Your taxi is late and the flight is about ready to depart; you’re hungry but the only thing on the way to the gate is a fast food frenzy of unhealthy options. Stressed and out of options, you board the plane.
As a sports nutritionist, one of the most frequent questions I hear from clients is, "How do you eat healthy when you are going from airport to airport and constantly have a rigorous schedule to maintain?" Let’s explore various travel hacks concerning mindful eating that help active professionals, athletes, and families that traverse the globe eat healthy wherever life may lead.
With a little ingenuity and time, eating healthy on-the-go is not only possible, it is easy! From tossing together your own trail mix to preparing a fresh veggie wrap you can tuck into your carry on, here is my best advice for the active traveler.
1. Eat Light Before Your Flight
A lot of components can affect your digestive system in the air. From cabin pressure to altitude, not to mention air quality and germs, air travel can wreak havoc on the body. Eating a light meal before your flight instead of overloading on rich, calorie-dense foods will give you a good start to your trip. Avoiding meat and dairy the day before travel is a healthy practice, helping keep you from feeling lethargic and heavy mid-flight.
2. Drink More H₂O
Dehydration is a very common problem with air travel that can make you feel tired and sluggish. To stay hydrated, pack a large, empty bottle into your purse or carry-on, and when you get through security…fill it up. Take advantage of the new trend of water fountains in the airport that provide filtered water spouts.
3. Abstain From Plane Food
Processed, salty, and often inundated with sugar, food served on the plane is not the healthiest option. Look out for healthy food venders in the airport or prepare a healthy and delicious airplane snack at home. Don’t hesitate to bring your leftovers onboard or pack up a sandwich and veggie crudite for an inflight meal.
4. Eat After You Arrive
Get a healthy, nutritious meal when you land at your destination. Searching for a health food restaurant on the fly might be the most time effective way to travel, but make it a point before departing (maybe while you pack) to do a quick search of the area where you will be staying. Identifying grocery stores and restaurants available within walking distance will help you navigate unhealthy splurging. Consuming some root vegetables—such as parsnips, carrots, and beets—and complex carbohydrates, such as rice or pasta, which will have a calming effect on your nervous system. Grounding yourself with a good meal combats jet lag and helps you sleep better after a long day of travel.
5. Pack Healthy Snacks
A couple days before your departure, hit the supermarket. Stock up on protein-rich, nutrient dense foods such as nuts and berries. Look for low-sugar power bars or make your own (try these or these or these); stock up on other minimally processed foods that can be easily packed away like rice cakes, carrots and hummus, or celery and guacamole; or make your own ancient grain salad and store it in an airtight container for take-off. Using robust greens and hearty veggies dressed with a vinaigrette will help the meal stay fresh until you’re ready to indulge. Don’t forget to restock at a grocery store when you arrive at your destination to replenish your inventory of fresh fruits that won’t get bruised or smooshed in your bag, such as apples or small, easy-to-peel mandarins. Carry these along with a homemade trail mix of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits wherever you go, eliminating the temptation to reach for the junk in a pinch.
6. Take Care Of Your Tummy
It may sound funny but pack a digestive tea like ginger root and licorice or peppermint for the inevitable indigestion that can be caused by many travel factors such as eating out a lot, stress, or not having a permanent home base.
7. Cook Whenever Possible
With a host of accommodation options available on the market today, you can opt for a room or flat that has a kitchen, or at the very least a kitchenette in your hotel room. Committing to preparing at least one meal a day will have an impact on your overall wellbeing.
8. Be A Green Machine
Meeting your daily requirements of veggies can be difficult when the places you dine may not offer a variety of options on the menu. Most restaurants will at least have a couple salads on offer. Be mindful, and incorporate at least one leafy green salad and a side of veggies into your diet every day.
9. Treat Yourself
On vacation or dining with your boss, it is inevitable that dessert will be served at one point or another. Don’t feel guilty. Enjoy it! When possible try to consume higher glycemic foods during the day though. Heavy meals consumed late at night can be more difficult to digest and can also prevent you from getting a good night's rest.
10. Listen To Your Body
It may sound simple, but this is a game changer. Check in: are you really mindful and present and if so, can you distinguish when you are actually hungry? If you are like most, eating can become habitual and mindless when you become bored or restless or just eat according to a preconceived schedule. Try this. Eat only when you are genuinely hungry. Let your body be your guide. It will thank you for this awareness.
In addition to incorporating this new practice into your life, don’t feel obligated to eat everything on your plate. Once you feel content, take leftovers with you. Either eat it later or give it to the less fortunate, so it doesn’t go to waste.
Maybe not everything on this list is manageable on your next trip, but do try to incorporate a few new practices into your travel routine. Once you see—and more importantly “feel”—the progress you will want to tackle more of the objectives. Soon, you will be a well-versed, professional traveler that not only feels great, but can give healthful advice to the person sitting beside you on your next flight.