A few years back, when I was backpacking Australia on a budget, I ate at least two packets of instant ramen noodles every day.
Every. Single. Day.
In fact, I ate them so often, I would get creative with the many different ways I could prepare them. I’d throw a fried egg on top (mi goreng instant noodles, anyone?), I’d add slices of fake cheese and mix it all together until it melted.
I’d even buy pieces of jerky or beef sticks, slice ‘em up, and throw them in for a little bit of extra protein. And that might have been breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all of the above.
Traveling is one of the best ways to completely decimate your body and put on weight. Especially when you’re eating like I did (and many others do, too), let’s just be frank—that ain’t healthy.
Of course, not everybody eats this horribly when they travel, but unhealthy eating is, most definitely, a common thread amongst travelers.
Eating Healthy When You Travel is Hard
If you’re traveling for shorter periods of time, you have a little bit of wiggle room, because soon enough you’ll be back at home and back to your normal routine. If you want to travel long-term, however, you need to learn how to maintain your health.
And I’m not necessarily talking about exercise (although, that too). I’m talking about learning how to fuel your body properly.
Especially given my recent health issues, I’ve learned a lot about diet and nutrition…more than I ever wanted to know. But food knowledge is one of those things that you can never un-know. Once you realize how important diet is, and the intricacies involved, you’ll never eat the same way again.
But look, I’m not going to lecture you about how to stay healthy when you travel. I’m not going to tell you about all the things you’re doing wrong, and scold you for eating an unbalanced diet. I’m not going to give you the ultimate diet you’re supposed to be following when you travel and tell you what you should be doing instead.
Nobody likes that guy. I’m not going to be that guy. You should enjoy the things you like. That’s what life is all about.
But there are easy ways—really, dead simple ways—to improve your nutrition when traveling, without having to make (too many) sacrifices…unless you’re eating instant ramen on a daily basis, in which case I’ll say it right now—stop.
Please. For the love of everything holy in the world, stop.
Maintaining A Balanced Diet When You Travel Can Be Done
Maintaining a balanced diet when you travel is tough. Every country has its own junk food industry, paving your way to satiation with carbs and saturated fats. When you’re at the end of a long day of travel, you’ll eat just about anything from the 7-11 around the corner that even remotely resembles food.
Airports, train stations, and other transport hubs love this kind of food because it’s cheap to buy and easy to sell with a high markup.
If that wasn’t bad enough, junk food is actually designed to unbalance your diet. Sugar is more addictive than heroin and, weirdly enough, if you know anything about diabetes, it can be just as fatal. Sugar cravings keep you coming back for more.
I mean, sugary food does taste good. There’s no denying that.
To find a better way through this minefield of nutrition options, I’ve teamed up with a company that knows how to feed people the right way—RXBAR, makers of “No B.S. protein bars”—to provide some quick and dirty tips and tricks on how to stay healthy while traveling, and maintain a more balanced diet when you’re on the road.
In my travels around the world I’ve noticed the following:
1. Travelers Eat Too Much Sugar
Sugar gives you an instant burst of energy—so why wouldn’t you want a sugary snack and three spoonfuls in your coffee at the end of a red-eye flight (or the beginning of every day)? After a while, those sugar cravings turn into a habit made even easier by vending machines at airports.
I know—I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know: refined sugars are bad for you. The struggle is in finding ways to avoid them, and opting for natural sugars instead, which don’t spike your glucose levels, and which provide a stable, time-released source of energy with no crash.
Of course, the hardest part is opting to actually do so.
2. Travelers Eat Too Many Carbs
Carbohydrates dominate the average traveler’s diet—particularly in Asia and Europe, with their preferences for carb-heavy budget foods like pasta, noodles and rice.
Carbs are healthy in moderation and a necessary part of your diet. They turn to glucose in your body (a.k.a. sugar), which provides your body with energy. Excess carbohydrates, however, get stored as fat.
But everywhere you travel, it’s virtually the same story. Chips, processed grains, and carb- and sugar-loaded junk foods. In fact, carbs (and refined sugars!) crowd out every other ingredient of a traveler’s diet—especially protein.
And since you need protein to build and maintain muscle, this is a recipe (pun intended) for becoming heavier and weaker, which is what often happens to people when they travel, especially for long periods of time.
3. Travelers Don’t Pay Attention to Their Stomach
Did you know your immune system lives in your gut? Seriously, your stomach is actually the fulcrum of your body’s health. When you eat crappy food, and you don’t treat your stomach right, the rest of your body suffers.
One way to keep a happy gut is by eating more fiber. It’s keepings things moving along (if you know what I’m saying) and it gets out all the bad stuff you just ate. Fiber even helps to tell you when you’re full, so eating fiber is a good way to avoid overeating and therefore gaining weight.
Another way to keep your stomach—and immune system—in check is by taking probiotics. I’ll talk about this shortly.
The Sugar Industry Owns You, And You Don’t Even Know It
The next time you’re in a supermarket, pick an aisle. Any aisle. Pick up a box—any box. Look at the ingredients. Now check another. And another.
Sugar is in everything.
Part of my health struggles involved not just limiting my intake of refined sugars, but totally eliminating them. This was far more difficult than I had anticipated. It’s almost impossible to buy food that doesn’t have added sugars (like corn syrup) in it.
This is the challenge facing you, as you try to make the right dietary choices and keep healthy as you travel.
Added sugars are everywhere, and whether you like it or not, they own your diet if you eat like the average person does. The sugar and sweeteners market is a $97 billion dollar industry.
3 Tricks to Balance Your Nutrition and Stay Healthy While Traveling
Whatever country you’re in, there are remarkably easy ways to keep yourself in good health.
As I mentioned previously, your immune system literally lives in your gut. Your gut is full of bacteria, some of it is good and some of it is bad. The good bacteria keeps your digestion on par and wards off other nasty stuff that enters your belly. Probiotics give you all that goodness.
I take probiotics regularly, and recommend anything by Garden of Life or Renew Life . You’ll need shelf-stable probiotics if you’re traveling, which don’t require refrigeration.
If you don’t eat a truly balanced diet (most of us don’t—it’s cool—nobody’s perfect), this should be a no-brainer. If you’re not getting vitamins from your food, you need to supplement with a daily multivitamin.
This is especially important when you’re traveling, because not only is eating a balanced diet very, very hard but traveling wears your body down. If you want the energy to enjoy your travels, you need the right vitamins.
The best multivitamins are food based, meaning all the nutrition comes from actual food and isn’t synthetically made. Garden of Life and Rainbow Light are two of the best on the market.
3. Protein Bars
Especially if you’re partaking in any adventure travel, you need a reliable source of energy packed in your bag. Protein bars are perfect for providing you with energy before, during, and after any adventure activities, especially hiking, biking, rock climbing, or scuba diving.
They’re also a great backup for your bag when you’re in transit by plane, train, boat, tuk-tuk, or whatever you’re using to get where you’re going. They’re easy to carry and easy to eat on the go.
But! Not all protein bars are created equal. There’s a lot of misleading hype about what they contain. Many, despite their name, are absolutely stuffed with sugar. They also add preservatives and other chemicals to make them taste better.
My advice is this: don’t look at the nutrition label—read the actual list of ingredients. What you see might surprise you.
I love RXBAR’s transparency about their own products, and their packaging is actually hilarious: “3 Egg Whites, 6 Almonds, 4 Cashews, 2 Dates, No B.S.” And if you look at the list of ingredients, that’s exactly what’s in them.
Their bars are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, and contain no added sugars. If you’re genuinely trying to stay healthy, or if you have food sensitivities, that’s huge!
The egg white is a great source of protein. The dates are filled with fiber and sugars that are actually good for you. The nuts are packed with proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, and other minerals. They’re made with 100% natural flavors, with absolutely no unnecessary processing or added sugar.
Approach Your Food With a Different Mindset
I hope this is the start of an entirely new relationship with the food you eat when you travel.
Remember, it’s vitally important to check the ingredients, not just the nutritional information. The short-term benefits of eating lots of processed sugar are vastly outweighed by the long-term damage it can do to your body.
Probiotics, multivitamins, and protein bars are a really, really easy way to keep your body topped up with the nutrients it needs to keep you healthy and strong enough to tackle any adventure.