Traveling is a big wrench thrown into the middle of a diet.
At some point, nearly all of our online clients will have to navigate around a trip of some sort while they’re trying to diet.
Traveling makes it harder to diet, that’s for sure. But it’s not impossible, and there are a lot of “tips and tricks” to ensure it goes smoothly.
Today's blog gives you the strategies we give our online clients to help them enjoy their trips and keep making progress throughout.
1. DECIDE HOW YOU WANT TO MENTALLY APPROACH YOUR TRIP
There are always trade-offs for every decision you make.
You could decide to completely forgo tracking your nutrition for a vacation:
The trade off → Slower progress or extended time in the fat loss phase.
You could decide to prep meals and be extremely meticulous on vacation:
The trade off → Less enjoyment of the food on that trip.
Neither answer is better than the other. It depends on what you want and which trade off you’re ok with. You just need to be aware of the trade offs you are making.
A trip to Italy for your honeymoon will probably be handled a bit differently than a monthly business trip. The difference is the concept of “emotional value.”
Emotional value is how special this meal, in this moment, with these people, is to you.
A pasta dinner in Italy with your new spouse is objectively more special than a hotel breakfast on a work trip. The pasta dinner would more likely be a time when you shouldn’t care about your macros, where the hotel breakfast doesn’t hold any special value and could probably be looked at as just fuel to get you onto the next thing in your day.
This doesn’t have to be a black or white situation, either, with making trade-offs or with the emotional value of food. There is a lot of gray space in between.
Some parts of a meal or a trip may have higher emotional value than others. You may be in a fat loss phase for a goal that’s very important to you, so something that normally has a high emotional value could be placed lower on the priority list for the time being.
There are also ways to make space in your weekly or daily calories to still enjoy these things without going way beyond the calorie targets (more on that later…)
2. TRACKING RESTAURANT MEALS
This of course isn’t unique to being on vacation, but most people will eat out at restaurants more often while traveling than while at home.
Eating a lot of food out won’t ever be 100% accurate because no two cooks will add the same amount of each ingredient, or serve things the same way...they don’t care about your macros.
But there are some tips that can make things a bit more accurately tracked, and fit more closely to your health and macro goals.
1. CHOOSE FOODS/MEALS WITH THE FEWEST INGREDIENTS
A less complex meal is easier to track AND is more likely to be tracked accurately.
Identify the options on your available menu with the fewest possible ingredients, and roll with one of those. The fewer ingredients your meal has, the more room for error you're removing.
Some typically solid options:
→ Salad with Grilled Chicken/steak/shrimp - Be sure to take into account any add-ons like dressings, eggs, nuts, etc.
→ Lean Steak - Your steak meal will normally be pretty customizable, with the option for a lower calorie cut (e.g. sirloin), and the option to swap your mashed potatoes or fries for seasonal veggies. Again, just ask to be aware of any potential add-ons. Steaks are also often dipped or coated in butter. Either account for it in your tracking or ask the waiter if it’s used.
→ Grilled Chicken Entree
→ Fish Entree
→ Pork Loin
2. PRIORITIZE PROTEIN
Identify the most protein-dense food on your plate. Finish that first, along with any fruits or veggies you have available. (Hint: It's probably meat.)
Protein is the most filling macronutrient.
Plus, protein sources are typically pretty easy to guesstimate relatively accurately (e.g. a piece of grilled chicken, a cut of steak). Just be sure to account for any added sauces or oils.
By eating a bunch of protein, fruits, and veggies first, you're essentially running damage control - you're pretty full-on foods you'll likely be able to measure accurately... so you're much less likely to be able to eat lots of food you won't be able to measure as accurately.
3. MACRO PLAN
Plan your day out in advance the night before, a.k.a macro-planning. While you probably won't be able to perfectly guess what's available to eat, you can get a rough guesstimate. Macro-planning gives you a good idea of how you need to eat the rest of the day leading up to the event to stay on track with your goals.
3. PACKING YOUR TRAVEL FOODS
Speaking of the rest of your day leading up to the restaurant meal...those lower emotional value meals when you’re just eating something to get on with the rest of your day are a big opportunity to include some protein and produce.
Once you’ve entered in meals you know you want to have a particular food or larger meal out, you can fill in the earlier meals with some easy-to-pack foods.
Easy to travel foods would be ones that don’t need a ton of prep.
You can usually ask for a mini-fridge and a microwave, so even some frozen dinners and cold foods can be included, but you’ll usually want to plan for things that don’t need a dish, an oven, or any major prep unless you’re staying in an Air BnB.
This means that you’ll either need to go get a load of groceries to take with you if you’re not flying, or stop at a grocery store or get a delivery once you get to your destination.
EXAMPLES OF GREAT TRAVEL FOODS:
→ Pre-cooked frozen chicken
Something like this...
...works very well because they just require a bit of microwave time but it’s a more substantial meal that won’t give you any issues with digestion or bloating. This can also go with any other pre-cooked frozen meats like fajita steak or shrimp.
→ Beef Jerky
Jerky is such a great travel food because it can work even if you have no refrigeration/cooler or microwave, and is mostly protein, which is the hardest macro to come by. The only thing to watch out for with jerky is the type.
This "strip" type is the best option vs. the ‘stick’ types.
The stick types are easier to chew, but that’s because they’re mostly fat. Also, if you’re trying to keep carbs low or save them for something else, a lot of varieties include plenty of sugar, especially the “sweet+spicy” or teriyaki flavors.
→ Deli meat
→ Rotisserie chicken
→ Pre-boiled eggs
→ Tuna/chicken/salmon packets
→ Protein powder or bars
→ Non-fat greek yogurt
→ Low fat string cheese
→ Rice cups or packets
→ Rip-top canned beans
→ Rice cakes or rollers
→ Any fruit, especially apples, oranges, and bananas
→ Baby carrots
→ Guacamole cups
→ Nut butter packets
Most grocery stores will have some frozen dinner options that are similar to a meal prep service type of food selection, like these “fit menu meals”.
My go-to on trips is usually these Healthy Choice Power Bowls:
The common theme with any of the solid frozen dinner options is lean meat and vegetables. They should look similar to something you could easily prep at home.
Once you have your meal staples you can plan out the day’s food.
With my clients, I’m a big fan of just having them track protein and calories on vacation, instead of all three macronutrients.
The research says that as long as protein and calories are equated, your fat loss changes won’t differ with different ratios of carbs and fats.
In normal day-to-day life it’s great to get a bit more dialed in with carbs and fats to optimize performance, but when you’re traveling, the protein and calorie method can give you a bit of a mental break and provide some extra flexibility.
Let’s say for example, your daily calorie and protein targets are 2000 calories and 150g of protein.
You know you’re going to go to dinner but you don’t know exactly what you’ll get or where you’ll go.
You want to have plenty of flexibility so you allot for 1000 calories of your day to be saved for dinner, giving you 1000 calories to eat throughout the rest of your day. In 4 meals per day you know you’ll need 35-40g per meal, so you’ll look for a high-protein option at dinner, and plan on around 40g per meal for breakfast, lunch, and snack.
Your day could look something like...
→ Fat-free plain greek yogurt tub = 90 calories, 17g protein
→ 2/3 scoop protein powder = 75 calories, 17g protein
→ 100g apple = 50 calories, 0g protein
Total = 215 calories, 35g protein
→ Pre-cooked chicken breast, 7 cooked ounces = 230 calories, 42g protein
→ 1 serving baby carrots = 35 calories, 0g protein
→ 1 Orange=60 calories, 1g protein
Total= 330 calories, 43g protein
→ 1 Scoop whey protein = 110 calories, 25g protein
→ 1 Protein bar = 200 calories, 21g protein
Total = 310 calories, 46g protein
That gives you a total of 850 calories and 125g of protein for your first 3 meals, which leaves plenty of room for a sensible meal out.
4. STAY MOVING
It seems like people tend to fall into one of two camps on vacation:
1. Those who move very little due to flying, driving, and the rest and relaxation that comes with vacation
2. Those that tend to walk around a lot more due to sightseeing and walking from place to place.
If you’re in the former camp, consciously making sure to get more steps in throughout the day can make a big difference in how you feel at the end of the trip, your weight change, and your digestion.
Walking while you’re on a trip is a great way to see new things, so planning to walk to as many places as possible is a great way to get more movement.
There are also usually great bike sharing services to take advantage of.
Usually you’ll be traveling to someplace with great weather, so getting out in the morning and evening to walk is also a great way to start and end your days, and will help you sleep better by setting your circadian rhythm.
If you are someone who already gets a lot of steps on vacation, once you add the above diet strategies you can come back having stuck to your plan without missing out on any of the enjoyment of a vacation and even exceed your normal weight loss at home.
5. KEEP DIGESTION REGULAR
Digestion issues are a really common complaint during a vacation.
Most people tend to drink less water, are out of their normal routine, and might have to do a lot of sitting in a plane or car. As uncomfortable as it is to talk about, digestive issues and bloating can be a big damper on your trip.
To maintain regularity during a trip, here are some strategies our online clients use:
→ Keep water intake high. Aim for your normal amount. This might take some extra planning, and may require some bathroom trips that are inconvenient, but you’ll feel a lot better for it. Keep a large water bottle (40+ oz) filled and next to you at all times.
If you’re on a flight, fill your bottle after you pass security and make sure you keep drinking (an aisle seat helps so you don’t have to squeeze through to get to the bathroom.)
→ Keep steps high. Walking and movement keep you regular. If you’re sedentary, gravity isn’t helping you digest food and keep it moving through your digestive system.
→ Maintain as normal a routine as possible in the morning and evening. If you normally have some time in the morning to calmly drink your coffee and eat breakfast, try to give yourself time for that on vacation. Your body works on a rhythm, and if you throw off that rhythm, your body won’t go through it’s normal processes as well.
→ Give yourself some privacy. If you are in close quarters with anyone you’re staying with, try getting away to another bathroom that’s removed. If you aren’t comfortable, it’s hard to go.
→ Use a squatty potty. Sometimes hotel toilets are high. A squatty potty or small trash can helps.
→ Consider using magnesium citrate and/or senna. Start out with a small dose so you don’t go overboard.
These are all the strategies our clients use on work trips and vacation to enjoy their time while also making sure they aren’t disappointed in their choices once the fun is over.
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