Eating Well on the Road
For many people, myself included, traveling is a time to let go, indulge and leave behind the chaos and rigidity of everyday life. But for those who travel frequently for work, eating well in a foreign city can have its challenges, leaving you feeling tired, sluggish and ill prepared for whatever task is at hand. If you don't know where to go to find proper fuel, it's very easy to succumb to the likes of street meat and deep-fried dishes. Here are some tips I've picked up on my various travels, from departure to arrival - ranging from the infinite possibilities of a metropolis like New York to the limitations of the third world.
Up In the Air
While many business flights involve only minimal flying and zero time change, others can have you in the air for hours crossing multiple time zones. While the temptation of free alcohol might be too much for many to resist, I've learned from years of travel that in-flight hangovers are very undesirable. Alcohol dehydrates us on the best of days; and in the further dehydrating environment of a dry and pressurized cabin thousands of miles up, you have a recipe for disaster. Sticking to water is your best bet. Staying well-hydrated decreases the likelihood you'll suffer from fatigue, headaches or constipation - all three of which have the potential to hinder your productivity when you arrive at your destination. I, for one, have experienced the effects of sluggish bowels while traveling more times than I care to remember.
When things get backed up it can affect the rest of your life, so on top of drinking lots of water, you might want to consider bringing along some herbal laxatives for when times get tough. The last thing you want to be thinking about while you're visiting the Sistine Chapel or signing off on a huge corporate deal is how uncomfortably bloated you are. Lightening your load will likely help you think more clearly and fully appreciate what's in front of you. As for airplane food, most airlines now offer an extensive list of meals based on different dietary requirements, so don't be afraid to request a vegetarian meal or choose the fish option when available.
Upon Arrival - Vitamin Up
Upon arrival at your destination, focus on getting extra B vitamins as well as vitamin C. When we cross time zones our natural biorhythms are affected, which in turn affects the pineal and pituitary gland, which influence the majority of our bodies' hormonal and energy systems. Vitamin C will help support the adrenal glands, which work overtime during higher stress periods, while the B vitamins will help with both higher stress levels and energy demands.
A great and delicious way to get your vitamin C is to have a glass of fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice (or the whole fruit for that matter, with the added benefits of fiber), while good sources of the B vitamins include brown rice, whole grain oats, nuts, seeds, legumes, avocado, poultry, fish, eggs, and live cultured yoghurt.
Search for Healthy Options
Once you're settled and over your jet lag, try to stick to a healthier eating regimen. Steer clear of deep fried, heavily refined and processed options and favor high-fiber, antioxidant-rich foods such as fruits, veggies and whole grains, and protein options such as poultry, fish and legumes.
If you're in a bigger city such as New York or London, there are a plethora of places where you can procure such foods. On a recent trip to Manhattan I discovered there are fruit stands gracing busy street corners offering up everything from apples and oranges to pineapple, mangoes and papaya. Many of them double as juice stands, too, allowing you to get that vitamin C fix you may desperately need. To boot, 24-hour options abound in the city that never sleeps, with places such as Duane Reade (a drug store chain) offering you around-the-clock access to smart choices on the go.
In London, the Marks & Spencer chain has a complete in-house grocery store, so there are no excuses not to eat well on the go. Pret a Manger, on the other hand, has become a go-to on my list for their delicious and varied sandwich selection, as well as other tasty and nutritious treats, complete with full nutritional profiles. Try to avoid combinations that have bacon and higher fat cheeses on the ingredient list and opt for choices such as chicken, tuna, turkey and egg.
Not every city offers the same variety, however, and you're bound to find yourself staring at a menu that seems to offer little selection in the healthy eating department at some point. This is often due to location and lack of availability, and it might just mean that you end up paying a premium for certain things. On a trip to Amsterdam many years ago I can recall consuming 'frites' and mayo almost every day as the limited time I was there didn't allow me to fully explore the inner workings of the city (which I would later discover has many outdoor markets where you can get your hands on real food).
Research and Plan Ahead
Which brings me to my next point. Think ahead and do your research. In this giant world of ours you are by no means the only one who wants to attempt to eat well on the road. A simple Google search will bring up review upon review on where to get your hands on certain types of cuisine while overseas, so I suggest you start there. Favor restaurants that have a good selection of lighter and vegetarian fare and avoid meals that come with rich sauces and deep-fried components. New York, for example, has a ton of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and many of them serve tapas plates, meaning you can eat smaller amounts and sample more stuff! On the flip side, the Brits really love their curry, and while most Indian dishes might lend themselves to good digestion, they can also be very high in oil and rich sauces (think butter chicken). And when you're reaching for your sixth piece of naan to clean up your plate, any digestive benefits from the various spices are very quickly negated by the very high refined carb content of the bread.
Third World Preparation
Should you find yourself in the third world, your biggest concern may not be what you eat, but rather how it's prepared. Due to poorer sanitization methods, the risk of contracting a food-borne illness is far greater. Therefore, it's wise to carry not only purification tablets for water, but also a bottle of oregano oil, which is touted for its long list of health benefits - one of which is the ability to help fend off gastrointestinal invaders (e.g., parasites). Just as constipation will slow you down, having the opposite problem (i.e., traveller's diarrhea) will be incredibly inconvenient, not to mention unpleasant.
Though not necessarily a business trip, while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro three years ago I was very grateful for my brother's stash of Clif Bars, as the food became progressively unappetizing the further up the mountain we got, bringing me to my last point.
Bring back up
Whether it's an apple for the plane or a bunch of natural energy bars, it doesn't hurt to have a few non-perishable items with you in the event that you just can't find what you're looking for or you need a nourishing quick fix. Bringing a greens powder with you won't hurt either for when you need a quick pick-me-up or supplement to an otherwise protein and carb heavy cuisine. They're lightweight and can be easily mixed with water on the run, alleviating the guilt over that double cheese slice of deep-dish pizza, while providing your gut with beneficial bacteria as it works overtime.
Finally, if the temptation of that fresh baguette and hunk of cheese is too much to handle, just do your best to moderate. Instead of that nightcap, try brewing yourself a relaxing cup of chamomile tea instead.