Healthy Eating on Business Travel

Successful weight management requires a full-spectrum commitment to healthy eating and exercise, healthy food choices, and strong self-control — tempered by an occasional “forbidden” food to prevent you from feeling deprived. It also requires modification of lifestyle habits to achieve long-term success.

For people who often travel for business, things can get a bit more complicated. Frequent business travelers realize it is far more challenging to lose weight in an environment in flux than in the controlled environment of home. A stable schedule allows more control over food type and consumption and a regular exercise regimen. With business travel, there is no consistency. Food and exercise are dictated by airports and hotels, which can severely limit the options.

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Convenience is the key to successful business travel — TSA Precheck to bypass long security lines, airline/hotel/rental car mileage point programs to ensure fast and top-notch service, and organized packing to avoid checking bags. Trying to integrate healthy habits into the chaos of business travel is daunting. Bringing an extra suitcase of healthy food or bulky exercise equipment on the road is unrealistic. Driving miles to find a healthy restaurant or local gym after crossing time zones is not as appealing as ordering room service and turning in. But it is imperative that business travelers make good choices.

According to a study in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine that examined the medical records of more than 13,000 patients, poor self-rated health and obesity were associated with extensive business travel.

Strategies used to manage one’s weight are the opposite of those that make business travel efficient. But convenient alternatives and tips can help you manage a healthy lifestyle on the road. They are broken into three main categories: meetings, airports, and hotels.

Business meetings/banquet room food

The typical business meeting consists of sitting, eating, and social drinking. The menu usually consists of high-fat, high-sodium fare that is inexpensive and easy to procure. Nutrition is secondary. But even in the land of pasta and chicken fried steak, there is hope.

• If the lunch or dinner entrées are fried or cream-based dishes, make the salad or vegetable your main entrée and the main course your side dish.

• Order salad dressing on the side and use it sparingly to complement your greens. Low-fat or fat-free dressing is very low in calories and presents a better alternative, but it is not always offered in these settings. Another healthy, tasty substitute for salad dressing is balsamic vinegar.

• Hot sauce is a low-calorie condiment that adds spice and flavor to foods.

• At breakfast, choose fruit and toast with a small amount of peanut butter or jam. The pastries and scones usually offered are extremely high in calories and won’t satisfy the way fiber or protein can. If you crave sweet food in the morning, strawberries, cantaloupe, and pineapples often can be found in the typical hotel or banquet breakfast.

• White wine or light beer is an obvious low-calorie substitute for red wine or heavy lagers. However, white wine spritzers are the best low-calorie, light option. They provide a carbonated, wine cooler-type drink with far fewer calories.

• Substituting diet cola for regular cola in cocktails eliminates all your “mixer” calories without sacrificing taste.

• Fruity, frothy dessert and coffee cocktails are never your friend. They are loaded with calories, caffeine, and sugar.

Airports

Food choices
• Every large airport has a sandwich shop with a low-calorie sandwich and salad menu.

• Most airports have Mexican restaurants in the food court. The best entrée is not a taco salad, but chicken, shrimp or beef tacos on soft corn tortillas with meat, lettuce, tomato and hot sauce. Skip sour cream, cheese, cheesy or creamy sauces and flour tortillas.

• Most chain taco and burger restaurants offer light entrées such as grilled chicken sandwiches, plain bean burritos, turkey wraps, fruit, salad, and plain baked potatoes.

• Chicken noodle soup is a low-calorie, light alternative to creamy soups or bisques.

• Food kiosks or airport restaurant “to-go” coolers sell salads and sandwiches with full calorie counts on the labels. This food is fresh and much healthier than typical airport fast food.

• Airport convenience stores and snack shops sell low-calorie kettle corn and vanilla yogurt.

• Many frozen yogurt shops offer sugar-free and low-calorie yogurt.

Exercise
• Some larger airports have mapped-out walking courses for use during long layovers.

• Even in a crowded airport, walking between gates with your luggage is a great way to burn calories, improve blood and oxygen flow and muscle tone, and increase alertness.

• Take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk rather than stand on the moving walkway for more cardiovascular exercise.

Hotels

Food choices
• For room service meals or restaurants in your hotel, a good rule of thumb is to eat only half your entrée.

• Most hotel room service or restaurant menus offer salmon as a dinner entrée. A nearly perfect dinner on the road is grilled salmon, a green vegetable such as broccoli or asparagus, and a plain baked potato or rice.

• Avoid chicken entrées except for plain grilled chicken breast without cream, butter, or red sauces. Most baked chicken is full of sodium and has been cooked in butter and grease.

• Hotel food is extremely salty and does not need additional salt.

• Baked potatoes usually are covered in salt. Use a paper towel to rub off the excess salt, and order potatoes without the usual toppings. Try salsa for a tasty topping.

• If you are staying at a hotel chain that serves those delicious chocolate chip cookies, you may be disappointed to learn that one cookie has more than 300 calories. Eat half a cookie as dessert.

Exercise
• Most boutique and large chain hotels have a pool and/or a gym with cardio and weight training equipment.

• The stationary bike is a great way to combine exercise and work by reviewing notes or presentation slides while you peddle.

• If the gym is closed or your favorite cardio equipment is occupied, take a walk or run around the hotel property.

• In your room, try dancing to music for 30 to 40 minutes. It is an excellent workout and mood booster.

• Your room can be incorporated into your weight routine. Use the bathroom counter for push-ups and dips. Use the floor for sit-ups, push-ups, leg lifts, and lunges. Use your travel bag for curls or shoulder presses.

• A yoga mat is lightweight and can be used anywhere.

• Online exercise programs can be followed using your laptop in your hotel room.

Lightweight, non-perishable food items can easily be packed into the smallest suitcase. Most importantly, these food items afford some control over what you eat. All are allowable through TSA security screening.

• Power bars with a favorable fiber/protein ratio are a great food supplement. Some power bars are very high in calories, so read the label. A power bar and an orange or apple provided by the hotel make a great breakfast or lunch.

• Dried prunes, apricots, peaches or bananas make good snacks. Another option is low-butter and salt pre-popped popcorn.

• Individual tuna or chicken salad packs with crackers travel well and satisfy in place of greasy fast food.

Many professionals face nutritional and activity challenges on the road, even medical professionals. Jeannine Anne Shively, a physician’s assistant in San Diego, California, who travels on business, has found ways to integrate exercise and healthy eating into both business and vacation travel.

“There are many ways to integrate exercise into a vacation,” she said. “Instead of driving around town, walk everywhere. That way, you get to see a more intimate side of the city you may have missed driving. If you stay in a hotel with a gym, do a 30-minute workout in the morning before starting your day’s activities. Another great way to integrate exercise is to sign up for a walking or biking tour around the city. That way, you get entertainment, history, and exercise all at the same time.”

“Whether on vacation or business trips, we all tend to splurge a bit when it comes to food,” said Shively. “Instead of splurging on every meal, pick one of the three daily meals to splurge on calories. Enjoy dinner with clients or colleagues, for example. Choose foods that are high in protein, so you will be less tempted to snack between meals. Drink water throughout the day and then enjoy a good drink with your dinner.”

Small changes will make the biggest impact on your lifestyle as a business traveler and your journey to better health.