How to stick to your diet if you’re a frequent flyer

Mar 15, 2020

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As a nutritionist, one of the most frequently asked questions from flyers is, “How can I keep my weight in check and stick to a diet when on the go?”

There are hundreds of diets and programmes out there but nothing seems to fit well with the erratic schedules of those who are road (or sky) warriors. This lifestyle may mean you have to be at business dinners, get by on aeroplane and hotel food or only get to a gym once a week.

It is possible to keep your weight in check when travelling, but you need to first let go of the notion of being on a diet. You will have much better results by living by a few nutrition and lifestyle guidelines rather than by following a prescribed diet, which can ultimately be a stress in itself probably won’t last.

Below are a set of travel-friendly diet and lifestyle tips to help you stick to your plan and avoid cheating.

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(Photo by Tamara Staples/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tamara Staples/Getty Images)

Cut the sugar

This is a golden rule of weight loss. Sugar represents empty calories and causes weight gain and other health issues. The problem when you travel frequently is that you encounter too many processed foods, buffet breakfasts and dinners where you entertain. This ultimately means you are surrounded by sugar. You have to cut down as much as you can.

Skip the pastries at breakfast, the high-sugar smoothie at lunch, and the dessert after that client dinner. Get out of that “I’m away so allowed it” mode. Simply ask for mint tea when the dessert course is served or have fruit with your breakfast. Your waistline will thank you for it.

Add intermittent fasting to your diet

Many travellers do well limiting their eating to a specific window of time when on the road (and even at home). This time-restricted eating is usually within an eight to 10-hour window. Intermittent fasting may even help ward off jet lag, and have a number of other benefits.

Related: The benefits of intermittent fasting when travelling

Reduce alcohol

It’s obvious that alcohol, a simple sugar, is not healthy and can lead to weight gain. If you travel often and have to socialise, then limit your drinking to a spirit and soda with fresh lime, skip a round and have water instead, or try an alcohol-free spirit. Seedlip is a great choice. You won’t really notice the difference except when you don’t get a hangover.

Take snacks

Whether for the aeroplane journey or when you get to your destination, it’s important to fuel up on healthy snacks when you’re feeling a bit peckish between meals. Choose snack bars with low sugar content (under five grams per bar). Look at the labels carefully as some snacks appear to be healthy but can be very misleading. Best healthy plane snacks include Dark Chocolate Kind bars and Adonis bars, or opt for a savoury kick and try Clearspring Tamari almonds.

delta-kind-chocolate-chunk-snack-bar
(Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Include protein powder

Protein powder isn’t just for bodybuilders. It’s a great snack for keeping you full and it’s super convenient to have in your hotel room. There are different types available such as whey, collagen and vegan blends. Look for a good-quality protein powder without any preservatives or ingredients you can’t pronounce. Pulsin, Vega, Pink Sun and Form are good quality brands.

Eat less

It may seem obvious, but it’s difficult to do. When travelling you are bombarded with food at the airport, in the lounge, during the flight and at the hotel. You don’t need to eat everything on offer so cut things like the bread basket or the snack bar on board. Another golden rule is not to abuse the breakfast buffet — eggs, vegetable, rye toast, a piece of fruit and a coffee is more than enough.

Eat protein

If you are eating enough protein at each meal in the form of meat, nuts, eggs and seeds, then you should remain fuller for longer and not crave foods you shouldn’t be over-consuming. As a rule of thumb, you should eat one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (more if you are exercising hard).

Drink more water

Not only is hydration important for frequent flying but it is also important for weight loss. Aim to drink two to three litres of water per day if you are travelling a lot.

Related: The quest to stay hydrated in the airport and in the air

Clock eating

If you’re travelling so much that you don’t even know what time zone you’re in, then chances are your eating patterns will also be disorderly. Stick to three meals and one or two optional snacks in any 24-hour period. Don’t eat if you aren’t hungry. This includes not eating on the aeroplane for the sake of it, simply because the meal is free and served to you.

(Photo by Claudia Totir/Getty Images)
(Photo by Claudia Totir/Getty Images)

What about a specialised diet?

How to stick to a keto diet (high fat, low carb)

Those on a ketogenic diet should limit their carbohydrate intake to just 25 grams per day. This means skipping things like potatoes, bread, pasta and starchy vegetables. Instead, you rely on animal proteins, fats and green vegetables.

When travelling on a keto diet, it should be easy enough to order meat, fish or chicken with a side of greens. It is a good idea to have some snacks of beef jerky, macadamia nuts or boiled eggs in your bag for the flight as the options for low carb special meals are limited.

How to stick to 5:2

The 5:2 diet means having a normal balanced diet five days a week and then two days where you will opt for low calories. It can be easy to do a low-calorie day when you have a plane journey as you can have a small meal before boarding and then again at your destination. Of course, you’ll need to avoid the plane snack bar, which goes well over the calorie limit for the day.

On the other days, just stick to three sensible meals about the same size as you would have at home. This means you can’t go crazy at the breakfast buffet.

How to stick to a paleo diet

The basic concept of the paleo diet is to eat fresh and unprocessed whole foods. Examples of allowed foods include meat, fish, nuts, eggs, fruit and vegetables and avoiding grains, processed foods and sugar. Sticking to a paleo diet should be fairly straightforward but you would need to plan in advance and take your own plane meal.

At your destination, you can rely on eggs, fruit and vegetables for breakfast and salads for lunch. In the evening, just pick meat or fish with some vegetables.

How to stick to veganism

With the rise of veganism in recent years, it has become a lot easier to stick to a plant-based diet. The best tip here is to look online for reviewed vegan hotspots to know the best cuisine at your destination. Happy Cow is a resource to find the best vegan restaurants in your chosen city.

It’s still advisable to travel with a vegan protein supplement for a healthy snack or for when you can’t get a vegan option.

Bottom line

Don’t stress too much about being 100% on point with your diet when travelling. An occasional meal and dessert aren’t going to ruin your diet programme but if you are travelling often then you should find a routine that works to keep you on track so you don’t have the feeling of having to restart your diet every time you get home. Sometimes the small changes with a relaxed diet attitude leave you feeling more positive and focused on achieving your goals.

Featured photo by bangkok/Getty Images

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