Ask any business traveler, the toughest thing is maintaining your exercise and eating regime while on the road. I remember when I was traveling heavily many years ago, it made keeping a routine very difficult – but gaining weight easy. I don’t have to travel very much for work anymore, but when I was planning my trip to Utah to check out the new Hyundai Santa Fe, I wanted to be sure that my marathon training and associated eating habits were not severely impacted.
The first thing is exercise – this can be the hardest thing to do, as you are in an unfamiliar spot and it is often hard to know what is available. But ultimately it is about dedication and willpower – any fitness person will tell you that getting 30 minutes of activity is not hard, but can make a huge difference. It is a matter of priorities. A couple of months ago, I was reading on a running blog about someone staying in a hotel in East Boston (right near Logan airport), who ended up running 15 loops around the outer limits of the hotel parking lot.
When I was headed to Park City, Utah I looked on the map and at some visuals, and assumed I would have no issue just running from the resort to downtown and back for about a 10 mile jaunt. But when we were being driven from the airport, I saw that I had mis-read the altitude change and knew that I wasn’t ready for the 2000 foot hill between resort and town. Also, the roads were fairly narrow without a good space for running. So I knew I had to find something else – but similar to the blogger above, there was NO WAY I was using the inside gym! Not with such great weather!
Fortunately the concierge had a map and showed me some cool trails that were used for trail biking, hiking and running. She highlighted a route that would take me ~7.5 miles, with a 3.5 mile shortcut loop if the altitude proved too much. There is another word for those ‘trails’ – paths between ski slopes! They were very narrow, hilly and rocky – and I took a few minor falls tripping over unstable rocks. But in the end, I did a 7.5 mile trail run that was simply amazing and the image at top is from when I was returning, saw the resort from the back, and had to snap the spectacular view.
Next comes food. Carly wrote about ‘Eating Well on the Road’, which is an awesome read you should check out. When it comes to air travel, you need a different approach. You cannot bring drinks with you, but fortunately most airports sell large water bottles for only slightly exorbitant prices. Also, I have read and heard mixed things about container-based foods from home, whether bagged or Tupperware, with the general advice being ‘don’t bother’. Fresh fruit like an apple or banana works well, so I had a pear for the trip. But I knew I would be looking for protein, so I grabbed a bag of mixed nut trail mix. Trail mix is one of those things that can be really good or really bad – but by looking for one with natural ingredients that doesn’t look more like a bag of candy you should do okay. I grabbed a great mix from my local store’s organic foods department, and I recommend hitting a Wegman’s, Trader Joes, Publix, or whatever store has gourmet selections near you (i.e. NOT Walmart). You can easily find lower-salt, unprocessed mixes at these places – and then remember to say ‘no thanks’ to the snack bags offered on flights.
Now on some junkets or at conferences or conventions the food is an afterthought, with pre-cooked or reheated snacks and appetizers providing most of the fare, mixed with standard hotel food. When I arrived at the opening reception after cleaning up from my trail run it was clear that this wasn’t to be the case at the Montage – or in general with the Hyundai folks. Food was going to be central – and awesome.
For me that makes it harder to moderate and monitor my eating – if the food is mediocre, I can simply pass it up in the same way I steer clear when someone drops a Dunkin’ Donuts box on the table at the morning meeting. But when the food is GOOD?!? Now I have to work at control!
The first night we had a reception followed by a ‘station’ style buffet. There were salads, veggies, meats, and even a ‘potato martini bar’. As a general rule, buffets are a wonderful way to get really fat, really fast. There are a number of reasons for this that have been covered plenty of times, but that made the first night a great test. Here is my approach: when there is a buffet or ‘multi-station’ setup, look for things that are grilled, stay away from oils and heavy sauces and fried foods.
Here is my plate of food – my ONLY plate. Grilled asparagus and green beans, salad, a barley/corn/spinach thing, beet-pasta Mac & Cheese, lean grilled pork and grilled salmon.
Everyone was raving about the mashed potato martini bar, so I headed over to check it out. Mashed potatoes taste best when prepared with butter and cream … and having them served by someone else and topped with fried foods is a clear warning sign! I grabbed some for a taste, but since I already had a solid plate, I was fairly full and left most behind. That is always a great rule at a buffet – NEVER feel compelled to ‘clear your plate’.
Following dinner, they had a series of desserts, including a liquid nitrogen dipped rice krispie treat called a ‘Dragon’s Breath’, a pastry tray, mini ‘push-up’ cheesecakes and a donut station. Yes, gourmet donuts – a few of us split some to get a taste. Here is the worst – Maple, Bacon, and a fried donut. No, there is absolutely NO upside to this. I tried the blueberry and lemon donut but wouldn’t even touch this. My kids were disappointed.
Later we were walked outside where they had a great firepit with a s’mores station. Awesome touch, really. Below you can see some of the homemade marshmallows for s’mores - the components might not seem bad, but together the fat and junk calories add up quickly … particularly at 10PM!
For breakfast Hyundai had arranged a buffet specific for us, with all of the usual eggs and home fries and bacon and sausage and pancakes and … you get the picture. They also had a great sliced fruit selection, so I grabbed a plate of that; when grabbing juice and coffee, I found greek yogurt and then almost hidden away was home-made granola. Looking at it you see all of the ingredients, and they are fresh and natural. Aside from Elana’s tremendous granola with the coconut additions, this is the best granola I have ever eaten.
Not saying that Hyundai spoiled us, but half-way through our Santa Fe ride we had lunch at the Sundance. Highlighted selections included a cheese-steak sandwich and grilled Angus burger, but the menu had loads of healthier choices as well. I thought a safe choice would be the Veggie pizza on flatbread, until I saw the massive plate! Another rule … don’t be afraid to leave most behind when they deliver a 16″ pizza for one!
I hadn’t even thought about it, but I ordered a dessert called the 5-6-7 Tart (5 blackberries, 6 raspberries and 7 blueberries atop a caramel chocolate mousse tart). Make no mistake, this is a diet busting dessert – don’t let the fruit fool you! I was sitting with Ali and Laura from Hyundai, and they each grabbed a fork and we all took a couple of bites and ended up still leaving half behind. My wife and I do this all the time – split a dessert, as it saves money and calories.
Another element of portion control that entered in was with wine. At both dinners the wait staff were free-pouring from pre-bought bottles. Given my weight loss and that I managed more than 10 miles of trail runs across two very busy days at 8500ft elevation (which is pretty much 8000ft higher than where I live), I would characterize myself as a ‘lightweight’. So I needed to keep an eye on how much was poured. Since alcohol has loads of calories, that was another concern, but for me it was making sure I kept below two net glasses. My strategy with this is to always also order soda or water and work between the two, so I am never drinking wine from thirst.
The important thing to note is that while I made healthy choices and controlled my portions, I ate tremendously the entire weekend. Part of it was planning ahead, and I knew from the reception to expect great things from the final dinner. I have always found that eating is like parenting – you need to pick your battles: I could have eaten that entire mashed potato cup, or made more of a dent on the pizza without real harm to my health regime … but it wasn’t WORTH IT to me. I was never overly full, and never regretted a single thing I ate.
Also, when you have been told to expect a huge and high quality steak on the last night …
What thoughts and advice do YOU have about eating on the road, and what strategies work before for you? Let us know!