruit with nut butter.
2. Plan ahead
Unfortunately, most bus and train stations aren’t stocked with healthy snacks or meals. Options include vending machine chips or baked goods at the cafe. Depending on where you are in the world, airport food might be better, but still not great. Regardless of where you are, not planning ahead will often lead to being limited to highly-processed, sugary and greasy foods with few nutritional benefits.
If you have a long travel day ahead, invest in a good container and travel cutlery so that you can prep healthy foods and take them with you. This is especially great when taking long bus, plane or trains rides. Plus, when you get to your destination, you’ll have a container to pack healthy snacks in.
Before the next leg of your journey, hit the local market to stock up on healthy foods. Or, if you are comfortable, ask a restaurant if they’ll fill your container with a healthy meal of your choice.
3. Look for protein and veggies
When eating out, many meals are high in carbs and fat and low in protein and veggies. Protein helps you feel full for longer and maintain your hard-earned muscle mass. Veggies add a lot of nutritional benefits such as healthy fibers, vitamins and minerals. These kind of nutrients will help prevent unwanted illnesses while traveling, so do your best not to skip them.
Steakhouses, seafood restaurants and vegetarian establishments are some of the best places to grab a healthy, well-balanced meal. Look for menu items that feature grilled chicken breast, lean beef, shrimp, fish (tuna, salmon, etc.), tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas or eggs.
4. Ask for modifications
If you only find places that offer unhealthy options, you can always kindly ask the waiter if modifications are possible.
Opt for food that is grilled, baked, steamed or boiled rather than fried. This cuts out a lot of saturated fat and calories from unhealthy oils. Remember, your server is there to help you, so you can always make food preparation requests.
If the meal doesn’t contain protein, ask for a side of protein to accompany it. I often ask for some extra beans or an added egg and rarely run into a problem. Same with veggies – it’s almost always possible to order a side salad or extra veggies to add nutrients and fiber to your meal.
Now, onto the condiments. It’s a good idea to order creamy sauces and dressings on the side, as they are usually high in salt, sugar and loaded with unhealthy fat. To add flavor to your salad, you can make your own dressing by using 1 Tbsp of olive oil and 1 Tbsp of vinegar. Finally, instead of creamy pasta sauce opt for a tomato-based one.
5. Legumes are your friend
Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and beans are packed with healthy fiber, protein and slow, digestible carbs. They are the perfect all-in-one healthy combo, plus they’re budget-friendly, so they’re a great choice when eating out and when making your own meals.
If you don’t have a kitchen available, even small markets are usually stocked with canned legumes, which only require a good rinse before eating. One of my favorite quick, no-cook meals is chickpeas with avocado, tomatoes, freshly squeezed lime and peanuts.
6. Limit liquid calories
Beverages such as soda, juice and alcohol quickly add a lot of calories without much, if any, nutritional benefit.
Many of the countries I visited during my 10 months abroad serve fresh juice with meals. While those can be tasty, they add unnecessary sugar to your day. For example, one glass of orange juice has around 20 grams of sugar, so ask for water with fresh lime, lemon or mint instead.
7. Believe in yourself
This is important: Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it, because you can! I’ve met many travelers who think they don’t have the willpower to make healthy choices while on vacation. Motivate your travel mates to be active or cook something nice together. Explore the local markets and try new tasty foods that are fresh, healthy and tasty.
You will feel great and be energized too. No need to come back home from a vacation, work trip or holidays at home wondering where your fit self went. You have the choice. Nourish your body and it will thank you with endless energy and feeling healthy day after day.