Traveling can be hectic, tiring and a total nutrition killer. And while sometimes it can be a welcome break (hello, vacation!) if you’re away from home a lot for work, wedding season or other persona/ family stuff, you don’t have to lose all of your hard work! Here are six simple strategies for travel that will keep you sane and on track.
But before you read further, evaluate your goals and see what’s important to YOU before you put the work in on implementing some (or even all!) of these tips. Are you in the middle of a tough cut for an upcoming weightlifting meet or competition? Are you gone Monday through Friday or every other week? Do you NEED to stay on track with your macros? OR could you use a few days of intuitive eating or a break from diligent macro tracking? Only you can answer that question.
1.Be wary of eating out.
Many restaurants –even seemingly “healthy” places– have loads of fat and sodium so you have to account for that if you know you’ll be eating out for certain meals. If you’re only gone for a day trip, packing a cooler is a great option. So is bringing food for a meal on the plane. (Be prepared for a million questions about what you’re eating and how healthy you are from random people.)
If that’s not possible, places that are easily found and have nutritional facts online are your friend. Think, Chipotle, Panera, the Whole Foods hot bar (Chick Fil A can be an OK option if you HAVE to eat at a drive through.) If you’re at a sit-down place that doesn’t have nutrition online, use common sense. Research the menu BEFORE you go and don’t let hunger dictate what to eat.
Try to mimic the same foods/meals you eat at home. If all else fails, grilled lean protein, extra veggies and starches with butter/oil sparingly or on the side can be accommodated at most places. If you’re on the road for more than just a night, research the area and find healthy options. It always pays to be prepared.
2. Acknowledge the stress your body is under traveling and adjust accordingly.
The knee-jerk reaction when your workout is disrupted is to slash calories. Maybe you think to yourself, ‘Oh, I didn’t earn my carbs today.’ Maybe you aren’t able to train as much (if at all). But stress is stress. You have to respect all of it. Your body doesn’t care if that stress comes from a 500-lb back squat or a two-hour flight delay on the heels of a 4 a.m. wake up call. This is not a time to undereat your allotted macros!
You have to prioritize recovery and health FIRST. If not, your hormones are going to be out of whack, your stress is through the roof and you’re furthering stressing your body underfeeding it or trying to squeeze in some high-intensity workout session. This is how you get hurt. So if you need to eat a little more because of time changes, or being up four hours early than you’re used to, do it.
You can’t be trying to undereat when your body is already in stress mode. Simply put, it’s going to go in survival mode, hold onto your fat and a whole host of other not fun things. Use food to ease the stress, not become another stressor. This is not the time to forget a pre-workout or post-workout snack. It’s also not the time to force yourself to slog through a high-intensity workout (and up your Cortisol even more.) Be smart, recover and supplement with magnesium.
3. Use NEAT.
Remember macros are cool and all but it’s really your total energy expenditure that’s going to determine whether you gain or lose weight. So work on getting that NEAT up when you’re on the road. It’s a vastly overlooked part of nutrition and can help keep you sane when your schedule is off on the road.
Whether you can train or not while traveling, if you eat well and keep moving you’d be surprised how effective it can be in combatting weight gain. To quote a memorable link from a recent nutrition certification, “You don’t ever see any fat fidgeters!”
4. Bring snacks.
One common problem on the road is not hitting your protein requirements or being unable to hit them without sending your fat through the roof. See above for why: fat is everywhere if you’re eating out.
Yeah, in an ideal world we’d like for you to be getting most of your protein from real food sources. But traveling isn’t ideal and supplementing is a better option than eating a cheeseburger because you’re low on protein (but not on fat.) If you’re concerned with protein quality, opt for a grass-fed variety.
Plus, it’s easily measured and simple to track. If you’re gone for a long-term stay, consider using a meal service if expenses allow. Nearly all hotels will accommodate the need for a refrigerator and many have no problem giving you a microwave (though some require you to call and reserve on in advance of your stay.) I once went six weeks in a hotel with nothing but a slow cooker and Trifecta bulk foods. It can be done.
5. Make your macros work for you.
This is in line with what we said in the intro. If you’re on maintenance or in a caloric surplus (i.e. bulking), be dilligent but flexible. Going a little over your macros –which often involve a good bit of guesswork if you’re eating out — isn’t the end of the world. A few days eating more could actually boost recovery and have you feeling better (provided you’re eating quality foods, sleeping, keeping stress in check, etc.).
If you’re on a cut or in a specific performance window —maybe an upcoming meet?- bring a smaller food scale. Eyeballing is NOT enough if you need to be precise. Traveling when you need to be on point with your nutrition is obviously really tough, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. If you use high days/refeed days, try to schedule those for when you know you’ll be gone (or forced to be in a social food setting) to give you some extra wiggle room.
6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (and don’t freak out on the scale).
Eating out, alcohol, travel. It’s easy to see how you can quickly become dehydrated on the road. You’re out of your element, out of your schedule, eating different foods. But even a 1.5 percent loss in water –which is categorized as MILD dehydration– leads to fatigue, difficulty in remember in simple facts, a higher level of anxiety and tension.
Hydration is something that needs to be prioritized when you’re traveling. A basic start point when it comes to water intake is to divide your body weight in half and add 15 ounces. But needs increase with activity (and there is such a thing as over-hydrating) so check your urine.
As for the scale, your body’s rhythm is likely out of whack traveling (again, even more so if you’re traveling through time zones) and we noted above the ease of consuming extra sodium eating out. Water retention is normal and weight fluctuation –even when you aren’t traveling — is too. The last thing you should do is step on the scale the morning after travel and freak out. If you overindulged, use that number as a baseline and know that you didn’t actually gain all of that weight. Get back on your schedule and monitor your scale over the next week to really see where you’re at.