Nutrition on the road: Eating well while traveling

It’s Paulo here! I hope everyone is having a great summer so far- enjoying the outdoors and good food! I want to share some thoughts and strategies on nutrition for your next road trip or travel experience. After all, it is the season for travel and it’s something we get asked about quite a bit.

The routine of daily life can make sticking to your plan fairly straight forward once your skills and habits are in place. The reality is- understanding how to adapt to change and navigate the unknown is difficult, risking the biggest influencer of seeing results – consistency. Personally, I know that routine is my biggest contributor to nutrition and exercise success as it reduces the stress and anxiety of the unknown. This feeling can be overwhelming when you have specific goals in mind, especially with a timeline. Travel and road trips can derail or stall progress due to the lack of routine and the unknown. That being said, think of it as an opportunity to build a new skill! Some of the skills we teach through our coaching programs will still apply through those routine-breaking times in our life like travel.   

To provide some context, we’ll use an example of a road trip from Northern BC to Vancouver with the family or your partner. Focusing on the ‘to and from’ travel portion of the trip. You’ve been working hard to build your daily habits, your doing great and seeing some real progress then you have to drive to Vancouver (and back home). An entire day away from your kitchen, your grocery store, and on a travel route with mainly fast food joints. How do we manage this?  Don’t panic, here are some strategies you can use in a travel scenario.


Do you, just on the road!

Take the meal planning strategies used at home and translate them to the road. Plan your travel meals and pack them into a decent sized cooler appropriate for a day’s meals for the family. Erin and I have different travel personalities, I’m a “Let’s just get there!” type and Erin is more like “Awe look at the cute lemonade stand lets stop…oh look a fruit stand lets stop again…ooo! A look out point let’s stop”. It’s a good metaphor for our daily lives, I’m always pushing her to move faster and she’s always getting me to slow down and enjoy the journey. It’s a good balance. Anyways…this is a good strategy for us as we can stop and enjoy a roadside picnic or we can carry through and I can munch on things as I drive.

If you are a “let’s just get there” type- pack lots of healthy finger foods like cut up veggies, nuts and seeds, pre-portioned cheese, hard boiled eggs, low sodium/sugar jerky and meats. Take this as an opportunity to have “deconstructed” meals.  This is also great if you have kids on the trip, when they get hungry, just reach into your cooler and fire baby carrots at them! INCOMING!


Be a Grocery Store Ninja

Let’s be realistic. If you get called out of town last minute, or you’re scrambling to get ready for a holiday road trip-packing up the kids, arranging a dog sitter, asking your neighbour to water the lawn, double checking the hotel has your reservation etc… you may forget to plan, prepare, and pack a cooler meal for the road. C’mon you’re only human, that’s ok!. Use grocery stores along the way to your advantage. It can be difficult choosing food options while travelling through small towns or communities that you are not familiar with but one thing every town has is a grocery store of sorts. If you are looking for healthy options, visit the grocery store and build a meal from around the store.  Many grocery stores have great pre-made or almost made food in the deli and throughout. You can pack a bag with some disposable utensils, napkins and a tablecloth or blanket in the event you want to picnic (though dollar stores seem to be everywhere).

  • Start with picking a lean protein, I love the pre-cooked roasted chickens and most Save-on Foods sell pieces of chicken if you don’t want a full one. They also have pre-cooked hard boiled eggs and a nice selection of deli meats.
  • Pre-packed salads at the deli are a great veggie option, or if you don’t mind eating salad out of a bag the pre washed bagged salads are a good option. As for salad dressings-they usually carry single use packets. Choose a basic vinaigrette and you can probably get away with one package for 2 or 3 salads.
  • Grab a piece of fruit or a whole grain bun from the bulk section if you’re so inclined.  
  • On your way out load up on snacks! A container of cut up veggies, turkey pepperoni, nuts from the bulk section.
  • Don’t forget to keep hydrated with a few bottles of water from the coolers if you didn’t pack your own.

I like this approach because when I’m on holidays I like to loosen up and be less structured, sometimes we also need a mental break from the ongoing planning. This way, I walk into the store and decide what I feel like eating at that moment. That being said I still consider my 3 values: Quality, Quantity and Consistency (QQC)…more on this another time.


Plan eating out

If you decide to restaurant eat on your trip that’s ok too.  Before you leave on your road trip do a bit of research on where you plan on stopping. Scope out some menus ahead of time and, this may seem silly,  but plan what you’re eating when you are still at home. That way, when you’re hangry from sitting in a vehicle for hours- you arrive, make a quick decision, eat and get on your way. Instead of browsing the menu for 45 min while your husband stares at his napkin wondering how edible paper is, then you end up picking the first thing you saw anyways…

***I’d like to take a moment to say that I love my wife very much***

But seriously, going in prepared and knowing where you’re stopping and what you’re eating can take a lot of the “I don’t know what I’m going to eat” stress away and not be that person at the table trying to decide while everyone is starving.  Remember though, restaurant meals can be adapted. Ensure you are still getting the right amount of lean protein and veggies and your portion sizes are appropriate for your goals. Have the restaurant modify for you like adding extra meat, double veggies, dressing on the side, etc. A strategy we use for our clients is to create balanced meals using their plate or hand as guides. We’ll have more on restaurant eating in the future.


Protein Bars

At this point you’re probably thinking “Yo bro…protein bars duh…do you even?” Yes Bro I even…Protein bars can also be a great snack, but many bars on the shelves are just candy bars disguised as healthy.  Look for the term “protein bar” on the package not energy bar, energy bars are calories and fuel for activities- good for long hikes not sedentary travelling. Also look for one with higher fiber and a good protein to carb ratio. If you’ve found a bar with a few grams of fiber and a 1:1 protein:carb ratio you’ve got a winner. I like Quest and RX bars. Google them.



For cases when I’m unsure how my travels will be or I don’t have access to as much food as I want (say on a plane) I also like to pack four essentials: Protein powder, a greens supplement, nuts and some protein bars. In the event I can’t get to real food, or just not enough of it, I eat a handful of nuts and chase it with scoop of protein and greens powder mixed in water. Sometimes I’ll also bring some fruit if I need carbs, but let’s face it carbs are easy to get. The great thing is none of these foods spoil, they will pass an airport security check and they dont take up much space in my bag. Continue to take your other daily’s if you normally do (Multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D etc.).


Stay Hydrated

If you’re anything like Erin and I, when we travel we like to hit up the local coffee shops. Which means I’m probably drinking way more coffee than I normally do, and probably drinking less water. Be mindful that you are continually drinking water and if you are drinking coffee try and consume 2:1 water to coffee at a minimum. Staying hydrated will help you stay alert and keep your muscles and joints from stiffening up.


Cut yourself some slack

Understand that during this time you may not be perfect, and that’s ok. Making good choices and planning are important, but managing your expectations is the difference between feeling terrible about your actions and proud you did as much as you could.

One of our coaching strategies is to ask “how likely are you to complete this task out of 10”, if the answer is below 7, then we probably need to adjust the approach or simplify the task. If the answer is 10 or higher than maybe we can be a bit more aggressive. This requires an honest conversation with yourself and possibly your coach- there is a fine line between excuses and influences outside of your control. This conversation doesn’t stop after leaving the house. Continue to evaluate on the journey and adjust if needed. If you are at a confidence level of ‘5/10’ to consistently get your vegetables, protein and water- can you dial back and just make sure you hit your protein and water to get your confidence up to a 9/10? Doing a couple things well, is better than doing everything poorly.


What to do next: Have a trip coming up? Read through these strategies and see which would work best for you. Not going on a trip? These can also be adapted for daily life. Check out our take on what good nutrition is here. Questions comments or have your own tips? Join us on Facebook or Instagram and comment!

Looking for personalized nutrition coaching? Contact us here!

Your Nutrition Coach- Paulo