Lisa Tsakos

Every year, thousands of us travel for business to attend conferences, presentations and meetings. While these journeys are necessary, they involve a great deal of sitting and eating. Meals are often eaten in planes, hotels and automobiles, and may lead to weight gain, constipation, and overconsumption of junk food and caffeine. Here are a few suggestions that will help you make better eating choices on your next business trip and ensure that you're at the top of your game.

At Restaurants

On a business trip, most of us have no other choice but to dine at restaurants and hotel dining rooms. Restaurants tend to use different ingredients, heavier sauces and fattier ingredients than we're accustomed to. This results in gas, bloating and fatigue to accompany your jet lag.

Practice the principles of good digestion and proper food combining. Eat slowly and chew foods carefully. When possible, avoid combining animal protein with starch (like meat and potatoes). This slows digestion and may cause you to feel sleepy. Replace the side of starch with steamed vegetables. Thanks to the high-protein diet trend, restaurants are accustomed to customers ordering starch-free meals.

Just say "no" to bread. Ask your server to remove the breadbasket from the table or not bring it at all. If you must have bread with your meal, eat it plain (without butter), or request olive oil (a healthier fat) for dipping. Every tablespoon of any fat adds 10 g of fat to your diet (that's about 90 extra calories).

Order grilled, steamed, or poached rather than fried. Though we know a grilled chicken breast has less fat than fried, restaurants wouldn't offer it if people didn't order it.

Avoid cream soups. They're very rich in both fat and sodium.

Order salads with caution! Skip taco salads or those containing cheese. Ask for the dressing on the side. One tablespoon of salad dressing can have up to 10 grams of fat and more sodium than you might expect. Avoid rich dressings like Caesar or ranch.

Skip the entree. Soup and salad can fill you up and are often more nutritious than the main course.

Don't forget about fiber. We tend to get constipated when traveling. Avoid problems by including fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains in your restaurant meals.

Don't drink with your meals; in particular, avoid fluids with dinner. Fluids interfere with digestion by diluting gastric juices contributing to gas, fatigue and a sluggish metabolism. Avoid alcohol. A 12-ounce beer provides 150 calories. Five ounces of wine has 90 calories, and 1 1/2 ounces of liquor adds about 100 extra calories (and that's before you add the soda).

Take one to two digestive enzymes before each restaurant meal. Carry probiotics with you. Being away from home makes it even more difficult to resist the temptations of sugar, not to mention the extra sugar that is added to restaurant desserts, meals and sauces. Probiotics help prevent sugar cravings, boost immunity, and keep your bowels moving.

At Hotels

If your hotel offers an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, start your day off right with some protein (like a vegetable omelet without the cheese). Some hotels will prepare fresh pressed fruit or vegetable juices. Avoid calorie-dense, high-fat continental breakfast regulars like croissants and muffins. A bagel, even one made from whole grains, is equivalent to five slices of bread!

Find a supermarket near your hotel and purchase healthy snacks like fruit, nuts or a good granola cereal to snack on. Take advantage of the salad bar or choose wraps made with whole grains.

Road Trip

Until truck stops and roadside restaurants begin offering healthier options (wouldn't a juice bar be nice?), your best bet is to prepare your own meals and snacks. Typical freeway fare consists primarily of fattening, constipating fast foods, unhealthy snacks (like potato chips and ice cream), soda and coffee.

Pack a cooler with raw vegetables, healthy dips, sandwiches, bean salads and grain salads (like a couscous or quinoa salad). Healthy snacks like homemade muffins, yogurt, trail mix, fresh fruit, dry figs, dry roasted beans and wasabi peas will keep you going, and will save both time and money.

Limit caffeine. You may think coffee keeps you awake, but it actually makes you more tired. Green tea, on the other hand, keeps you alert by stimulating your brain without interfering with your body's fatigue signals. Better yet, for a "meal-in-a-thermos," a green drink provides energizing enzymes and nutrients.

Bring a case of bottled water (just don't store in a hot car!) or use your reusable, environmentally friendly bottles. It will keep you hydrated and awake.

Air travel

All airlines offer vegetarian and vegan options. These meals can range from white pasta or another refined carbohydrates to grilled vegetables and hummus. Call the airline several days prior to your flight and choose your best option. Some airlines, such as United Airlines, offer a variety of specialty meals, including low-fat or low-calorie (a sample meal may include chicken and rice with a sauce and some fruit), meals for diabetics and lactose-intolerant passengers, and kosher, Hindu and Asian options.

Traveling to a different time zone? Try melatonin. Melatonin resets your circadian rhythm to help you avoid jetlag. Take 1-3 mg of melatonin before bedtime once you reach your destination. Melatonin can also be taken on the plane about half an hour before you want to sleep.


Keep your body limber with exercise. Stay at a hotel with a gym or pool (don't forget your bathing suit), or find a gym or yoga studio nearby. If that isn't an option, or if you're short on time, bring an exercise CD with you and work out in your hotel room. Power Yoga or Pilates CDs will stretch your body after a long trip, build stamina and help you sleep.


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Health - Traveling Light: Healthy Eating for Business Junketeers