According to the U.S. Travel Association, U.S. residents logged 452 million business trips in 2014 (U.S. Travel Association report). As part of the Road Warrior tribe and as someone who is obsessive about trying to live a healthy life, I know that business trips are not conducive to a healthy lifestyle and make practicing healthy habits a challenge. I am not alone. A study conducted by On24 surveyed 2,000 adults and the results demonstrate a trend in unhealthy behaviors on the road. Fifty-three percent believe that people eat more fatty foods while traveling, 43 percent believe that people do not stick to their regular exercise routine, and 42 percent believe that people go to bed later than normal and as a result do not get enough sleep (Forbes travel article). Another study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found a positive correlation between obesity and frequent work travel (Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine study).
Part of my job is to travel to all the cities where we have programming (Chicago, Miami, DC, NY, LA, New Orleans, Jacksonville) and connect with people, which happens organically over meals, drinks, and coffee. Being on the road regularly can equal missed workouts, less sleep, eating out more frequently, and drinking more alcohol than normal. Combined, these disruptions can have consequences that affect overall health. Not getting enough Zzzs can increase hunger hormones and lead folks to eat more calories (New York Times), and drinking more alcohol can cause people to consume an average of 433 more calories a day (Berkley Wellness article).
Not only is traveling tough, but making healthy choices on the road requires real mindfulness and planning. I feel my best when I am able to exercise daily, eat healthy, regular meals and get adequate sleep. When those aspects of my routine are interrupted it affects me physically and mentally. Making good choices will decrease the effect that regular travel can have. Over the last several years I have found that there are some things I can do in order to make healthier choices and stay closer to my everyday routine. Here are my tips and tricks for trying to stay healthy on the road:
1) Plan ahead.
If I know I will be traveling the week ahead I do my best to stay healthy leading up to the trip, including getting workouts in, just in case it doesn't happen while I am away, because sometimes I am at the mercy of others' schedules.
However, I always pack exercise clothes and sneakers so I don't have an excuse if the opportunity is there; I try my best to make it happen, because it has big benefits. Travel is sedentary, so maintaining an exercise routine goes a long way to keeping me on track; it can be as simple as a quick jog or walk (which is a great way to learn a new city), squeezing in some plyometrics or strength exercises in my hotel room, or even just stretching or doing a yoga routine. That helps me sleep better, manages my stress levels, and balances my caloric consumption.
Sometimes planning ahead for me means finding a local yoga studio nearby. Exercise is important but so is what I fuel myself with. It is even more important than normal when traveling considering all of the additional challenges that come with being on the road.
I do my best to stick to healthy food choices while I'm away. The night before I travel I pack lots of Ziploc bags of snacks. My girlfriend just joked to me that I have turned into an old Jewish mom with all my baggies in my purse! Having healthy snacks readily available keeps me on track and helps me make better choices when I am fatigued, hungry, or bored. I usually pack a variety of easy options that can be eaten on the go; some of my favorites include a 100-calorie portion of almonds, a baggie of fresh veggies, clementines, apples, or almond butter squeeze pouches. I often pack a meal and stick to items that hold up well, such as kale salads and hummus and veggies. Just make sure to check airline regulations before bringing food on board and through security. The Food Network has a great list of snacks that travel well on their blog (Food Network healthy travel foods).
The air in an airplane cabin is much lower humidity than typical indoor air, which can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can cause a slew of issues, among them fatigue, which can cause you to make poor choices, and so on. It is a vicious cycle.
As someone who is not a big water drinker, I often have a difficult time staying hydrated. I make a concerted effort to drink plenty of water leading up to my trip and make a point of drinking water on the plane. I try to grab a large bottle of water or refill my own reusable bottle once I am through security. I also ask the flight attendants for hot water, which seems to go down easier.
I have noticed that I drink on average three additional large cups of coffee when I am traveling, which helps me fight fatigue. Consequently, I intermittently fill my cup up with hot water or decaf tea in between and make a point to consider these options in lieu of a cup of joe. Hot water and tea help me stay warm, give me something to sip and usually help me feel full or just remind me that I don't need to fuel my exhaustion with food.
Many times when I think I am hungry I am actually thirsty, and having some water does the trick. Limiting liquid calories like booze, juice, and soda while on the road (and at home) is helpful and is a great way to stay hydrated and watch extra calories. Dehydration can also cause sweet and salty food cravings, but there are food options that can add to overall hydration. Foods like lettuce and certain fruits and vegetables have high water content. So have a salad with a side of watermelon before you catch that flight!
3) Maximize protein and plant-based foods. According to an article published on US News & Health, among the top foods to eat if you want to boost your energy are dark leafy greens, quinoa, nuts, seeds and fruits, and foods high in probiotics (US News & Health article). Creators of the Engine 2 Diet, a diet based on whole, plant-based foods, explain it simply:
Think of high-fiber and nutrient-heavy plant foods as the big logs in the fireplace that burn for hours. Think of low-fiber and nutrient-light foods such as simple carbohydrates as wads of newspaper that go up in a flash. When you're eating plant-strong, you won't have the energy peaks and valleys of the past, and if you so choose, you won't even need coffee to get ... in gear in the mornings. You'll awake feeling refreshed, even-keeled, and excited about charging forward into your day.
Remembering to fill my plate with a rainbow of plant-based foods, including plenty of protein, ensures that I keep my energy level up. I generally avoid refined grains, sugary snacks, and fried foods, but if I do make an exception I just make sure my next choice is a healthy one. I make every attempt to be consistent with my choices, which often makes the decisions easier by removing temptation.
4) Be specific. Order like Sally, it is okay! Ask for a simple piece of fish with vegetables, a salad without the cheese, dressing -- or oil and vinegar -- on the side. If I see a few different things on the menu that look good but aren't paired together I ask if they can make me a plate with the components that I want. As long as you are polite people usually make every effort to be accommodating. If I know which restaurant I am going to in advance, I can look at the menu ahead of time and make a decision.
I always try to order veggie-heavy dishes, which make me feel so much better than eating the pasta or sandwich options. But if you are craving the pasta, ask for a half order and share it with your tablemate(s). Another good tip for ordering at a restaurant is to order first, you'll be less likely to be influenced by others indulging and might even set the tone for everyone else to make healthy choices as well. I am confident enough to know that sticking with what works for me is worth it and makes me feel my best.
5) Choose hotels, airlines, and restaurants that share your values. Trying to get ready, arranging child-care, and ensuring your kids are all set before you leave can make taking care of yourself a last priority. I fly United and know that if I am missing my Ziplocs, they have snack boxes and other menu options with healthier choices, including fruit, fresh cheese, hummus, wraps and sandwiches. Because the way we interpret taste changes with altitude, United incorporates more flavor in the foods served at altitude. Set the foundation for your trip by making good choices while you are in the air.
Choosing hotels that are right off the park and have a recommended running route, or ones that have a gym is key, doing a little bit of research ahead of time to find some nearby classes, reaching out to see if there are in-room options or equipment that you can borrow; all of these efforts can go a long way towards minimizing the toll that travel can take on you. Many hotel chains offer gym loaner equipment that you can use as a guest, as well as a mini-fridge for keeping healthy foods in your room; I love when my hotel is near a Whole Foods and I can grab some fresh things to stock up. Identify the establishments with options that will improve your trip and stick with them.
There are lots of things you can do to lessen the impact of frequent traveling, learn in real time from your friends. My girlfriend Connie, a traveling food stylist and event planner, brings noise-canceling headphones and an eye mask for sneaking in some sleep on the flight and sets her watch to the local time of her destination in advance to adjust more quickly. My girlfriend Gail, a food writer, author and judge on Top Chef, gets up on long flights at least once every hour to stretch and move around and has a water-only policy during trips. My girlfriend, Peggy who is the Regional Marketing Manager for Dom Perignon, Moët & Chandon, is all about walking vs. cabbing to burn calories and learning the city. And my mother, who travels regularly to see her children and grandchildren, swears by her neck pillow (apparently they make lavender ones too). The more you travel the more you probably have your specific tricks and habits that make your trip less disruptive to your health. Advance planning is important. Focusing on how much better I feel when I make a healthy choice is also helpful, because I never regret making time for a jog, skipping the extra drink, or turning in early.