Life on the road is not life at home. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stay on top of your game, overcome the typical pitfalls, and still make great progress.
When professionals and businessmen were asked in a recent survey what prevents them from staying in shape, building muscle, or losing fat, “life on the road” was listed as the second biggest barrier right behind “I have no time.”
Think about that:
With the exception of the most common fitness excuse of all time, traveling was listed as the biggest frustration for the working professional.
And you know what? I get it.
I’ve spent plenty of time on the road. I’ve tried to do everything the ‘right’ way – maintaining a strict diet, training as usual, and making everything work as if I was living at home.
That approach fails every time.
Life on the road is not life at home. There’s no comparison.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t stay on top of your game, overcome the typical pitfalls, and still make great progress.
This guide is a blueprint designed to teach you everything you need to know. It’s a tested approach that provides the advice, tips, and tricks you want, and answers the questions you have for living healthier on the road.
More importantly, you’ll know how to eat, what to eat, when to eat, and understand exactly what to bring to experience the best results no matter where you are.
Let’s dive in!
Most of us know what’s healthy and what’s not.
Stuffing your face with fast food is a sure-fire recipe for a diet gone wrong. I know that. You know that. The entire world knows it. And yet, the simplicity of quick-stop eating seems one that we can’t avoid when traveling.
Don’t believe me?
Then consider this fact: in the average week, one out of four Americans eats fast food. When on the road, that number triples.
The biggest problem with life on the road is that we overcomplicate things by trying to eat the same way we do at home.
But you don’t have your kitchen. You don’t have your schedule. And you certainly don’t have the convenience of your favorite eateries and foods in your fridge and cabinets.
A better option is a simpler approach that lessens the likelihood that you’ll eat the wrong foods or overeat. It works in any location and simplifies your eating so you can eat any style of food, without worrying about gaining fat.
Your Diet Plan:
When you’re traveling, simplicity is key.
Instead of counting your macros and calories, you need to focus on when you should be eating, and what types of foods you need to eat at each meal.
Trying to eat 5 or 6 times per day is a recipe for disaster. When you try to eat more often, you will inevitably end up reaching for worse options or putting yourself in a bad situation. And science also shows that the more often you eat, the hungrier you feel.
The last thing you want to do on the road is shift into grazing mode, and then always desire food when you don’t have the convenience of your snacks within reach. When you eat less often, you will desire food less often.
And on the road, this is the easiest way to stay on track.
All of this depends on basic psychology: make a goal so easy to achieve and it will be done. The more obstacles you create, the more likely you are to stray from the plan.
What to do at breakfast:
Breakfast is the catalyst of bad habits.
On the road, breakfast typically involves cereal, pastries, donuts, or bagels. Avoid them altogether by simply not eating at breakfast.
Don’t worry about losing muscle or shifting into a catabolic stage: that won’t happen (especially when you see how you’ll be eating at night).
In fact, missing breakfast can have hormonal benefits that will facilitate muscle building and fat loss. Namely, extending your morning fast increases growth hormone levels, reduces cortisol (stress) levels, and helps control your insulin, which makes it harder for the food you eat to be transformed into fat.
In other words, not only are you avoiding the worst foods, you’re also helping your body function more efficiently.
Instead of a crab-heavy breakfast, opt for black coffee, espresso, Americano’s, black tea, or green tea.
We live in the age of the caramel macchiatto, blended mocha frappucino drink. Many gourmet coffee drinks are loaded with large amounts of refined sugar and fat, so you need to avoid these.
If you have to load your coffee with a ton of cream and sugar to get it down, you don’t really like coffee. You like cream and sugar. The reality is many ‘coffees’ are nutritionally just like eating coffee ice cream every morning.
What to do at lunch:
For a lack of better terms, you’re going to want to eat a “Paleo style” lunch.
That means you only eat lean meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, whole fruits, and water. No sugar and no starch. It is proteins, fats, and vegetables, with low carbohydrates. If you are leaner or still hungry, fresh fruit can be your dessert.
Sticking to these basic foods choices leaves you no room for error. And as you’ll see in the Restaurant Survival Guide, you can literally eat anywhere with just a few modifications.
What to do at dinner:
Your last meal of the day should be similar to lunch, with one big exception: include some starchy carbohydrates. The focus of the meal should still be protein and vegetables, but now you can include starches like white rice and potatoes.
This approach provides many hormonal benefits that help build muscle and burn fat. But the biggest benefit is social; dinner is the most “social” meal of the day. There’s nothing worse than feeling limited or restricted by the menu.
By saving your starchy carbs for the end of the day, you can eat more food without having to worry about negative effects on your body.
Is that to say that you should eat the entire breadbasket? Of course not. But keep in mind, up until this point you haven’t taken in any starchy carbs. So this is the time to refuel, enjoy, and eat larger quantities of carbs than you normally would.
If you’re still hungry after your main meal, get fruit for dessert. Just about every restaurant on the road has fruit available, all you need to do is ask.
To remove all the guesswork, print off the chart below and keep it with you, or save it in your phone (click the chart to download).
You can eat the food in highlighted in green in unlimited quantities (you’ll most likely get full before you over-consume calories), the foods in yellow in moderation, and the foods in red sparingly (just 1-2 times a week).
Here are the essentials that you can buy in advance and pack in your carry-on bag.
It’ll have you covered on travel days, in the air, and as a backup when you’re at your destination and need a snack or meal substitute.
Approved Carry-on Items:
- Dried and dehydrated meats & fish
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Chopped carrots
- Green beans
- Dehydrated shredded coconut
- Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts, Brazil nuts
- Canned wild salmon
What about supplements?
I wouldn’t stress about it.
I once asked Sol Orwell (founder of Examine.com – a site that provides unbiased scientific information on supplements and nutrition) what supplements he packed when he traveled, and he told me that he doesn’t both packing any.
There aren’t any supplements that are going to make a significant enough difference for them to be worth packing (unless you have a specific health condition).
The traveling experience has changed significantly over the years.
Everything costs more money, nothing is for free, and most airlines still can’t find a way to create decent legroom in economy class.
Despite all the changes, one thing remains consistent: airplane food is still terrible.
Many of the meals or frozen for long periods of time or are loaded with preservatives to help with the travel schedule and shipping on the meals. This is why packing your carry-on bag appropriately is so important, especially on longer flights.
That said, most airlines now have fruit, nut, and vegetable options available. Just be aware of what you’re eating. Often, the nuts are sugar coated (which you don’t want), and the fruit is actually a fruit cup submerged in sugar.
For the best options, Virgin America and Air Canada each have earned a 4 star-approval ratings for their healthy options and listing calorie information for consumers.
Eating out is part of life on the road. To make your dinning choices easier, use this guide to help you order the right type of foods, regardless of where you go.
Sampling a little and experiencing the local culinary options is better than going without entirely. Being a slave to your diet isn’t a fun way to travel. So experience the food and use this guide to know exactly what to order at any type of restaurant.
Good options include: sashimi with a side of rice, grilled meats or fish with rice, nigiri sushi, meat and vegetable dishes cooked in broth.
Fresh spring rolls, Pho noodle soup with leaner meats, steamed fish or grilled lean meat plates with rice.
Thai Steak or chicken salad, chicken satay, chicken skewers, grilled fish or shrimp, grilled squid, fresh spring rolls (wrapped in unfried rice paper), grilled or steamed vegetables, side of rice.
Leaner steaks (filet mignon, sirloin), fish, chicken, shellfish cooked dry with a plain baked potato.
Grilled, baked, or steamed fish, shellfish, fish appetizers (shrimp cocktail without the sauce, ceviche) with a side of rice or plain baked potato.
Any steamed, baked, or broiled fish or shellfish, fish/vegetable stew, bbq or broiled chicken or lean steak, kimchee, sprouts, grilled vegetables, vegetable sides, side of rice.
Salads, ginger fish or other fresh fish dishes, chicken dish, tandoori dishes, chicken, lamb, or beef kabob/skewers, side of rice.
Grilled or broiled fishes (salmon, ahi tuna, whitefish, monkfish, etc.), grilled sea scallops or prawns, muscles, salads and vegetable sides, lean meat kabobs/skewers, side of rice.
9. Fast food burger joints
Grilled chicken salad, grilled chicken tenders, low carb burger (some places offer a meat patty wrapped in lettuce).
10. Chinese Restaurants and Take-Out
Grilled Chinese chicken salad, steamed vegetables, bake/grilled/steamed fish or prawn dishes, vegetable soups. No sweet ‘n’ sour stuff or fried dishes.
11. Italian Restaurants
Salmon and other fresh fish dishes, filet mignon, roast chicken, grilled mussels/clams, grilled prawns, grilled calamari, vegetables side dishes, salads, veal or chicken piccata or scaloppini.
12. French Restaurants
Grilled prawns, grilled mussels, oysters, scallops, ahi tuna, grilled chicken, roast chicken, veggie sides, salmon or other fresh fish dishes, salads. Try to do away with all of the heavy cream sauces.
Grilled lamb, chicken, or steak, fresh fish, prawns, scallops, vegetables, salads.
Ahi tuna poke, poke salads, steamed fish, grilled chicken, lomi salmon, bbq pork, grilled beef, kahlua pig ‘n’ cabbage.
These are some of the most common questions that I’ve seen asked over the years.
Use these answers to provide realistic and effective solutions.
What if I miss a meal?
One of the biggest mistakes—and nutrition myths—is the belief that your metabolism will slow to crawl and your muscles will shrink if you don’t eat every 2 to 3 hours.
After working with hundreds of clients and reading dozens of scientific studies, I can promise you that this is not true. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is trying to squeeze in a meal and rationalize that chicken fingers are a good choice just because you’re eating protein.
If you can’t find something at a restaurant that fits the travel nutrition guidelines, wait until you find a better place to eat or just hold off.
And in case of starvation emergencies, keep nuts and cut up veggies in your briefcase or bag. These store well, will be good for an entire day (or in the case of nuts, your entire trip), and can help fight off hunger.
Should I eat differently on workout and non-workout days?
Remember how I keep telling you to make eating on the road simple?
Well, it doesn’t get much simpler than this. Unless you’re on the road for more than a week without any exercise, there is no need to adjust your diet on training and non-training days.
The best part of this plan is that your big meal at dinner— the one that includes starchy carbs—effectively works as a pre-workout or post workout meal.
Here’s why: when you eat carbs late at night and then go to sleep, the process of digestion and breakdown is slower than when you’re awake. These carbs will then refill glycogen so that when you train in the morning or afternoon, you’ll have the energy you need to push hard.
If you train at night, this final meal will replace the glycogen that you burned. And if you’re not training at all, the total amount of carbs is low enough that you won’t be spilling over and turning into a fat ass.
Now, if you’re on the road for more than a week and not training at all, that’s when you want to change the final meal to one that is more similar to your lunch.
Cut out the starchy carbs, eat more vegetables, and include more fat in your final meal of the day.