Over the years, my relationship with food has undoubtedly changed. Not only have I changed my relationship, but I’ve tuned into how I feel before and after eating certain foods, I’ve learned what foods to eat so I feel energized, how to plan and cook my favorite meals, and I have learned to be more flexible in my eating.
That’s great until… now I’m traveling three weekends each month, so what do I do now?
You’ve probably heard the term “Fail to plan and you’re planning to fail.” Well, I think we think about staying on track with one’s diet and exercise plan. We think about meal planning in neatly packaged Tupperware containers and laying our clothes out the night before a morning run.
But, for me, I know what happens when I don’t eat for a long period of time. I feel fatigued, distracted, and sure, a little cranky. I know that once I find food, I’m very hungry and will be happy to devour whatever I can find. That’s okay, except after that, I feel very full and sleepy once again.
When I’m traveling, that’s not really an option!
I used to feel pretty powerful when I was hungry as if it was something I could control and fend off. But now that I realize that hunger is my body’s natural cue of telling me it needs something, I really hate to deny it for too long.
So, what’s a gal to do? Plan ahead. Because I travel so much, there’s really no more time for excuses about eating poorly, skipping meals, and not knowing where I can find food. If I did that on each trip I took, we’re talking around 12 days of the month not knowing if I can find a vegetable or going 10 hours without eating… that’s not okay with me!
Here are my tips for planning ahead with food when traveling:
- Scope out nearby restaurants. Planning ahead looks like scoping out food options around my hotel and the gym (or wherever I’m working). Sometimes I’m at the gym very early and/or very late, so I want to see if something will be open so I can get a meal at both extreme hours of the day.
- Bring a water bottle. I will tell you that in my experience, it’s true that dehydration makes you feel even more hungry. Sometimes I’ll have a few sips in the morning, a coffee, and nothing else until I’m ready to leave for lunch or dinner. But, I realize that water not only keeps me hydrated, it also keeps my energy and focus up, and allows my hunger signals (as well as the rest of my body) to function properly.
- Snacks! At any given time, I most likely have an average of three snacks in my bag at all times. When I put them there I kind of have the thought (fear?) of, “When am I going to eat next?” It’s true that if you complain about hunger, I may reach in my grab-bag to help you out. My favorites are fruit you don’t have to prepare (like bananas and apples) and snack bars. When I look for a bar, I look for quality ingredients (I know I can’t be perfect, so I look for a good portion of these), not a lot of sugar, some protein and nourishing fats to keep me full, and over 150 calories. Those 90-calorie snack bars do nothing for me except have me reaching for another one and the goal is to stay full without going too much out of the way. (More on my favorites, below.)
- Pack a lunch. I lean on this one particularly on long tournaments like Nationals because sometimes I feel so tired and busy that I can’t even bother to go find food. To these events, I’ll either find a nearby grocery store for my goods or travel with a loaf of bread (Dave’s Killer Good Seed is my favorite!), some almond butter, and a reusable lunch baggie (like these!). The hotel might have some jam or honey at the breakfast bar, as well as a plastic knife to put it all together. Throw in a piece of fruit (again, perhaps the breakfast bar can help you out), and you’re good to go!
Not only do these tips save you from gnarly hunger pangs they also save you the time it takes to track down a nearby food cart, and money.
Let’s talk about my favorite bars and why. I eat a lot of bars, so consider me an expert on them. The first year I relied on a giant box of bars from Costco, and never again will I buy that brand.
They may seem a little pricey at the grocery store (around $1-3), but considering you’re saving yourself a trip to find a $7 bagel, $9 smoothie, or $5 yogurt for a snack, your perspective might change.
Again, in general, I look for quality ingredients, protein and fat (carbs seem to always be there so I don’t emphasize them), low(-ish) sugar, and over 150 calories. (Note: I’m not a big chocolate fan so we may differ on favorite flavors! And… I should say that real food is always better, but snacks and bars like these can help fill in the gaps!)
- LaraBar. I love that LaraBars have simple ingredients, namely dates, nuts, and spices. I enjoy these bars the most as a snack or in addition to a not-so-well-rounded meal. I find some of the fruit flavors (Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Blueberry Muffin) to be quite tart (but not in an off-putting way), so if that’s your thing, go for it. Fave Flave: Cashew Cookie – it contains two ingredients: cashews and dates.
- RX Bar. The ingredient list is short: dates, dried egg whites, almonds, cashews, chocolate, natural flavors, and sea salt, with zero added sugars. These are chewier than the LaraBars with hunks of nuts and/or chocolate throughout. Fave Flave: Chocolate Chip (but, if you haven’t seen a trend yet, I do love the Coconut Chocolate, too!)
- Epic. With 12 grams of protein, my favorite flavor has just these ingredients: dates, egg whites, almonds, unsweetened chocolate, sea salt, and vanilla extract… just a few more than LaraBars, but with more protein and staying power and more similar to RX Bars. I recently found these after trying their jerky bars (ehh…) and have really enjoyed them. I’ve tried many flavors of all the brands on this list except for this one (just my fave!). Fave Flave: Almond Butter Chocolate Performance Bar.
Almost Meal Bars
- Go Macro. With organic-everything flavors, the nutrition list has higher calories than the other bars listed (except for ProBar) and not too much of one macronutrient. They’re on the chewy side, similar to the Epic bars, but very wholesome tasting and filling. Fave Flave: Coconut + Almond Butter + Chocolate Chip… but they’re all delicious!
- ProBars. I ate a ton of ProBars as a player, particularly in busy seasons and when I wasn’t feeling eating a meal. They’re my go-to when I travel and don’t want to spend a fortune on an airport breakfast sandwich, or an in-between “meal” when you have a few snacks scattered throughout between breakfast and lunch. They’re really dense and many of the flavors have almost an earthy-“wow-I-feel-so-healthy!” taste to them… and, these bars would actually make a great topping for yogurt if crumbled up. Fave Flave: Original Trail Mix.
- Quest. With 20 grams of protein, 16 grams of fiber, and 1 gram of sugar, I grab this one when I need some balance in my life… maybe I had a sweet treat earlier or am having a later dinner – Quest does the trick to stave off hunger for a couple of hours, which many other bars can’t do. As an athlete, I may grab something with more carbs, but at this stage in my life, I feel like they’re a good snack option on the go. I should note that at first, I didn’t like these bars – they had a sort of protein aftertaste. But now, I think they’re great. Fave Flave: Sometimes I have more than one favorite, but not here. That would go to Cinnamon Roll.
- Luna. I grew up with Luna and Clif bars in my backpack at tournaments and school. They’re balanced and targeted to women, though my dad used to share them with me! I’ve found some flavors to be a little sweet in my adult life, but still a good option, in my opinion. Fave Flave: Chocolate Dipped Coconut with Lemon Zest a close second.
- Clif and Clif Builder’s. The Clif family is one I know and love, and I’ve eaten my share, stashing a Clif bar on the bench or in my backpack to have mid-workout when I needed a boost, or even on the way to practice as I feel it digested quickly. The Clif bars have more carbs and are chewier, the Builder’s have more protein and calories and have a sweeter coating added to them. Fave Flave: Clif– They have a ton of new flavors, but the Peanut Butter with Banana and Dark Chocolate is one of my favorites with Blueberry Crisp close behind. Clif Builder’s – Vanilla Almond. Hands down.
- Kashi, or any other bar on hand that gets me through the day. Sometimes I see a box of six granola bars on sale for $1.50 at Kroger and I can’t really pass them up. These are great mid-morning for me on regular days, or after dinner when I need juuuust a little more.