Staying Healthy While Traveling for Work Guide to Maintaining Your Diet and Fitness on a Business Trip

Meet the Experts
Deborah Sweeney CEO of MyCorporation.com View Bio
Joey Daoud CEO and Head Coach of New Territory Fitness View Bio
JoAnn Yánez AANMC Executive Director View Bio
Written By:
Kenya McCullum View Bio

Maintaining healthy habits can be challenging enough for professionals who stay close to home, but when business travel is added to the mix, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine can be even more difficult. In this guide, professionals will find advice on how to choose healthy foods, keep up with exercise, and avoid common meal mistakes while on business trips. In addition, there are recommendations for apps that can keep people on track with their diet and exercise as they travel.

Work & Wellness While Traveling

According to a survey conducted by Carlson Wagonlit Travel, 41 percent of business travelers from the Americas exercise while on trips, compared to 50 percent of those based in Asia and 40 percent of those from Europe. (Business Travel News)

A survey of millennials done by Hilton Hotels & Resorts revealed that 44 percent gained weight during business trips. (The Ladders)

According to Hilton Hotels & Resorts, people who travel frequently for work have more challenges maintaining a healthy lifestyle than those who don’t. (Skift)

An On Call International survey reports that 44 percent of professionals are more likely to indulge in unhealthy foods while on business trips than they would be at home. (Forbes)

54 percent of people who take business trips are less likely to work out when travelling than they are when they’re at home. (Forbes)

Eating Well on a Work Trip

Although business travel can feel like a nice getaway from day-to-day office life, people should be mindful not to overindulge during these trips. Below are some ideas for healthy foods that people can pack when they’re traveling in order to satisfy their hunger and keep their calorie count down.

Business travelers who plan ahead can pack some perishable foods for their trip, which can be kept cool by placing them in a soft-sided cooler. In order to avoid overeating, it’s best to pack foods in single servings that can be separated with small, resealable plastic storage bags. The following are perishable staples that can be packed for a business trip.

  • Fresh fruits
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Cut vegetables
  • Cheese sticks
  • Pre-cooked meats

People who don’t want to travel with perishable items can still pack healthy snacks that will satisfy their hunger. The following are examples of non-perishable snacks that can easily be packed in resealable plastic bags.

  • Trail mix
  • Pretzels
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Beef jerky
  • Popcorn

Common Meal Mistakes While Traveling:

When people are traveling for work, they may be more focused on getting everything done, and not so much on what they’re eating along the way. As a result, they may make some common meal mistakes, such as the ones below.

  • Skipping breakfast. Although work trips can be hectic, it’s important for people to start the day off right with breakfast, which helps to keep the metabolism running and staves off cravings later. But breakfast does not have to be an elaborate affair—even a quick bowl of cereal with fruit is enough to get the energy needed to get going.
  • Eating oversized portions. “Don't feel the need to eat three full restaurant meals a day,” said JoAnn Yánez, Executive Director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. “For most people, three full restaurant-sized portions are too much for a day’s caloric intake. You can ask for half portions or order from the appetizer menu.”
  • Not drinking enough water. Oftentimes, dehydrations can cause sensations that mimic hunger, which can lead to overeating when what’s really needed is more water. In order to prevent snacking on unhealthy foods, it’s important to drink water throughout the day.
  • Drinking too much. “If you want to treat yourself, have a drink, but limit yourself. You want to make sure your mind is clear for your meetings, so don’t overdo alcohol just because you are traveling,” said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com, who is a frequent flier and traveler for work-related initiatives for her company. “Remember the reason you are there. Eat healthy, drink water, and limit alcohol intake.”
  • Giving in to social pressures. “No one can make you do anything,” said Joey Daoud, CEO and Head Coach of New Territory Fitness. “Dinners and after parties can amp up the social pressure of feeling the need to overindulge or drink. You might feel pressured into not making the best decision in the moment.”

10 Strategies to Eat Well During Your Stay

Although eating healthy during business trips can be challenging, it’s not impossible. The following tips can keep busy professionals on track as they work to balance a healthy lifestyle with their business travel.

  • Read nutritional information.

    It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when eating out, which can lead to making unhealthy choices. By asking a restaurant for the nutritional information of a meal, people can get the reality check they need to pick something healthier.

  • Get dressing on the side.

    Although salads are healthy, by the time a restaurant slathers the veggies with high-calorie dressing, the benefits of getting one can be undermined. By asking for dressing on the side, people can have more control of their caloric intake.

  • Eat protein with every meal.

    “Protein helps you to stay full and also enables you to think more clearly,” said Sweeney. “When traveling for business, you often have to be ‘on target’, so it’s important to avoid being hungry, but also to be healthy and ready to endure long meetings.”

  • Bring a water bottle.

    Bringing a water bottle can encourage people to drink more water, which goes a long way toward staying hydrated throughout the day. Also, people who want to stay hydrated with a little bit more flavor can bring bags of tea or water flavoring with them to drink on their trip.

  • Be careful with coffee.

    A cup of coffee can inject some energy into people after working long hours, but business travelers should be mindful of exactly what’s in the coffee they’re ordering. Certain drinks from a nearby coffee shop may sound delicious, but they can also pack a significant caloric punch.

  • Snack smarter.

    Eating healthy snacks doesn’t have to be limited to travel time. People can also pack snacks that they can eat in the office between meals, which will prevent them from getting unhealthy options from vending machines.

  • Avoid empty calories.

    “People traveling should limit calories from alcohol and juices, and avoid sodas as well,” said Yánez. “Drink plenty of water instead. Seltzer (sparkling water) is another good option for hydration.”

  • Ask for substitutions.

    When eating at restaurants, people can reduce their calories by asking for substitutions for unhealthy sides. Instead of getting french fries that come with a meal, for example, people can ask for grilled vegetables or a salad. Asking for food to be prepared in a healthier way is also an option – for example, request grilled chicken instead of fried.

  • Plan meals.

    Planning meals can help to prevent overeating by ensuring meal choices aren’t driven by immediate hunger. If planning ahead is not possible, keeping healthy snacks on hand will help to tide travelers over until the next meal.

  • Don’t worry about perfection.

    “Business traveling gets hectic. The most ideal food might not be readily accessible,” said Daoud. “Plan as much as you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re in a situation where all you have available is less than ideal. If you look at your options as a continuum of good-better-best rather than good and bad, what’s the best choice you can make with what’s at hand?”

Choosing a “Healthy” Hotel.

When people stay in hotels during their business travel, they can find plenty of ways to break their usual healthy eating habits. The following are some pointers to help resist some of the temptation.

  • Think twice about the continental. “Be careful when navigating the ‘sugarnental’ breakfast because 80 percent of the food you’ll find at a hotel or conference continental breakfast is some variation of breads and pastries,” said Daoud. “Assuming you’re faced with a minimal setup with no protein choices, navigate for the heartier and low sugar options like plain oatmeal with nuts and a little honey. You can also supplement some of the foods, like toast, with your own foods, like nut butter or deli meats.”
  • Improvise. Although people may not have access to a kitchen when they’re on a business trip, they may be able to improvise their way into healthier eating. For example, people who buy food at a nearby grocery store can cook a small meal with chicken or shrimp and vegetables in the hotel room’s microwave, or make hard boiled eggs with a coffee pot.
  • Get a refrigerator. “Asking for a refrigerator allows you to keep healthier options at hand,” said Yánez. “Hit a local grocery store for breakfast, fruit and snack items.”
  • Stock up on water. “Water is my first tip, always,” said Sweeney. “If bottled water isn’t offered by the hotel, I grab a number of water bottles on my ride into the hotel (often from a convenience store) to make sure that I have enough fluids for the whole trip.”

Fitness Tips for Business Travelers

Just as eating healthy on a business trip can be difficult, it can also be challenging to get in good workouts when traveling. The following are some ways business travelers can work out even during the busiest of trips.

  • Pack the right clothes.

    Bringing gear on a business trip can increase the chances that people will take the time to work out. To that end, they should pack workout clothes, as well as sneakers, so they can easily change and hit the gym or take a walk.

  • Wake up early.

    People on business trips can have demanding schedules, so it’s best to get in a workout first thing in the morning. Waking up 30 minutes to an hour earlier can give them enough time to complete an exercise routine before the workday starts.

  • Take advantage of the hotel gym.

    “Don’t knock hotel gyms because you can get a great workout done in them. Even your regular motel will most likely have a treadmill and some dumbbells,” said Daoud. “A super easy circuit is to do the following movements for one minute each: run, squat, push press and deadlift. Use weights that are challenging, but doable for the minute. Repeat the circuit two to three times.”

  • Count steps.

    Fitness can improve one step at a time, and if people take a pedometer with them during their business travel, they can pay close attention to those steps. Even if they’re not out and about taking a walk, they can increase their steps by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, going the long way to a conference room or exploring the airport during layovers.

  • Do bodyweight exercises.

    Just because people don’t have access to a gym doesn’t mean they don’t have the equipment they need for a great workout. By doing bodyweight exercises, such as jumping jacks, squats, lunges, and sit ups, people can still get their blood flowing as if they had actually hit the gym.

  • Find local trails and parks.

    During work downtime, people can get a good workout while exploring the city they’re in by walking or jogging along local trails and parks.

  • Make a small daily commitment.

    “You don’t have to commit to a huge amount of time in the gym, but a quick walk on the treadmill or 15 minutes of weights can really help get you awake and ready for the day,” said Sweeney. “If time permits, ride a bike to get familiar with the town rather than taking Uber.”

  • Don’t overdo it.

    Although it’s important to make a commitment to some daily exercise, people should also listen to what their body is telling them. If they are too tired to get in a workout because of jet lag, it may be a good idea to take off a few days until they feel better.

Travel-Friendly Workout Gear

Business travelers don’t need a lot of bulky, expensive equipment to get a good workout in their hotel room. In fact, there are lightweight workout gear options they can conveniently find online or at their local sporting goods store. The following are some examples of travel-friendly workout gear.

  • Yoga mat. A yoga mat takes up very little space in a suitcase, but it can yield huge benefits when it’s laid out on the floor of a hotel room. People who aren’t familiar with yoga can find free routines on sites like Fightmaster Yoga and Do Yoga With Me.
  • Jump rope. Jumping rope is an easy, yet effective, way to get a good workout in a hotel room. By jumping rope for 20 minutes, people can increase their heart rate, boost their brain power, and release the tension of a hard day’s work.
  • Resistance bands. Those who want to do strength training, but don’t have access to weights, can use resistance bands to work out all of the major muscle groups. In addition, resistance bands can be used to intensify body weight exercises like squats and pushups.

12 Apps & Tech to Maintain Health on the Go

For those who want to use their phone or tablet to help them stay on track with eating healthy meals and exercise as they travel, there are a number of apps available to help them meet their goals. The following are some examples of these apps.

Meals

HealthyOut.

This app is perfect for traveling professionals because it allows people to find a healthy restaurant wherever they are in the United States. Whether people want to eat a vegetarian or low carb meal, they can find a place to eat in the local area.

Lose It!

People who are working to lose weight can use this app to track how many calories they have eaten every day, as well as how many have been burned off through exercise. Also, people can share recipes with friends and participate in fitness challenges on this app.

Fooducate.

Users can learn more about the food they eat as they log their daily calories on this app. Fooducate also allows people to track mood, sleep, exercise, and hunger.

LocalEats.

This app helps business travelers find quality restaurants in a local area based on ratings from foodie websites, newspapers, and magazines. In addition, people can review menus and make reservations through this app.

Nutrifix.

Users can find healthy meals nearby with this app. It also allows people to build a food profile so it can find restaurants with dishes that suit their needs.

ShopWell.

Those who plan to visit a local grocery store during their business trip can use this app to make healthy choices. People scan grocery store items with the app and it gives them information on how healthy they are, as well as the impact certain foods will have on health conditions like diabetes and gluten intolerance.

Fitness

Map My Run.

This app allows people to find routes for runs in any city they’re in. Users can find a suitable route whether they are a brand new runner or someone with a lot of experience.

Pocket Yoga.

Professionals who bring a yoga mat on a business trip can use this app to find a routine. Users can choose a routine based on difficulty level, as well as get instruction on how to do different poses properly.

7-Minute Workout Challenge.

Busy professionals can use this app to get an effective, compact workout. In addition, the app allows users to choose the intensity of their workout routine.

Sworkit.

People who are staying in a hotel without a gym can use this app to do bodyweight exercise routines. Users can choose established workouts or create their own.

ClassPass.

This app allows people to find and sign up for fitness classes in the area they’re in. Business travelers who want to find a local class can choose from various kinds of exercise, including yoga, Pilates, cycling, or strength training.

Aaptiv.

People can get access to audio workouts led by personal trainers through this app. Workouts they can choose from can be completed both inside and outside of a gym.