Staying healthy and managing your travel diet
Managing your diet when you're travelling can seem like a major challenge. You're no doubt going to be focused on having an awesome time, and for many that often that goes hand in hand with a bit of dietary hedonism. Unsurprisingly, many decide to neglect the nutrition side of their fitness goals, because is just seems like too much effort whilst on the road, and to be honest that's understandable. However, even if you plan on throwing caution to the wind, or, conversely you want to keep your travel diet rock solid, there are some useful tips for you here.
This might seem obvious, but you need to think about what your trip's going to be like, and what you're realistically willing to do whilst you are away. It almost goes without saying, but I will say it anyway. If you plan on a wild trip getting blow-out drunk on a regular basis whilst eating liberally, you're going to be limited in terms do what you can do, except put on fat - you will kick ass at that.
Are you willing to bring anything with you? For many, this will be unnecessary, but as an example, I brought a whopping five kgs of whey protein along for the ride. Definitely worth considering if you are into strength or physique sports/training. For those that are, know that whey protein is ridiculously expensive, in Asia. Additionally, it can be hard to get the standard (bodyweight in lbs / grams of protein) ratio through diet alone here. While food is cheap, meat portions are often on the low side, especially if you eat a high protein diet at home. Personally, I also brought along some fish oil tablets and multivitamins.
What are your goals for the trip? Be realistic. You aren't going to develop a six pack while travelling if you don't have one before you leave. Are you looking to maintain your current condition, drop a bit of weight, add some muscle? Personally, I was very lean before I went on my first trip, and I decided that a few pounds of weight gain was going to be difficult to avoid. I was fine with that (and I used it to my advantage.)
Related Article: The Advanced Travel Workout
I don't want this to come across as a cult-ish hard sell on Intermittent Fasting that detracts from the rest of this article, so bear in mind that I don't think it's for everyone and you certainly don't need to do it when travelling. If you know you're not interested then skip over this section. However, I find Intermittent Fasting to be an invaluable tool (in general) and especially for when I'm travelling. This is because I love food and it allows me to eat big meals when I want to, without worrying about it. I'm a big fan of Martin Berkhan's famous Leangains method below.
The bare bones of Leangains involves eating in an 8-hour window and then fasting for 16 hours. What this really boils down to for most people is simply skipping breakfast. (There is more to LeanGains than this, but for the purposes of diet when travelling this is the aspect I'm talking about). Generally, I will eat my first meal about 12-1pm and my last meal about 8-9pm.
The major bonus of using this as part of your travel diet is having more calories to play with in the evening, when you're most going to want them to enjoy yourself. By skipping breakfast you buy yourself more flexibility to eat what you like in the evening (within reason.) “The Calorie is King”, and while calorie counting is overkill not to mention nigh on impossible when travelling, ideally you should have an approximate idea of how much food you should be eating for your goals. Eating Leangains style makes estimating and managing your travel diet that much easier. I found another big plus to be that you can get a lot of cool stuff done early in the day without having to spend the best part of an hour choosing a cafe, ordering and eating breakfast. There are other potential benefits (some of which I've personally observed) which you can read about in the links further down this page.
One of the many myths that Leangains/ IF has challenged is the essential nature of eating breakfast. I'm not going to go into massive detail, but myths such as “you need breakfast to start your metabolism”, “you need breakfast for your mind to function correctly” have been undermined. This might sound like diet quackery to those of you who have been told your how life just how important breakfast is... but it's not. In fact with the rise in popularity of Intermittent Fasting many fitness experts have come to acknowledge this. The last thing I'll say is that studies that demonstrate the importance of breakfast are often faulty and/or funded by organisations with a possible ulterior motive (like cereal companies!)
(some of the proposed health benefits here have definitely not been fully proven, and some of the cited studies are fairly basic (ie on animals only) so limited conclusions can be drawn.)
Related article: Want to stay fit while travelling?
Most of my travelling trips (outside western countries) have been in Asia so the following reflects that.
Food is something that you should be really enjoying when travelling. For me, trying new food and generally enjoying great meals is a big part of the adventure.
By-and-large local cuisine is tasty and there are always healthy options nutrition-wise if you choose them carefully. One tip is that it's important to keep in mind the difference between nutritious food and low calorie food. For instance that amok curry and rice may be tasty and fairly nutritious, but it will pack more of a calorie punch than you think because the sauce is made with coconut milk. In India a lot of dishes are fried in ghee making them much more calorie dense. In Southeast Asia, frying is the primary method of cooking, usually with coconut oil or with palm oil (the latter is potentially unhealthy but not worth worrying about for the duration of your trip.)
Fruit and veg are everywhere. Vegetables are used a lot, especially in local cuisines. Also you can get really cheap fruit and fruit shakes all over Asia. Enjoy!
Sources of protein are readily available on all menus. Not much to say here except to repeat the earlier point that if you are into strength / physique training you will probably want to bring supplementation with you, as you won't get close to hitting recommended targets without eating double meals and spending a lot of money.
Sources of fat are not always the healthiest. The super healthy Omega 3's you get from oily fish and certain seeds are pretty absent from all menus. When you can find options they are expensive and often really disappointing for the price. If you care about Omega 6 - Omega 3 balance bring some fish oil tablets with you. As mentioned already, most things are fried in oil of some sort. Eggs are your best bet if you want to eat a fair amount of healthy fats as they are everywhere. Nuts are also a great option and widely snacked on by the locals. Avocados are about, but a little on expensive side. Cheese isn't really used in much of Asia's local cuisine, but western dishes containing cheese are available.
Next read: The General Travel Workout
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