When you’re working towards a fitness goal, traveling can throw a wrench into your progress and habit of eating healthy. You might have less control over what food you have access to and less time to train. If you’ve got long days on transportation, you’re more sedentary than usual. Enter new and different foods in different locations, and traveling can be a recipe for stress.
Zoom out and look at your overall lifestyle before your trip. Because your fitness goals may be as different as maintaining muscle, building muscle, or fat loss, eating “healthy” looks different for everyone. When traveling, think of healthy eating as roughly sticking to your nutrition goals. Go in with a plan for substitutions, but stay flexible to help maintain your long-term habits.
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
Preparations to Eat Healthy While Traveling
Before you head out on your trip, gather as much information as you can about what you’ll be able to control so you can go in with a plan.
Hotel Room Hacks
Are you going to have access to a kitchen, or even a small refrigerator? Find out the situation in advance. You can bring protein-rich snacks, fresh fruits and veggies, or even pre-made smoothies to store in the fridge.
No fridge? No problem. You can bring non-perishable items (think: protein bars and nuts) to supplement the rest of your day when you may have less control over what you’re eating.
In the case that it’s not feasible to pack these things with you, check if there are any grocery stores near where you’re staying. If accessible, you can plan to buy your own goodies when you get there.
Bringing a refillable water bottle is a great way to stay hydrated on your travels. If you have access to safely drinking tap water, you can refill it throughout your day for free. If you’re going somewhere that you’ll need bottled water, add “buy water” to your daily to-do list on your trip. Stock up on water bottles to have in the place you’re staying, or buy a gallon and refill your reusable bottle.
Sometimes part of the fun of traveling is trying new restaurants and food. Allow yourself the flexibility to enjoy and be present, but a little planning in advance may help ease your stress. If you’ve chosen some places you’d like to try, you can be intentional with your nutrition during the rest of the day.
Think about the 80/20 rule, where 80 percent of the time you’ll fill up on foods like fruits, veggies, and protein, whereas 20 percent of the time you’re more flexible. If you’re in Italy and you’re going to have pasta, wine, and tiramisu for dinner, consider loading up on veggies and protein earlier in the day.
This way, your body still gets what it needs. You can then relax for your delicious meal at night.
Following the 80/20 rule — sticking closely to the plan 80 percent of the time — can help you stay flexible and enjoy unexpected changes to your regular eating habits. (1) Here, you’ll get the tools you need for that 80 percent.
Count Calories, Or Don’t
For people with a history of disordered eating, there are resources to keep track of what you’re eating without getting into the numbers. One helpful way is to use the size of your palm, fist, and fingers to measure your portions.
For example, portion out your plate with half fruits and vegetables. Then go for a fistful of starches, a palm-sized portion of protein, and one or two thumb-sizes of fats. This can give you a visual guide for eating what you need without dipping into any numbers.
If it’s safe for you to count calories, check out BarBend’s calorie calculator to get specific about your goals.
With this tool, you can adjust the amount of activity you’re doing — so if you’re going to be a little less active while traveling, you can account for that here.
Remember that your body still needs energy from food, even if you’re not training as hard as usual. Use your calories as a rough guideline when you’re able to control what you’re eating, and stay flexible when you’re not.
Macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fats. When traveling, if you’re going to be eating out more, you can assume you’ll be getting some more fats than usual from the oil and butter used to prepare foods. Here’s a rule of thumb for how many macronutrients athletes may need per day:
- 1.5-2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- 5-8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight
- 0.5-1 gram of fat per kilogram of body weight
BarBend has a macronutrient calculator you can use to check out your body’s needs based on your goals.
You can adjust your activity level if you’re going to be moving a little less, so take advantage of that feature when you’re on the road.
When it comes to macronutrients, carbs and fats are readily available when traveling. You may need to get a little more intentional about getting adequate protein while you’re away from your kitchen.
Check out BarBend’s protein intake calculator below to get a good estimate of what works best for your body and goals.
Prioritizing protein while traveling can have a positive impact on how you feel. Getting plenty of it at breakfast can keep you full longer. If you’re having a meal that’s focusing on carbs and fats, enjoy and try to get your protein needs in, as well. If you can’t, remember the 80/20 rule and try to get back to it tomorrow.
Staying hydrated while traveling and away from your normal routine can help you eat healthier (i.e., stick to your nutrition goals), as well. Being hydrated basically means getting enough fluids to replace the water you’re losing. (2)
If you’re drinking less water than usual, you may mistake your hunger for thirst. Or, you might be both hungry and thirsty — not a great combination for your mood or your goals.
Either way, it’s helpful to drink water when you feel thirsty, even if you’re going to be having other drinks while traveling.
How to Eat for Hypertrophy While Traveling
If you’re on a muscle-building journey, your nutrition calls for a surplus of calories (in combination with hypertrophy training). If you’re looking to keep making gains while traveling, plan ahead on how you’ll be training while you’re away.
High Calorie, Low Volume
When you’re really into bulking season, you can feel like you’re eating a ton of food all day. If you need to condense that while you’re away, opt for foods with higher calories that create less volume. If you want to grab a protein shake after a workout, choose one with a variety of nutritious ingredients.
- Aim for high-calorie protein smoothies with filling ingredients (think nut butters or avocados) to get macros and calories efficiently.
- Prepare your own mix of nuts and fruits to get healthy fats and satiating calories between meals.
- Restaurant meals often have high-carb and low-protein meals, so plan ahead and order extra protein if you need to modify your meal.
When you’re on the go, you might not have the same kind of access to food prep that you have at home. Helpful snacks like protein bars or high-quality jerky can come in handy to supplement the rest of what you’re eating while traveling. Your body may react differently if you’re not used to eating processed foods, so stay aware of how you feel, and keep up your water intake when you feel thirsty.
- Choose high-quality protein bars, jerkies, or canned tuna to have in your room or wherever you’re staying.
- If you have access to a refrigerator, stock up on more protein-rich foods like pre-made protein shakes, full-fat Greek yogurt (dairy or non-dairy), hard-boiled eggs, and sliced turkey and cheese.
- Be sure to hit your training goals while you continue eating for gains. Depending on what equipment you have access to, opt for different hypertrophy workouts on the go, from muscle-building workouts with dumbbells and bodyweight-only hypertrophy sessions.
How to Eat for Maintaining Muscle Mass While Traveling
When your goal is maintaining muscle mass, you’re looking to eat around your maintenance level to preserve your muscle while potentially avoiding body fat gain. The 80/20 rule can apply here. While traveling, stick to your usual food choices as much as possible for 80 percent of your day, and allow 20 percent of room for flexibility.
Consider getting a to-go box to have some goodies for your next meal instead of eating past the point of being full in one sitting.
While you have plenty of options to keep weight training while you’re traveling, you can also take this as a chance to try some different movement practices. Adding more movement to your days can also give you more flexibility with what you’re eating. You don’t need to burn extra calories if you’re eating differently, but it can be something to play with.
If you’re eating a lot of meals out, you can use your hand to measure portions and stay roughly within your normal macros and calorie goals. Be sure your meals include a good source of protein to help you hang onto your muscle.
- Practice the 80/20 rule — maybe lunch is a big salad with a good protein source, and dinner is something heavier.
- Look for on-the-go protein options if you’re on a long road trip. Convenience stores often have protein packs with different sources or even pre-made protein shakes.
- If you’re training, try to time your pre- and post-workout meals roughly the same as you would in your everyday life. Stick with your macros as best as you can, but be flexible with your food choices and work with what’s available.
Vary Your Movement
Depending on what kind of trip it is, maybe you’re going to be hiking, surfing, or swimming. If it’s a business trip to a new city, you can spend some more time walking to explore. And if you’re relaxing at a home with family for the holidays, try out a virtual yoga class, or take a jog around the neighborhood.
- Try to aim to get your 10,000 steps in per day. (3) If you’re sitting a lot while traveling, your body will thank you for getting a walk or run in when you arrive at your destination.
- If you’re taking a break from training, traveling is a great time to do some mobility work.
- When you do try out some more cardio-heavy activities, be sure to drink your water to replace all that you lost in your sweat session.
How to Eat for Losing Body Fat While Traveling
Losing body fat requires using more energy than what you take in each day. If you’ve been following a balanced eating plan, getting away from your kitchen may be a little worrisome. You can keep losing body fat while traveling, or you can take a little break to give your mind and body a chance to reset. (4)
Balance Your Day
Unless you have a medical reason, you may want to avoid restricting foods or food groups for fat loss, since inflexible restriction strategies generally lead to long-term weight gain. (5) If you’re tracking calories, stick with roughly the same intake you’ve been tracking at home.
Say that you normally eat three balanced meals and two snacks per day. Aiming to do something similar while traveling may be difficult, especially if you need to get all of your food from somewhere other than your own kitchen. Think of your usual habits as a total amount of food for the day, and split it up as you see fit.
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast to keep you full during the day. If you know you’re going to have a big meal and dessert after dinner, consider having something light for lunch. But, even if you set up a perfectly balanced plan, if you end up hungry in the middle of the day, it’s often most sustainable to grab something to satiate yourself.
- Stay as active as you can, if you have the energy. Get your steps in, take walks, or do a quick bodyweight workout in your room before your day starts. Maybe you want to try a new workout class in a new place. Or, rest, if that’s what your body or training program is calling for.
- No need to stress if you go over your calorie targets — you can get back on track at the next meal.
Choose Liquids Wisely
If you’re going into your travels with fat loss in mind and are going to be watching your calorie intake, liquids are a great place to cut back without losing out on trying a new experience.
- If you’re a coffee drinker, try out a black coffee or use a little non-dairy milk in the morning. This will keep your beverage calories low, setting you up for a flexible day, but also give you a chance to try something delicious in a new place.
- Go for green juices or smoothies without any added sugars to keep your veggie intake high. Green smoothies are a great way to quickly pack protein and vegetables in a convenient drink, and you can keep the calories moderate.
- When ordering food at a restaurant, you can ask for your meal to be prepared with less oil, butter, dressing, or sauce — if you want to. It’s also perfectly fine to enjoy it the way it comes. But, this is another spot where you may be able to cut some calories while maintaining the flavor and experience.
When losing body fat, it’s easy to get wrapped up in how much you can cut out of your diet. While traveling, take this chance to see what you can add in to stick to your goals and enjoy your food. Get local salads and fish, enjoy smoothies from local shops, and sip the greatest local coffee you can find.
Travel Safely, Eat Well
Healthy is not a one-size-fits-all term. Eating healthily for someone who’s trying to bulk means something much different than eating healthily for someone trying to lose weight sustainably.
When you’re specific about your goals and habits, you can take those things with you on your travels. Try to roughly stick to your unique nutritional goals and needs while traveling. Allow for flexibility, stay active if you want to, and drink plenty of water. You’ll be back in your gym and your kitchen before you know it.
- Skerrett PJ, Willett WC. Essentials of healthy eating: a guide. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2010 Nov-Dec;55(6):492-501.
- Cheuvront SN, Kenefick RW. Am I Drinking Enough? Yes, No, and Maybe. J Am Coll Nutr. 2016;35(2):185-92.
- Choi BC, Pak AW, Choi JC, Choi EC. Daily step goal of 10,000 steps: a literature review. Clin Invest Med. 2007;30(3):E146-51.
- Peos JJ, Helms ER, Fournier PA, Krieger J, Sainsbury A. A 1-week diet break improves muscle endurance during an intermittent dieting regime in adult athletes: A pre-specified secondary analysis of the ICECAP trial. PLoS One. 2021 Feb 25;16(2):e0247292.
- Palascha A, van Kleef E, van Trijp HC. How does thinking in Black and White terms relate to eating behavior and weight regain? J Health Psychol. 2015 May;20(5):638-48.
Featured Image: PintoArt / Shutterstock
6 Tips for How to Eat Healthy While Traveling to Maintain Your Fitness Goals