When it comes to health and nutrition, the most challenging times tend to be when we’re traveling. You’re in a new environment, you don’t have access to your usual foods, you may not have access to a kitchen, and it can be challenging to stay on track.
It’s true that food on the road may not be perfect, but that certainly doesn’t mean you need to throw in the towel. Whether it’s annual vacation, a cross-country move, or regular travel for work, there are strategies you can use to keep yourself on track.
Your travel may involve staying at a place with a full kitchen, in which case you can buy your usual foods and cook whatever you want. But for this blog, we’re going to discuss strategies for eating out and on the go when kitchen access is limited.
Should you track macros on the road?
The first thing to consider is if you should even be tracking in the first place. There’s no hard rule that says you must track every bite of food when you’re away, so the first step is deciding how you want to approach travel.
Is it a vacation? You may want to take a more relaxed approach if you’re okay with maintaining the progress you’ve already made. We all need balance in our lives, and sometimes loosening up the reins for a few days can be a nice mental break.
On the other hand, if you travel for work every week, you’ll probably want to manage your food to the best of your ability, even if it’s a more modified approach.
If the idea of not tracking everything stresses you out, remember this about being consistent most of the time, NOT being perfect all of the time.
Even if you take two weeks off tracking each year, you could still be on track 50/52 weeks of the year, and the last time I checked, 96% compliance is still excellent. Is that extra 4% improvement worth the stress of tracking macros on vacation? Maybe, maybe not – that’s a very personal decision.
Travel for Vacation
Let’s start with traveling for fun. If you have a vacation coming up, a weekend road trip, or anything else intended to help you destress and relax, a looser approach to food may be a better fit.
You don’t want to ruin your vacation time by stressing about every macro you’re eating, but depending on how long the trip is, you probably don’t want every day to be a free-for-all either.
If you’re worried about losing progress, try the “once a day” rule. Once a day, enjoy something a bit more indulgent – maybe it’s a delicious entree with dinner, or maybe it’s a few cocktails at a local bar, or a must-have dessert.
The rest of the day, you can focus on leaner protein sources, fruits, vegetables, things like that, but having one indulgence a day is a great way to enjoy things in moderation, without enjoying yourself so much that you undo a few weeks of progress.
Travel for Work
When it’s travel for business, or any other sort of travel where you’d prefer to stay on track instead of taking a relaxed approach, you’ll probably want to stick a bit closer to the plan.
In this situation, try to track your macros if possible using your best guesses at portion sizes, but you can also fall back on a more modified approach.
The most important things that impact body composition are total calorie intake, and protein intake, so if you’re unable to hit your macros perfectly, just aim to keep the total calories in the right range, with as much protein as possible.
If you need a quick refresher, protein and carbs are both 4 calories per gram, while fat is 9 calories per gram. You can quickly calculate your total calorie goal based on your macros, and then try to stick to that calorie total.
Alright, let’s jump right into the specific food tips. These are not comprehensive lists by any means, but as someone who travels frequently, these are the most common snacks I tend to find in most gas stations, hotels, and airports.
If you have a cooler with you on a road trip, then of course you can bring any food you want from home – these are the foods that don’t need to stay cold, or cold foods you can find at most convenience stores.
-Protein bars, chips, or other high-protein snacks
-Pre-mixed protein shakes
Go-To Menu Options
Now for the bigger challenge, restaurants. These days, many chain restaurants include the total calories in each menu item, which makes it very easy to stick to your total calorie goal.
If you don’t see these, here are some common options you can find just about anywhere, that will also be high in protein and low in calories. If you don’t see these, don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve never had an issue asking if I can add grilled chicken to my salad, or remove cheese or butter from something.
-House salad with added grilled chicken or shrimp
-Lean protein (fish, chicken, lean red meat) with steamed veggies on the side
-Fajitas, as they are often served disassembled and you control the portions
-Egg white omelet with fruit on the side
If none of these sound super appealing, the menu might have calories listed so you can order and track anything you want if it fits your calories.
When you come across a menu that doesn’t have the calories listed, try searching for a similar food from a chain restaurant. You shouldn’t have much trouble finding something to log.