Eating well while traveling can be a challenge. But maintaining digestive health can be the difference between a successful trip and an uncomfortable one. Whether you’re traveling for a business meeting or a relaxing vacation, both present challenges for your body.
No one wants to waste time on vacation looking for the nearest restroom.
Even though we may typically do well in terms of fat loss (or maintenance) while away from home, there are other things to think about when it comes to what to eat and drink. Constipation and diarrhea are common issues for travelers, and the fault can usually be found in consistency (or lack of it).
Of course, when we’re on the road, we will be eating different foods and probably drinking more alcohol, but let’s look for a few common themes we can still maintain to keep our guts from sabotaging our travels.
Water intake has huge implications on how well your body functions, and this includes the digestive system. The theme for traveling is to stay consistent. Whatever daily fluid level you normally take in is exactly what you want to do when away. Being dehydrated can lead to poor digestion and constipation.
That said, there are many factors working against you when traveling:
- Air travel may be the worst. You can’t bring liquids through security, time is usually short, you either have a tiny cup of water on the plane or an alcoholic beverage, and the air in a plane tends to be very dry.
- Alcohol and salty food intake are usually higher when dining out or at conferences.
- A difference in the type of water you have available. Not all tap waters are created equal.
So, here are some quick tips to keep your fluid levels in check:
- For every alcoholic beverage, have one equal size glass of water with it.
- Bring an empty water bottle in your carry-on, and fill it from the water fountain as soon as you pass security.
If you do find that different tap waters have effects on you, then only buy bottled water and only from a company you’ve tried and tolerated well before. A small amount of tap water, like in the above two suggestions, may be fine for you, but for the duration of your trip stick to as much bottled as possible.
You’ll enjoy those drinks a lot more if you have a glass of water, too.
As a reader of this site, I’m sure you exercise regularly. You may even sneak a workout in the hotel gym. But even though we try to be active, most trips wind up being relatively sedentary. While workouts are great, they still represent a small moment in time. Which becomes a problem when you remember that digestion is aided by movement.
Here are my tips for keeping moving while traveling:
- Walk whenever possible, especially after a larger than normal meal.
- Take stairs.
- Stand whenever you can.
- Avoid prolonged sitting.
Sounds simple, but it can make a big difference given that we typically move very little when on a trip. To keep you on track, use a cell phone alarm that can buzz you every half hour or so as a gentle reminder to move.
Getting the right amount of fiber can be difficult. Usually the problem is not getting enough relative to what you normally consume. Sometimes we can’t control things like schedules and activity planning when on a trip. But, at least keeping our fiber consistent will go a long way toward staying regular.
“Constipation and diarrhea are common issues for travelers, and the fault can usually be found in consistency (or lack of it).”
At every meal, order a side salad and eat it first. For breakfast, a fruit cup will work. Eating the salad or fruit first is the key. Whatever happens after, at least you got in some fiber. This eliminates the need for too much thinking. Making this a habit over time will make things even easier.
At every meal, order a side salad and eat it first to make sure you get enough fiber.
Gut Bacteria and Food Sensitivity
Many of us have certain foods or ingredients that tend to bother our systems. But when we are on a business trip or just dining out with company, nobody wants to be that person grilling the waiter on how the food was cooked. Depending on where we’re traveling, it might also be perceived as rude to not accept foods that are offered to us.
“Keeping the gut bacteria healthy can help fight any acute digestive issues. A healthy gut can usually handle a meal or two of sensitive foods.”
But there are ways to manage our symptoms and avoid issues. Keeping the gut bacteria healthy can help fight any acute digestive issues. A healthy gut can usually handle a meal or two of sensitive foods. Of course, a diagnosed food allergy is something to respect, but for sensitivities the following advice will work:
- Take a probiotic of at least three to five billion organisms. I usually don’t advocate long term use of probiotics because our diet should be one that keeps the gut happy. However, traveling is a different story, and there are many reasons why the gut bacteria can become altered, from food sensitivities to invasive bacteria.
- For a few weeks before you travel, make sure you are absolutely spot-on with keeping the bothersome foods off your menu.
- Control what you can. When eating alone or when you have choices of where to go, try to pick something that is generally safe. For most people, breakfast tends to be this meal. Don’t be adventuresome. Just order what you would normally eat at home.
Sticking to the foods you eat normally whenever possible will keep your gut happy.
Remember the 80% Rule
In a groundbreaking article published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, Hans Pommergaard and his associated reveals they don’t believe in controlling your digestive health in their appropriately named paper – Flatulence on Airplanes: Just Let It Go. The writers even recommended that airplanes put active charcoal in the seats to control odor.
As funny as it is, this highlights the point that research in digestive health, especially when factoring in travel, is extremely difficult. Different lifestyles, genetics, and the extent to which we can experience foods from all over the world make measuring anything impossible.
So, maintaining digestive health on the road needs to be a customized routine. If you can get within 80% of what you do at home in terms of water, exercise, fiber, and avoiding sensitive foods, then your trip should be smooth sailing.
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- Healthy Travel Tips, Part 1: Car & Plane Travel
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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.