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The Complete Guide to Healthy Business Travel

Nothing has the potential to derail a nutrition plan like business travel. Even the most disciplined eaters can succumb to hectic schedules, time changes, limited access to healthy foods, and being taken out of routines. But being a road warrior need not mean putting on pounds like a Sumo warrior. Just as it’s important to plan ahead and control the eating environment at home, you must implement a strategy for eating well and staying active on the road. Here’s how:

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Pack for Healthy Business Travel

Most business travelers have a system for packing honed from years of life on the road. The idea is to pack as lightly as possible while covering every possible contingency. The same is true with eating. Assume that you’ll be stuck on a runway for hours, miss lunch when meetings overlap, and have limited options for breakfast.

That means having a stockpile of healthy, non-perishable options in your backpack, briefcase, or carry-on item. These include nuts, healthy snack bars, apples, canned tuna with pull-off tabs, beef jerky, and even a shaker bottle with packets of your favorite post-workout recovery mix. Longer trip? Pack extra food in your suitcase.

Throw some dry oatmeal in a re-sealable bag. It will come in handy for those times you’re staying in a hotel that offers a “free” breakfast with few healthy options other than perhaps yogurt. Just mix the oatmeal with yogurt.

Pack a Mini Band

Does your back bother you when you travel? Sitting for extended periods of time can wage war on your back because your lower back muscles often pick up the slack for glutes that stop working properly. But as athletic trainer Scott Kneller explains in this video, the mini band is the perfect piece of exercise equipment for long trips, since you can pack it easily and use it to train your glutes in your hotel room. This will remove stress off your back and help improve your posture.

Avoid Airport Pitfalls

Airlines have eliminated meal service, which is a good thing because it keeps us from eating highly processed airline food and forces us to be proactive about meal planning. Instead of buying a greasy $7 slice of pizza or other junk food in the concourse, bring a meal from home for your outbound flight. For the return, pick up something healthier before leaving for the airport.

Eating in sit-down restaurants, whether at the airport or during a business meal, need not be challenging. It’s almost always possible to order grilled chicken or fish with vegetables and a salad. Skip the bread, creamy appetizers, and dessert. If a menu item isn’t quite right, you usually have the option of substituting or asking for it to be prepared differently.

If you have no other option but a fast-food restaurant for a quick meal on the road, don’t throw in the towel. Amanda Carlson-Phillips, the vice president of nutrition and research for Core Performance, suggests the following:

  • Stay away from fried foods. Go with grilled foods instead.
  • Choose a side salad or baked potato as your side item.
  • The less legs the better. Grilled chicken or fish is a healthier option than a burger.
  • Remove the skin. If there is skin on your chicken or turkey, take it off.
  • Hold the mayo.
  • Go with water instead of soda or iced tea. Not only is it better for you, it’s free.

Stay Healthy on the Flight

The American Council on Exercise recommends performing the below movements to keep your blood moving while in-flight:

  • Ankle rotations: Lift your feet off the floor and draw a circle with your toes, trying to get a full range of motion through your ankle. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  • Foot lifts: Alternate keeping your toes on the floor and lifting your heels with keeping your heels on the floor and lifting your toes.
  • Knee lifts: Sitting straight up, keep your knee bent and lift your thigh so that you’re flexing at the hip. Alternate legs.
  • Toe curls: Curl your toes and release. Also try pressing your toes down against the floor or just wiggling them inside your shoes.

As for nutrition on the flight, let’s keep it simple: turn down the complimentary salted nuts and crackers and turn to your healthy snacks instead. Decline the soda and juice and go with water.

Avoid Hotel Challenges

Most of us stick to our nutrition plan at home by stripping our refrigerators and pantries of any bad foods that might tempt us. Unfortunately temptation is everywhere at hotels, from the complimentary chocolate cookies at the check-in desk to the well-stocked mini-bars in the room to all of the goodies that call out to frequent travelers in the concierge level lounge.

The key is to stick to nutritional routines, as difficult as that can be on the road. Turn to your stash of healthy snacks brought from home. That huge but healthy entree you had for dinner? Get some of it boxed and take it back to the room, which probably has a refrigerator.

Fit In a Workout

Hotels have come a long way in the last decade when it comes to providing adequate workout facilities. The challenge for many road warriors often is not finding a place to train but rather the time to do so. Here are a few tips:

  • If you’re an early-morning workout person, try to stick to that routine on the road, even if it means rising earlier. Perhaps you’ll have a little extra time between not having to deal with family commitments on the road and having a gym in the hotel that’s even closer than the one you have to drive to at home.
  • Some frequent travelers use the road as an opportunity to explore new gyms, some of which offer free admission to first-timers or visitors. (Some hotels have affiliations that also grant access to guests.) If you’re into group fitness classes, it’s always interesting to try new ones. Or take one you’re familiar with and see how it varies around the country.
  • Runners know there’s no better way to see a city than on foot. Just make sure you know where you’re going and consider leaving the iPod in your room. Running in cities can be hazardous for anyone, let alone newcomers who can’t hear warnings.
  • If the hectic pace of your day on the road keeps you from working out, don’t just collapse in bed, as tempting as that might be. Do some Movement Prep exercises in your room or even in the hallway if space is tight. Running the hotel stairs also can provide a quick and easy workout.

Business travelers often find they get more work accomplished on the road, free from the distractions of home. There’s no reason you can’t train at least as much on the road.

Healthy Travel By Car

Traveling by car can wreak havoc on your body and mind. The stress of dealing with traffic combined with being hunched over a steering wheel can spell trouble even for those dedicated to maintaining the proper mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery. Here are a few ways to make the grind of your journey more tolerable:

  1. Use your armrests to take the tension out of your upper body, especially the trapezius muscles. Don’t view your car seat like a lounge chair; aim for the same posture you’d have at the desk. Having a hard time not slouching? Consider the rear view mirror. Adjust your mirror to where it should be when you have perfect posture. That way you’ll have to maintain good posture to be able to see out of it. It’s an effective reminder.
  2. Here’s another tip for better body position, especially for guys: Take that fat wallet you’ve been working so hard for out of your back pocket before getting into the car. Sitting on your wallet tends to cause your hips to tilt to one side, and that can create or exacerbate muscle imbalances.
  3. Change into more comfortable shoes for the drive home. It can give you that mental transition you need to leave behind any stress from the day.
  4. Think in terms of time and money. There’s a tendency to think you’ll save time and money by grabbing food on the go, especially if you’re traveling on someone else’s dime. In reality, it takes more time to hunt for food than it would to pack accordingly. Bringing your own food is cheaper than purchasing quality food—or even bad food, for that matter—on the run. You also have far more control over the nutritional content. There’s nothing worse than eating poorly because there were no other options or you were short on time. By packing your own food, you’ll not only eat better, you’ll save time and money, thus increasing your performance. That’s triple motivation.
  5. Stock your “desk." Just as you want to fill your desk drawer at work with healthy options to avoid trips to the vending machine, you should pack the car accordingly when working on the go. The console in between the front seats is a great place to stash almonds, fruit, and healthy snack bars. Another idea: Store a container under the seat that includes a box of oatmeal, tear-open packaged tuna fish, jerky, apples, and oranges. Also include whole-wheat bread, condiments in one-serving packs, one-serving containers of sugar-free applesauce, plastic utensils, paper plates, and hand wipes. (Though such food can serve as an emergency stash, don’t leave anything that can spoil for any length of time.)
  6. Coolers aren’t just for tailgating and trips to the beach. Keep a small cooler in your car, restocking it with bottled water and ready-to-drink meal replacement products. Also include fresh veggie snacks and fat-free yogurt with no sugar added. Just don’t leave anything perishable in a hot car for extended periods, even if it’s in a cooler.
  7. If you’re traveling on the highway, pull over for a picnic of sorts at a rest area. Do some Movement Prep. This brief pitstop will recharge you mentally and physically in less time than it would take to pull over at a commercial area and attempt to find healthy food.

Stay Hydrated

It’s easy to get out of the habit of drinking adequate water on the road while dashing to meetings and other commitments. Make it a point to carry a bottle with you. A small sports bottle that doesn’t take up too much room in your carry-on, backpack, or briefcase really comes in handy. Empty it before going through airport security and refill from a water fountain on the other side.

In Summary

By planning ahead for business travel, you won’t just improve your performance and keep yourself from falling behind on your nutritional goals. You’ll also save money by not purchasing bad (and expensive) snacks and bottled water. Whether you’re self-employed or filing an expense report to your employer, that will improve both your waistline and the bottom line.


  • Pack healthy snacks for your trip.
  • Eat your own snacks in the airport and on the plane.
  • Fit in a workout at the hotel.
  • Drink plenty of water.

For more travel tips, check out CorePerformance.com/travel.

Tags: Travel, Work, Planning