Eating Right on the Road

NOTE: It should be of note that most of these tips are a bit more applicable to urban areas. I definitely plan on following up with a piece that takes more suburban/rural areas into account, where healthier choices are NOT as abundant!

Alright, I’ve gotten a few emails from various bloggers asking me how I manage to be a runner and how I manage to contain and control my diet because I travel a bit for work and appear to eat out fairly often because of this.

The short answer here is knowing what you’re eating, how much you are eating, and sticking to your exercise plan. This also does NOT mean you CANNOT enjoy yourself (read: indulge) once in awhile. You don’t have to be a runner to pull this one off.

Let’s tackle the exercise part first.

First off, my travel sites/clients, etc have all been in urban areas, so this actually makes it very easy for me to find good hotels with sizable gyms/workout rooms. If you planning on running and if you are in an urban area, particularly in more compact cities like NYC, Boston and DC, if you go to Daily Mile or the USATF site (I’ve blogged about it previously) you can find routes that are appropriate to where you are staying.

If you’re on an exercise program, do what you can as your job/employer/client allows. Obviously your first priority IS work. If you are someone that sees a 10+ plus work day and if you have a lighter workout (say on the elliptical or treadmill) I would strongly recommend getting up in the morning and knocking out your workout. If you know you’re getting out at 5pm then aim for your workout right after followed by dinner. If you know you’re going the distance at the desk, then aim for a just-before-bed workout.

If you’re in a city and you want to enjoy the city in the evening, make sure you do your workout in the morning (I find this works best if you’re one to stay indoors and hike it on the treadmill or elliptical).

Finally if you are like myself training for a marathon or a half marathon, I would imagine most of you have your long runs on a weekend – i.e. Saturday or Sunday. If you are a road warrior like myself, I am presently making the assumption that if you travel during the week, that you are NOT doing your long runs on a travel day. If you are, it is of my rather humble opinion you save it for a day not affected by travel if at all possible.

The main rule in my opinion is the same on the road as it is at home. 1) PORTION CONTROL and 2) HEALTHY FOOD CHOICES. Yes I bolded that one for emphasis. Assuming your meals are paid for by the company or client, I target my meals according to how I run, though I realize this might not be possible for everyone. Also this is going to be impacted heavily by where you are staying on business.

Let’s start with #1: Portion Control.

If you are a runner like myself or at least work out at some part of the day, I would strongly recommend breaking your meals if at all possible down into smaller portions through the day. If you are staying at a smaller hotel, say a Days Inn, Holiday Inn, assuming they do provide free breakfast, stick to the cereals (but try and avoid the ones with too much sugar!!!) or in my case, go for the eggs, potatoes, and a slice of bread. Most continental breakfasts also have fruit – put a piece in your bag for your mid-morning snack if possible. If not, a comissary or convenience store or something will have snacks of some sort that you can just do a pick me up for late morning.

The key here is to make sure you have some food in your stomach to keep going but also puts you in a position where you are less likely to overeat. This also assumes you are on your laptop at the client site (or in some other position where you know you have the time to sit down and munch on your snack) and NOT face to face with the client at all times – if you are physically constantly on the go, then you will have no choice to have a larger breakfast. One suggestion I will make is to take a water bottle on your person if possible – drinking water at least in my case delays the onset of hunger.

For lunch, you can or should approach this one of two ways. If you have NOT done your workout (assuming not a rest day), I would have again, a smaller-portion lunch, and again, if possible, try and have a snack you think you can munch on mid-afternoon. Stick to sandwiches, salads, whatever. Beware of foods with too much oils, cheese, and the potential for too much salt. I avoid pizza for one thing if at all possible. Notice I said “too much” as a runner or whatever, you will need a bit of it to replace whatever you lose through sweat.

If you HAVE done your workout then you can potentially afford to have a big lunch, however DON’T overdo it and again, watch what you eat, again, watch for salt, excess cheeses, oils. Also if you opt for dessert, the vast majority of restaurants have desserts that easily can be half the amount in calories of your main dish. Cake easily tops 400 calories in most places (seriously, do the research, the general trend is true) as an example. Some states will also force establishments to post the number of calories when you order something – you’ll be surprised how much is in some of these eats!

For dinner, if you have NOT worked out, make sure you try and get in your workout RIGHT after work prior to dinner if you can. The best time to eat is right after your burn. However, it should be noted that in the 30 minutes IMMEDIATELY after you burn (or run) that is the BEST time to take in some food, what I do in urban areas is make sure I have a cup of greek yogurt accessible to chow down immediately after my run, as it’s the absolute best time to refuel (Source: marathoner Ryan Hall’s website).

Now, let’s talk about food choices.

Now, as for my personal choices when I’m on the road. First off, I will admit that 95% of my work on the road is in major metropolitan areas. So in that respect I am fortunate. So in most cases, here’s what I do:

1 Immediately find and locate the nearest Wegman’s/Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods Market so that I can pick up bananas, granola bars, water, nuts and other eats that I KNOW I can preserve through the week. (My employer’s policies on food reimbursement do allow for this, obviously you may have to adjust accordingly. If you have a set amount per day, you should be able to plan this out easily.) If your hotel has a mini-fridge (and in most cases, mine do, even when they don’t, I get by), I can also throw in yogurt for that week. Some cases, the grocery store may even be a block away (as the case is in NYC) so after work, I can just stop by the WFM and pick up a salad from the salad bar.

2 Always carry water with you on your person. I’m biased here because I’m a runner, but water will also (at least for me) a) keep me from buying another drink that will cost me more money and b) save on additional calories consumed through another drink and c) keep you hydrated through the day.

3 In the evenings, I keep a snack or yogurt if possible handy to consume immediately after my workout.

4 At the WFM, I do have the luxury of spicing up salads. Probably the most extreme case is the WFM at Chelsea on 24th and 7th Avenue. I avoid all the premade salads that are drenched with oil and or dressing. What I did tonight for example, was pick out my lettuce (argula, spinach, romaine, etc), threw radish/pepper salad on top of it, topped it with quinoa, carrots and beets, and peppers. Finally I threw in a touch of baba ganoush and grabbed a cup of plain greek yogurt to use as a topping. LOADS of protein to help rebuild muscle and especially for a vegetarian runner like me, it works wonders! Best part was mixing it all up and flavouring the plain yogurt with the beets! It tasted grand, and I felt great being able to avoid the dressings, croutons and other stuff that adds extra calories but not enough of the nutrition.

Greek yogurt: the NEW dressing. 27 Sept 2010.

5 Finally when you DO go out with colleagues for lunch or dinner, make sure you watch portion control and the types of foods you eat. This vastly depends on what kind of restaurant you go to. In a major metropolitan area, especially since people may not be accustomed to having new foods or exploring new foods, for SOME people it may be easy to go overboard and have as much of everything different as possible. There are others at the opposite end of the scale that are wary of trying new things and distance themselves as much as possible. I find that most restaurants serving American food tend to serve larger portions; most French places generally serve small. In larger cities, also, beware of sticker shock especially in NYC. You may find that in a place like NYC, you may need to stick to smaller cafes or salad/hot bars at Whole Foods if you have a lower amount allocated for food. As for me, considering I live in a very large city as is – Philadelphia – for my one night of eating out (maybe two?) I pick the type of restaurant I know I cannot find in Philly. Which is easy – I avoid Italian, Chinese, and most others as I can easily get these in Philly. In NYC, I find these places overpriced. I either go for a unique eclectic restaurant or I go for something I know I cannot get altogether in Philly easily. For example, when I was in Chelsea, I went for Little Brasil on West 46th Street between 5th-7th Avenues. Can’t really get that too easily in Philly without going terribly out of my way. You may find your situation different.

Phew! I am sure I will have more personal nutrition tips as I continue my journey in staying healthy and training up for my first race. And I am fully aware some of my tips may not work for everyone. I was in suburban New Jersey last week, so I will try and write a piece soon on how I survived Toms River, NJ last week – full of strip malls and chain restaurants – without gaining weight yet not feeling like I was starving myself.

If you ARE a meat-eater, again, just be smart with how your meat is prepared (baked, fried, etc). Know where to make your substitutions whether on the road or at home (e.g. I strongly feel plain greek yogurt is a godsend – great substitution for sour cream and creamy salad dressings!!!) and know how to make your choices in moderation. If you make the right choices, you’ll feel great and you’ll be only helping yourself on your journey to a more healthier you! I won’t lie, it takes a lot of discipline, but it can be done!

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