by Karen Stauffer, nutritionist
We all know what’s wrong with eating too much restaurant food on the run. Too much fat, sugar, and salt combined with hurried eating can lead to weight gain, fatigue, sluggishness, and even worsening pre-existing health conditions. Often there’s also a lack of fiber in a road diet, and usually fresh greens are in short supply.
When we’re young, these shortcomings don’t affect us as much. However, the body becomes less resilient the more it has to endure a poor diet, especially when it’s combined with the stress of travel and work. The easiest step to better nutrition, even if on a “road diet,” is to take an enzyme digestive aid. This helps break down food so the body can absorb it more readily, so you will get more nutritional value from food and less indigestion and gas. Taking an enzyme supplement is particularly important for people older than 40 or those taking acid-reducing medication, which might cause you to produce less stomach acid for digestion.
Chewable enzymes are not unpleasant. One brand is Zand’s Quick Digest. It tastes good and helps the body digest all food components: fats, starches, and proteins.
To cut down on unhealthy foods buy a small cooler, about the size that holds six cans of soda. Often these come with shoulder straps and are so convenient, they can become part of your carry-on luggage. Also, buy a refreezable cold pack or fill a zipper bag with ice. Fill the cooler with an apple, an orange, cheese portions, hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, pea pods, red and green peppers, and carrots. All these healthy foods travel well.
Another way to get a healthy snack on the road is with a small day-pack. Raw nuts, crackers, energy bars, and dried fruit can go in here. Also, toss in a few small aseptic (no refrigeration needed) packs of soy milk, a perfect quick breakfast. Don’t forget a bottle of water. If traveling by car, keep a stock of bottled water in your trunk.
Restaurants are convenient, but that’s where poor eating often happens. Make the most of choice, and substitute healthy items whenever possible. The other week I heard a waitress offer broccoli instead of French fries. That’s a good choice: steamed veggies, with a squeeze of lemon! Also, request “no salt,” “heart healthy,” or “low carb” options, and ask for whole grain breads.
Many of us enjoy fast food now and again, but avoid relying on it on the road. If there is no choice but fast food, avoid soda and milkshakes (substitute low fat milk or juice instead), cheese (fast food “cheese” is not cheese at all), and French fries (ask for a baked potato). Remember, many fast food restaurants offer healthy alternatives now, such as salads, applesauce, and fruit cups.
If traveling through time zones has upset your daily routine, a fiber supplement can keep you regular. Discuss with a professional nutritionist which is the right supplement for your needs: soluble, insoluble, chewable, or a blend.
Health food stores offer other nutritious ideas for traveling musicians. Vitamin supplements are one. Another is to pick up a “green drink” powder. A packet can be mixed with water or juice to make an instant nutritional beverage. Another great, easy-to-pack beverage is Emergen-C. Mixed with water it provides vitamins C and B, minerals, and alpha lipoic acid in a tasty fizzy drink.
If you’re having trouble with insomnia, avoid using alcohol to relax. Instead, try Koppla, a soothing, pleasantly sweet drink mix, which contains lemon balm and other herbs. There are other drink mixes containing magnesium, which acts as a muscle relaxant. One problem with alcohol, especially overindulgence, is that it can cause your blood sugar to drop, waking you up in the middle of the night. Eating too late at night can do the same.
Early morning flights or less-than-regular sleep schedules may mean you have to wake yourself up quickly. Many people turn to coffee, but green tea is a better option. Lower in caffeine than coffee, it’s also rich in antioxidants and contains an amino acid (called theanine) whose calming effects may help balance the caffeine.
Adapt these suggestions to your own needs and limitations. Some people travel well, and they have fewer needs than others. For instance, despite my careful planning, my husband drove to Atlanta and back eating bread, peanut butter, jelly, bottled water, and chocolate soy milk. (At least he took his vitamins!) A weeks worth of PB&J sandwiches would have had me headed for a burger joint, but he thrived on them.
I don’t mean for you to pass on any good regional cuisine that appeals to you. After all, delicious barbecue, jambalaya, or homemade pie can make a trip memorable. But be smart, and don’t live on fatty, salty, sugary, fiber deficient foods, either at home or while traveling. If you eat right, you’ll play better, feel better, be more alert and relaxed, and, hopefully, live longer!
–Professional nutritionist Karen Stauffer is owner of River of Life Natural Foods in Lahaska, Pennsylvania. Nutritional counseling is available by calling her at 1-800-651-3820. Read more articles on her specialty–nutrition for musicians–at www.professorpooch.com/Karen.htm.