Whether you’re going hiking, checking out a national park or visiting your favorite vacation spot on the coast, you can’t beat the freedom and joy that comes with a summer road trip. They’re also making a comeback as an easier way to travel and maintain social distance given the COVID-19 pandemic.
That said, it’s easy to feel as if taking road trips and enjoying your vacation means putting your healthy habits on hold. It’s harder to find fresh, healthy foods at gas stations or drive-thrus, and if you’re logging hundreds of miles on the road, your step count might be on the lower side, too.
Luckily, “it’s not impossible to make the most of a road trip while still supporting a healthy lifestyle,” says Maya Feller, RD. Just take advantage of these 10 tips from health pros:
“You know whatever food makes its way into your car is going to end up getting eaten, so set yourself up for success by stocking a cooler with fresh, whole foods that will keep your energy up throughout your travels,” says Tim Liu, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and Precision Nutrition certified coach. Include high-protein staples like Greek yogurt, string cheese and low-sodium jerky as well as filling, fiber-rich fruit and veggie sticks.
Rather than grabbing a soda or sweetened coffee drink on a pit stop, get fancy (and keep liquid calories low) by packing bottles full of infused water for your road trip, says Feller. “Give sparkling or still water a boost by adding hydrating produce such as cucumbers and melons,” she suggests.
“Some seemingly healthy snacks like trail mix with candy and sweetened dried fruit are high in carbs, fat and sugar,” says Feller. Not only are these foods more like desserts than balanced snacks, but they also spike your blood sugar and trigger an energy crash shortly afterward — which isn’t helpful when you have long hours of driving ahead. The fix: Make your own snacks at home before you hit the road, like homemade banana chips and roasted nuts with your favorite spices.
“Make it a point to include healthy eating spots on your itinerary by doing some research before you leave,” says Lynell Ross, a certified health and wellness coach and personal trainer. As you plan your trip, check out menus of local eateries, search for farmers markets where you can pick up sandwiches and fresh produce, and don’t forget grocery stores, either. Usually, you can pop in for pre-made meals and sides for a tasty and nutritious roadside picnic.
There’s no need to completely avoid fast food on a road trip since it’s possible to make smart choices just about anywhere, from McDonald’s to Chipotle. In general, “opt for a lean protein like chicken, turkey, steak or fish and pair it with a side salad or steamed veggies as opposed to fried or battered sides,” says Liu. Since sauces and dressings can add lots of extra calories, ask for them on the side and keep them to a minimum.
The secret to self-control is planning ahead, not depriving yourself for your entire trip only to give up all of your healthy habits the moment you indulge. As long as you’re mindful of your overall eating choices, it’s perfectly alright to order some fries or ice cream from time to time. “If you want something, enjoy it — and balance it out with more nutritious choices the rest of the day,” says Ross.
“If you have a travel companion with similar tastes, split a meal with them to cut down on larger portions at restaurants,” says Ross. This way, you won’t feel like you have to finish it all since you can’t take leftovers home with you, and you’ll also save some money.
“To keep your body moving and your joints loose during long car rides, do seated stretches like the figure-four hip stretch, pelvic tilt, glute squeezes and neck and shoulder stretches,” says Jocelyn Wallace, a physical therapist. These stretches target the areas of your body that tend to tighten up when you’re sitting in the car, she says.
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Pack compact workout gear like a set of resistance bands, yoga mat, jump rope or even a few light dumbbells or kettlebells so you can squeeze in some mini-workouts throughout your trip, says Wallace. Any time you stop, get your heart pumping — even if it’s only for a 10-minute workout with bodyweight exercises, she says.
Even better, find ways to incorporate movement into your trip. For example, if you’re driving through lots of national parks and scenic areas, “check out landmarks on your route and block out time to walk in nature,” suggests Liu. Rather than taking a bus or tram to get around a new city, “go sightseeing by foot or sign up for a walking tour to boost your step count,” adds Ross. There are numerous ways to get active and discover a new place, from renting bikes to kayaking.
Make progress every day while you work on fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.