Don’t return from a summer trip with extra baggage. Use these travel trips for eating right and staying fit while you’re on the roadBy: Hollis Templeton
Whether you’re hitting the road to visit college friends or grandkids, long hours in the car always seem to mean fast food, stiff joints, and the all too common excuse to splurge: “But I’m on vacation!” If your summer’s sprinkled with day trips and long weekends, your away-from-home habits could quickly derail your diet and put your fitness goals on hold. But don’t rearrange your travel schedule just yet. Take a detour around overeating and underexercising with these tips for staying active and keeping your diet on track while en route.
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Although a thermos of coffee can do wonders, plenty of protein is the key to keeping your mind on the road and not on your growling stomach or next nap. “Make sure you have protein every 3 to 4 hours to [help you] stay alert and keep your energy levels steady,” says Stephanie Mansour, health and fitness expert, personal trainer, and owner of Step It Up with Steph, a Chicago-based personal training and body confidence coaching service. At rest stops or gas stations, grab a protein bar or a single-serving bag of nuts, or pack protein-rich smoothies in a cooler, she suggests.
But don’t munch at every mile marker just because you’re antsy or bored. “Any healthy snack can quickly turn unhealthy if you eat too much,” says Marjorie Nolan, RD, CPT, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Portion out all your snacks based on your time frame and if you are going to stop for a meal or drive straight through to your destination.”
Instead of noshing on goodies from rest stop vending machines, Nolan suggests these healthy snack alternatives:
Raw nuts, seeds, or trail mix. Portion out to a quarter cup for a 150-calorie snack.
Fresh fruit. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated and it will last for hours in the car.
Half a sandwich with all-natural nut butter, plus half a banana. It’s a great snack for sharing with your travel companion.
Dynamic duos. Pack baby carrots and whole grain crackers, or pair pretzels with hummus.
Dry cereal. “You can munch as is or pick up a small carton of low-fat milk and have a quick bowl of cereal on the go,” says Nolan.
Air-popped popcorn. Munch on three cups of this whole grain snack for only 100 calories.
Low-fat yogurt. Stock a cooler with a few freezer packs or frozen water bottles, and it should hold up.
A little fridge cleaning can also yield some healthy snacks for your trip, says Mansour. Pack leftovers in air-tight containers and toss into a cooler. Or dice up veggies and fruit that will go bad while you’re away and drizzle with low-fat yogurt.
Search: The best high-protein snacks for weight loss
Do more than shake out your legs when you stop for a bathroom break. Stretch your hip flexors with low-standing lunges, then lean from side to side to stretch your midsection, says Mansour. Next, turn up the intensity. “Plan to do 15 to 20 squats and pushups at each driving break,” says Nolan. “You can even do the pushups off the hood of your car. You will be shocked at how much this will help you stay alert, even hours into your drive!”
Once you’re back in the car, keep your fitness routine going by working your core. “Focus on sitting up straight and contracting your abdominal muscles throughout the drive,” says Nolan.
If you experience back pain on long drives, place your hands on the steering wheel when you’re at a red light and round your back to stretch out your spine. If you’re sitting in the passenger’s seat or backseat, cross your right ankle over you left knee and learn forward to stretch your glutes, then repeat on the opposite side, suggests Mansour.
Another way to relieve stiffness: At a stoplight roll your shoulders front and back. Do this once an hour. Then do the same with your neck, says Nolan. Just don’t do this while you’re moving!
More: Got 15 minutes? That’s all you need for an effective workout. Try one of these 10 simple routines designed for people on the go.
After another round of “Are we there yet?” it’s clear that finding a local produce stand is going to take a backseat to convenience. When eating out along the way, choose a chain restaurant or drive-thru that offers light menu options, and look for items that are lower in calories and fat and higher in filling fiber and protein. Jo Lichten, RD, PhD, a professional speaker and author of How to Stay Healthy & Fit on the Road, suggests the following food choices for your next trip.
Dunkin Donut’s DD Smart breakfast items, like an Egg White Turkey Sausage Flatbread (280 calories, 8 g fat, 19 g protein)
Simple & Fit breakfast items at IHOP, like a Veggie Omelet and the fresh fruit (320 calories, 10 g fat, 21 g protein)
Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal (140 calories, 2.5 g fat, 5 g protein) and a tall nonfat latte (100 calories, 0 g fat, 10 g protein)
Subway’s 6-inch Black Forest Ham sub without oil, mayo, or cheese (290 calories, 4.5 g fat, 18 g protein) or a 6-inch Turkey Breast sub without oil, mayo, or cheese (280 calories, 3.5 g fat, 18 g protein)
Wendy’s small chili without cheese (220 calories, 7 g fat, 18 g protein) poured over a plain baked potato (270 calories, 0 g fat, 7 g protein)
Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet item, like the Fresco Bean Burrito (350 calories, 8 g fat, 12 g protein)
Applebee’s Under 550 Calorie entrées or Weight Watchers options
Chili’s Guiltless Grill items
Olive Garden’s Garden Fare entrées
Panda Express Wok Smart menu items
Red Lobster’s Lighthouse options
Ruby Tuesday’s Fit & Trim suggestions
More: Don’t step foot inside a chain restaurant without this tool for spotting the biggest calorie bombs—and their healthier alternatives.
Once you arrive at your destination, sample the local cuisine, but don’t eat out for every meal. “Plan to indulge in one meal or dessert each day,” says Nolan. “Choose ahead if that is going to be dessert after dinner or a pancake breakfast, and keep the rest of your food consistent with your normal eating habits and schedule. You may need to plan ahead with restaurants and snacks, but it will be well worth it when you return home from your trip without extra ‘baggage.’”
At restaurants, ask for exactly what you want or make a few tweaks to the meal on your plate, says Lichten. Request no butter, ask for dressing or sauce on the side, limit fatty meats and cheese, and ask for extra vegetables when available. Also, trim visible fat from meat, remove skin from roasted chicken, scrape off breading, drain excess sauce into a small dish, and blot pizza with a paper napkin to remove excess oil, suggests Lichten.
To limit portions, pair a salad and a light appetizer, like shrimp cocktail, she adds. Ask for a lunch-size serving even if it’s not on the menu, or request a take-home container when your meal arrives and immediately pack half of it away.
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When you’re miles away from your gym and you feel like you’re getting exercise by hauling around a suitcase or keeping your overly energized kids in check, skipping workouts is tempting. But should you do it?
“Don’t use the excuse ‘Well, I will be walking all day, so I can skip my workout at the gym,’” says Mansour. “Walking is extra! If a gym workout is part of your life, make it a priority [on your trip]. You want to feel good, so why would you take a vacation from feel-good workouts?”
Make time for away-from-home workouts by getting them out of the way first thing in the morning, before you leave your hotel, says Mansour.
“Ten to 20 minutes of movement in the morning in your hotel room is enough to keep your metabolism revved for a couple of hours,” says Nolan, who suggests the following routine: Do a mini circuit of 25 jumping jacks, 25 pushups, 25 squats/lunges, 25 crunches, then 1 minute of rest. Repeat as many times as you can in 10 to 20 minutes. You will feel it and burn at least 150 to 200 calories.
Video: No gym? No problem! Squeeze in a strength training session with this easy living room workout.
Or take advantage of the ocean, lake, hiking trail, or bike path near you and squeeze in some sightseeing while you exercise. “Vacations and trips give you more innovative and new ways to work out,” says Mansour.
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