How to Eat Smart on Business Trips

You may have a healthy diet day-to-day, but it can easily all go out the window the second you set off on your next business trip. Being wined and dined for business may sound appealing, but healthy ... not so much. iMag spoke to Embassy Suites Hotels' expert Joel Marion to find out how to eat right even when traveling for business.

The key to balanced eating while on the road comes down to two things: planning and convenience. By planning ahead and relying on healthy, yet convenient food choices, eating healthy on the road becomes a much easier task. Below are a number of tips revolving around these two principles that are sure to prove useful during your business travels.

Don’t Count Calories – Counting calories can become a cumbersome, difficult task while traveling, especially when dining out fairly often. Fortunately, it is possible to completely cut out this meticulous, time-consuming practice by relying on the much more convenient principle of portion control. With the portion system you don’t count calories, but rather you indirectly estimate calorie intake by controlling the size of the meals you consume. Strive to consume five portions each of the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. How you spread these portions out through the day is up to you, but here is just one example:

Meal Portions of Protein Portions of Carbs Portions of Fat
Breakfast 1 2 1
Lunch 1 1 1
Snack 1 1 1
Dinner 2 1 2
Total 5 5 5

Now, what constitutes a portion? For protein, a portion is an amount equal to the size and thickness of the palm of your hand (i.e. a chicken breast, portion of fish, turkey, lean beef, etc, of approximately this size). For carbohydrates a portion is the size of your clenched fist (i.e. a sweet potato, portion or rice, pasta, cereal, beans, etc, of approximately this size). A portion of fat should be somewhere between 10 and 15 grams (the latter end of the range for larger individuals and vice versa). You may need to read labels at first to obtain the gram content of what you’re eating, but you’ll get pretty good at estimating quickly. For example, a tablespoon of any oil contains 13 grams of fat, and a quarter cup of nuts (handful) about the same. Fat can be added to meals in the form of oils such as olive oil, nuts, cheese, butter, peanut butter, avocado or flaxseeds. Many meats also contain adequate fat, so it is not necessary to add additional fat to the meal.

By estimating calorie intake through portion control, you can successfully consume the appropriate amount of food for your body size without the hassle of reading every label and keeping a running calorie log each day.

Utilize Meal Replacements – Meal replacements are a great way to get a nutrient-packed, extremely convenient healthy meal on the road with little hassle and virtually no preparation. Meal replacements consist of things like protein shakes and protein bars that replace the nutritional value of an actual meal. They generally contain approximately one portion of each macronutrient and a number of vitamins and minerals to boot. To make things even more convenient, use ready-to-drink shakes (shakes that come in a can, bottle, or carton that require no mixing) or bring along a shaker bottle to easily mix protein powder on the road (just add water, shake, and drink).

Befriend Fruit – Fruit is one of healthiest sources of carbohydrates, and luckily for us it’s also one of the most convenient. Each piece of fruit contains an array of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber, and healthy carbohydrates with a prep time of seconds, generally only requiring that you pick it up and bite (or at most that you peel it first).

Dine Smart – While traveling, it’s likely that you will be dining in restaurants for at least some of your meals, but that’s not a problem provided you stick to a few basic principles. First, always use the portion control principle to estimate appropriate food intake. Just because a meal contains two or three portions of a macronutrient doesn’t mean you have to eat all two or three portions; wrap some up and enjoy it later as part of another meal. Also, most restaurants have specialty health menus that consist of low-fat, low-carb, and/or low-calorie menu items. Ordering from these special menus or sections ensures that you’re choosing one of the healthier meals available.

In addition to those two things, remember that you can always make substitutions for healthier food items. For example, trade your fries for rice or another serving of veggies. You’ll save a lot of calories while still feeling full and satisfied.

Plan Ahead – Proper planning is by far the most important element of successful healthy eating while on the road. As the saying goes, fail to plan, and you might as well plan to fail. With a plan in place, if you know you’ll be in a situation where access to healthy food may be scarce, you already know how you are going to handle that situation (instead of winging it once you’re there, which almost always ultimately leads to poor food choices). Before your trip, look into the various situations you will be in, and devise a plan of action:

• Travel: If taking the train, pack a healthy meal to enjoy on your trip. If flying, check with the airline in advance to see if you may request an alternative “healthier” meal, or you can pack something easily portable such as a sandwich, fruit, etc.

• Long Days: Sometimes you’ll have back-to-back meetings with very little time to eat. If you know this will be the case, plan your course of action in advance. The solution may be to just ensure that you have a local place to enjoy a healthy lunch or to even bring a few healthy snacks along as you go through your busy day.

• Downtime: Even on the busiest trips, there will be some downtime in which what you eat is up to you. Before you leave, check out the restaurants in the area (many Web sites have online menus) and pick a few places that you’d like to eat. Additionally, scope out the area for any grocery stores close to your hotel where you can do a little shopping for your stay; just be sure your room is equipped with a refrigerator beforehand.

• Back-up Plan: Things don’t always go as planned, so it’s best to always have “safe” back-up, alternative choices on hand. Throw a couple protein bars or pieces of fruit in your bag just in case you get held up longer than expected.

Click here for more business travel nutrition tips.

Joel Marion , CISSN, NSCA-CPT is the author of The Cheat to Lose Diet and more than one hundred articles for popular health and fitness publications. To download a free copy of his 15-page rapid fat loss report, visit

About Business, developed by Embassy Suites Hotels, is a recently launched website offering practical advice for putting business travelers’ needs first, even on hectic work days. Embassy Suites knows that business travel can take a toll on one’s well-being and the expert counsel found on provides techniques and tips to help visitors find and maintain their own balance– both on and off the road.

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