Your Travel Nutrition Questions Answered
I don’t know about you, but I personally struggle sticking to my healthy eating style while traveling. If you haven’t noticed by now, I love food and some of my fondest memories from traveling are centered around meals or something new I’ve tried. Typically, when someone asks me for recommendations, my first instinct is to share a restaurant they must try or a bakery they can’t miss.
While at home, I like to stick with my “home court habits,” as The Foodist, Darya Rose calls them, but find it hard not to overindulge while traveling. I think one of the problems is I used to associate traveling with being on vacation, which naturally I connected with letting go and relaxing. However, the only issue is over the past year I’ve been on the road more than at home, and you can’t let go and overindulge on a long-term basis. I’m not saying I shouldn’t try all the different types of pasta in Italy or go to the most amazing bakery in Copenhagen, but there have been many times where I’ve gone overboard and lost my sense of portion control or how to determine if something is really worth the indulgence.
I reached out to my friend from college, Eliza Whetzel, who just became a kickass Registered Dietitian at Middleberg Nutrition in New York, for some tips on how to healthfully incorporate more indulgent foods into my diet while traveling. She’s also shared some great advice on how to beat jetlag, stay active, and how to prepare for the journey.
I hope you’ll find her suggestions as helpful as I have! Honestly, she shares some great tips to incorporate into our overall everyday "healthstyles". Continue reading for my Q&A with Eliza as she shares her best advice to get you through these extra busy next few weeks of holiday travel.
1. First thing’s first, name your top 3 favorite foods you’ve had while traveling.
Hazelnut gelato in Italy. No words. Fresh fish that my dad caught in the Bahamas and cooked by my grandfather. Pizza cooked al forno in Santa Barbara.
2. As a Registered Dietitian, I’m sure food plays a large role while traveling. What do you look forward to the most?
Every trip is an exploration of food culture for me. Even when we go away for wedding weekends (which is most of our travel these days), I always look up the local farmers markets and hot healthy eating spots so that I can try new things and bring the ideas home with me.
3. One of the largest challenges I know people face is eating while in transit. Do you have any suggestions for keeping on track?
Packing and traveling can be stressful, especially with food, so make sure you plan ahead! My top tips include prepping for before, during, AND after your trip!
Before you leave, get a "snack pack" together! When you are traveling anywhere, be sure to have a snack survival kit filled with your go-to's. I fill a Ziploc bag with items I love such as nut butter packets and fresh fruit (think apple or banana). Bars are also so easy - RXBARs are our favorite these days (Morgan’s too - especially blueberry!). We keep these survival kits on hand even at home, in the office, and in our purses.
During your trip, bring your own food onto the plane or train (and in the car)! Foods stocked on board trains and planes tend to be generally high in sodium and if you skip meals, you'll be ravenous upon your arrival. Pick up a salad at the airport, or a protein pack from Starbucks at a rest stop. "Control the controllables." If you're traveling in the morning, bring your breakfast, knowing that lunch and dinner may be wildcards.
Upon arrival, avoid heading straight to the coffee bar. We are not always juice fans, but this is one instance where you should grab a green juice! Filling up on veggie juice will revitalize your energy and keep you from choosing refined sugars and added caffeine.
4. Are there specific foods or liquids you should avoid eating while in transit?
When you are traveling (and always), try to avoid foods with refined sugars, excessive sodium (avoid packaged foods with sodium levels above 20% Daily Value per serving), artificial sweeteners, and excessive caffeine. Skip the junk, and choose real, whole foods!
5. I’ve heard that you should drink extra water to stay hydrated while traveling. What’s the appropriate amount?
Yes, I suggest 1L per hour plane flight. If the extra pee breaks are annoying, then stick to the normal daily suggestion (1/2 your body weight in ounces per day) plus a bit extra.
6. Still or sparkling water?
I would suggest whatever water you will drink, but sparkling water may cause bloating, so stick to flat or alternate.
7. What are your thoughts on plane food?
This totally depends on the airline and what class you are flying….Think EasyJet vs. Emirates in first class ;) They generally add more sodium to plane food to help preserve it, and also your taste buds may change at higher altitude. Some airlines, like JetBlue, have incredible options on longer flights, but I always suggest planning ahead and bringing your own food. You can control it and not leave it to chance! There was one flight where I was depending on the JetBlue Kale Salad and they were out….unhappy dietitian :(
8. What should I look for at the airport on a layover?
Look for fresh fruit that you can pair with your nut butter packets, hard boiled eggs, a yogurt, green juice, or simple salad. A package of unsalted almonds….totally depends on the airport. WATER or herbal tea! Bring your own tea packets- I suggest Yogi Tea lemon ginger.
9. I’m going on a long windy car ride, a boat, or get nauseous while traveling. What can I do naturally for motion sickness?
Keep some ginger tea or bites on hand, as ginger can be very soothing to an upset stomach. Be sure to keep hydrating as well, as dehydration can also increase nausea. Sip, don’t chug.
10. Now I've arrived at my destination and I'm super jet lagged. Are there any ways I can use mealtimes to help adjust to the time change?
Absolutely- I would definitely eat according to hunger cues, but adopting a new schedule in regard to meals can help to adjust your body. Be prepared with snacks to hold you over until you appropriately adjust.
11. What are your top tips for staying on track while traveling?
Drinking water will help to avoid potential issues with regularity, maintain hunger levels, and prevent jet lag. Traveling can throw off your digestive system and block you up. Be sure to bring along some chia packets and magnesium. Dehydration also can put the body at increased risk for compromised immunity.
While traveling, people tend to eat out more than usual. Portion control can go out the window, especially with large restaurant portions, or food pushers at home! Try to think of your iPhone as a portion of protein, your fist as a serving of carbs, and make half of your lunch and dinner plates non-starchy veggies. No need to be a member of the "Clean Plate Club"-- leave 1/4 of your food over on your plate, or aim for two appetizers.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. This saying is tough, but it's true. When you can, try to plan ahead. Perhaps you call the hotel and ask them to empty the minibar, or you email your mother-in-law with a few grocery requests. Research healthy restaurant options near your destination, or find the closest grocery store or farmers market to pick up a few necessities.
Vacation doesn’t mean that you have to stop your fitness routine. You can use the 7-minute workout app, try a new fitness studio, or something like Physique 57 on demand in your hotel room. My favorite way to explore a new city is on foot, walking, or running!
12. And what if I’m traveling with friends or family that like to order dishes together and share. They typically want to share a bunch of unhealthy options. It was fun once for me, but now I’d like to eat healthier. What would you do?
If you are comfortable, state that you would like to order your own salad and entrée. If that will be too disruptive, speak up and order an appetizer or two that fits on your plan- think veggie and protein based such as shrimp cocktail, oysters, a salad (hold the cheese), mussels, grilled calamari!
13. At the same time, I want to indulge and try the local foods. How much is too much?
Definitely indulge in local food culture. Traveling is supposed to be fun, and so is eating out! Just make sure to indulge in a mindful and controlled fashion. No need to finish your entire plate. You can always take something to go and store it in your hotel fridge, or just have it go to waste (this can be incredibly hard, but think of all the time, money, and effort you spend on maintaining your health/weight)!
14. I have a few specific questions. I know breakfast is a big issue for me in some European countries particularly where I don’t have access to my usual eggs. Plus, we get up early and are directly on the move. I don’t just want a pastry. Any tips here?
Fruit and yogurt are generally always available, as are hard boiled eggs. Carry your nut butter packets with you, and perhaps take a slice of delicious European bread, spread it with the nut butter, and add some banana or berries (instead of jam). Easy! Bars and oatmeal are also good go-to's.
15. And what about a great hotel breakfast buffet. How would you approach it? The pastries just look so good!
Focus first on protein and produce. No need to fill the entire plate, but make the main items your eggs, perhaps smoked salmon, or yogurt. If you need the pastry, put it on your plate, and just have a few bites!
16. Ah, I have pasta belly in Italy. What do I do?
Make sure that you are hydrating appropriately and using your magnesium/probiotics. Enjoying pasta in moderation is fine, and the portions in Italy tend to be much smaller, and the pasta less processed than in the US. Enjoy and savor each bite, and try to order a lighter pasta, such as linguine alle vongole or red sauce, and have a side of sautéed spinach or broccolini. Also remember to get moving, take a long walk and focus on protein and produce for your next meal.
17. What do you do when you get back from an overly-indulgent trip?
Don’t wallow in guilt and deprive yourself. Embrace a clean diet and get back on track, perhaps limiting processed foods, carbohydrates, and alcohol. I always have a big order from a grocery delivery service waiting for me (this is a great way to pass long plane rides) or spend time at the grocery store stocking up on veggies and lean proteins. Continue to hydrate!
18. I know I’m not going to want to cook an elaborate meal the day I get back, but don’t want to order unhealthy takeout. What do I do?
Have your freezer stocked with healthy and easy items to piece together- frozen fish, turkey burgers, or veggie burgers. Soups and frozen veggies are always easy! Eggs can be cooked in a nano-second and an omelet is a perfect return home meal. If you need greens and don’t want to make an extra stop, pick up a plain green salad from the airport once you land.
19. Thanks for the great tips! And congrats on your upcoming wedding. Where are you going on your honeymoon?
20. Wow, incredible! That’s an extremely long flight. Have you thought about how you’re going to prepare for you and your new husband?
I AM SO PSYCHED for NZ, but not for the flight. I will definitely stock up my snack pack, bring some meals in case I don’t like the options available (I generally eat gluten-free so this can be difficult)…and I will absolutely take a probiotic, my multivitamin, and HYDRATE. Will I drink the champers on the flight—maybe….but generally skip alcohol when flying if you can. Alcohol will dehydrate you, making you feel groggy and lethargic upon arrival. If you can't go without, be sure to keep your water intake up, and have at least one glass of water between alcoholic drinks. To keep your waistline in check, choose light beer, wine, tequila soda or vodka soda-- skip the mimosas, bloody marys, and cocktails.