fruit.jpgOn a road trip, our cars need gasoline to get us where we’re going. Similarly, our bodies and minds need fuel to maintain energy and stamina for the journey.

But that doesn’t always happen. We tend to grab whatever is available, which often means “topping off the tank” with a low-grade fill-up at airport food courts, fast food drive-throughs, or the nearest snack counter. But what amounts to bad habits can be changed.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make regarding nutrition is that they use traveling as an excuse to eat poorly,” says Ali Shapiro, a health counselor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Shapiro sums up three of the most common problems: being unprepared and finding yourself forced to eat whatever you can find, not drinking enough water, and not eating enough protein with meals.

“I think of life in terms of energy management versus time management,” says Shapiro. “The great equalizer is we all get 24 hours in a day, but we don’t all have the same stamina. To make the most of your days, you need to view food as your fuel. This means thinking about how food will affect you at all times you are eating throughout the day.”

Traveling Requires Energy

Shapiro explains that traveling requires lots of mental energy and if you aren’t focused and thinking clearly, you make lots of mistakes, which then requires more energy to fix. On top of this, traveling can be stressful. Eating poorly puts further stress on our bodies, which can lead to lower immunity and result in catching germs more easily, especially when spending more time in closed areas with other people.

Finally Shapiro says we tend to eat more sugar and consume more caffeine on the road, which is going to make us feel more anxious and annoyed. “Never a good thing when you’re traveling,” she notes.

Tips for Eating Healthy

Here are Ali Shapiro’s tips for being more nutritionally savvy on the road:

Eat protein-packed snacks so you can keep blood sugar levels stable, which will keep your moods and energy levels consistent. Favorites include: single serving Greek yogurt, olives, nuts with dried fruits, celery sticks with peanut or almond butter, hard-boiled eggs, and avocados.

When eating out, try to eat as healthy as possible. For example, substitute vinegar and oil on a salad instead of the dressing they offer. Swap out fries for veggies when possible. Heavier meals will deplete energy levels and make you sleepy, which you don’t need while traveling. And don’t be afraid to be picky at restaurants. You’re paying for your meals; get what your body needs, not just what’s easy and on the menu.

Coffee is a constant on the road. However, try to eat something loaded with protein when you drink your first cup. When you’re ready for the second cup, substitute green tea. While this might be a challenge at first, you won’t experience a “caffeine crash” and it will give you a steadier energy stream. Remember, it takes 6-8 hours for caffeine to leave your body so it’s best to stop drinking caffeinated products by 2 p.m.

Set a good example for your children during family travel. Kids will eat healthy if you expose them to it often. Be a role model by making healthier choices whenever possible; for example, pick the fresh fruit option for dessert instead of the hot fudge sundae. Munch on unshelled edamame versus chocolate bars. You’ll set them on a path toward happy and healthy journeys that will last their lifetime.