It's no easy task maintaining a healthy diet when travelling for business. It's not only all those higher-calorie restaurant meals that can unravel your nutrition plan – hectic agendas, time changes, poor sleep and long periods of sitting can prompt the most disciplined eaters to leave their diet at home.
There's good reason to watch what you eat – and drink – while on the road. Research has shown that frequent business travellers (20 or more days a month) were more than twice as likely to be obese than those who travelled at most six days each month. Extensive travellers were also more likely to have high blood pressure and unfavourable cholesterol levels.
Even with the odds stacked against you, it's not a lost cause. There's no need to let your out-of-town environment control your eating habits. With a little forethought and the right plan, you can keep your diet from sliding out the (airplane) window.
The following smart eating strategies will help you fuel your body to get the energy you need – without a surplus of calories – to power through your busy work days on the road.
1. Pack your snacks
Whether you're driving or flying, bring a stockpile of healthy, non-perishable snacks in your briefcase or carry-on bag to fill nutrient gaps and curb hunger when you're in transit or between meetings. Doing so will help you stay in control of what you eat at lunch and dinner. Travel-friendly snacks include nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit (air travel within Canada), dark chocolate, 85-gram tins of tuna with pull-off tabs, granola bars and whole-food energy bars (for example, Kind Bar, Larabar, Elevate Me, Taste of Nature, Simply Protein Fruit & Nut). If you're doing business on the road, bring a small cooler in your car to keep yogurt, protein shakes and bottled water chilled. Eat every three hours to feed your brain and avert that hunger that makes you reach for the cookie tray during a meeting.
2. Manage alcohol
A few cocktails at a client reception or business dinner adds unwanted calories and weakens your resolve to make smart food choices. Alcohol also reduces REM sleep, the deepest stage that's involved in memory. At business functions, decide in advance to have only one or two drinks. Don't let servers keep refilling a half-empty glass.
3. Eat breakfast
Skipping breakfast sets the stage for hunger and cravings during the day. If ordering from a hotel menu, yogurt, berries and granola, oatmeal, poached eggs on whole-grain toast or an egg-white omelette with fruit salad are good choices. If you live out of hotels during the week, bring a supply of unflavoured instant oatmeal for quick, in-room breakfasts. To add protein (and calcium), order a non-fat latte to go. At a coffee shop, opt for an egg-white sandwich, oatmeal topped with dried fruit or nuts, yogurt parfait, whole-grain English muffin with peanut butter or, at Starbucks, a Protein Bistro Box.
4. Pump up the protein
Make protein – not carbohydrates – the focus of your meals. Protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, chicken breast, fish, egg whites, tofu and Greek yogurt provide tyrosine, an amino acid that prompts the brain to manufacture norepinephrine and dopamine, neurotransmitters that keep you alert.
5. Bring your greens
It's a challenge to get seven to 10 fruit and vegetable servings while away on business. Pack small baggies of powdered greens (e.g., Vega Protein & Greens, Genuine Health Greens+). Stir two teaspoons into juice, a latte, yogurt or oatmeal.
6. Visit a grocery store
During an extended stay, ask for a mini fridge in your hotel room. Find a local grocery store so you can stock it with fruit, milk, yogurt, peeled hard-boiled eggs, baby carrots and hummus.
7. Go easy on caffeine
Drinking coffee boosts alertness and mental focus. But caffeine also increases cortisol, a stress hormone that, when chronically elevated, revs up appetite and sugar cravings and triggers fat storage. Stick to one cup of caffeinated coffee a day. Drink decaf or switch to tea, which has considerably less caffeine than coffee (45 milligrams versus 100-175 milligrams per 8 ounces).
8. Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of water while travelling, especially on long flights. Low humidity and recirculating cabin air can cause dehydration, which zaps your energy and concentration and worsens jet lag. Drink 250 millilitre of water for every hour of flight. Avoid salty drinks, such as tomato and Clamato juices. Pack a stainless-steel water bottle so you can sip on water during the day. Staying hydrated at your destination can also prevent overeating; people often confuse thirst for hunger.
9. Use a mobile app
To make you stop and think about what you're eating between meetings, track your food intake with an app such as MyFitnessPal, Lose It! or MyNetDiary. If you travel to the United States, an app can help you find healthy menu choices at restaurants and airport terminals (e.g., HealthyOut, Find Me Gluten Free, GateGuru).
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian,is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to CTV News Channel.