How To Eat Healthy While Traveling, Whether You Dance Or Not
Eggs – Hard Boiled Or Powdered?
When you’re traveling, it’s hard to eat healthy. And breakfast at the at the hotel buffet is an easy option. But is it a good one? Whether you’re a dancer on tour, a businessperson on the road or a family on vacation, the breakfast pitfalls are many.
How can you still eat healthy while traveling – at least for the most important meal of the day?
We posed that question to registered dietitian Emily Cook Harrison, whose master’s thesis research was on elite-level ballet dancers, energy balance and their relationship to injuries.
Her high-performance nutrition advice is for everyone and anyone who wants an active, energy-filled day.
Let’s start with eggs. Many hotel breakfast buffets offer two choices for the leading breakfast protein source: hard boiled or those mystery, scrambled-ish eggs. Do you know which one is better for you?
A hard boiled egg is your healthiest morning protein source, says Harrison. It has less fat than eggs prepared other ways, because it’s not fried in oil. And unlike powdered eggs, it doesn’t have additives or thickeners that could cause problems for people with allergies.
Harrison also suggested bringing your own alternative protein source, such as nuts, seeds or oats. Oatmeal with seeds or nuts could have as many as 12 grams of protein.
Flavored Yogurt, Toast Or English Muffin?
Bread and English muffins seem like a clear winner over muffins, bagels or scones.
But carb-conscious eaters may steer clear of the breads entirely and grab a yogurt, which at hotels is often of the flavored variety.
Yogurt, toast and an English muffin are all carbohydrate sources, which are good to start your day. But which will give you the most sustained energy?
Toast! (Whole Grain, Please)
Harrison’s pick is an English muffin – or whole grain toast.
The latter has fiber, B vitamins and complex carbs. Add some protein by pairing it with avocado or nut butter such as peanut, almond or sunflower.
As for flavored yogurt? “It has too many added sugars, and I’m also not a big fan of cow’s milk for dairy,” she said, adding that the proteins in cow’s milk – whey and casein – have been linked to higher rates of cancer and auto-immune disorders. Dairy is also linked to eczema, acne and congestion.
Pancakes, Waffles Or Granola?
If you like pancakes or waffles, you’re in luck! Both are often available at hotel breakfast buffets. But how do they stack up against those granola dispensers at the end of table?
In most cases, granola wins. “But keep the portion reasonable, because depending on the brand it could potentially be high in sugar,” says Harrison.
She recommends between 1/4 and 1/3 cup. But do we need to pack a measuring cup? No. Just eye ball it.
“Portion size depends on the dancer and the performance. A principal with two shows in a day is going to need a lot more energy than a background dancer, who stands around most of the day.
Portion size is dependent on a person’s individual calorie needs. “The suggested portion on a product’s packaging is not necessarily for a real person. That’s just the manufacturer complying with the law,” said Harrison.
Your Room Has A Microwave – Now What?
Your room has a microwave – bonus! “I love hotel rooms with a microwave, because a whole world of options opens up,” said Harrison.
So should you nuke a frozen breakfast sandwich or some instant oatmeal?
“Definitely always” choose microwavable oatmeal in that scenario said Harrison.
Many brands have added superfoods (rich in antioxidants). She recommends the Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods brand, which comes in its own easy-to-heat cup.
We also asked for a quick explainer on granola vs. oatmeal: what’s the difference? “Both come from oats,” Harrison clarified. The distinction is about how they are processed and whether anything is added to them. Oatmeal is plain, pure oats. Granola has added seeds, nuts and dried fruit.
Crunchy granola made up of clusters is a giveaway that sugar or syrup has been added. But even flat granola could have added oils, which can jack up the calories.
Is A Snickers Better Than Nothing?
What if your hotel doesn’t offer anything for breakfast, and your only option is the lobby vending machine? Should you skip breakfast and wait until you can find a better option outside, or is eating a Snickers better than nothing?
You Bet It Is!
“Always have something in your stomach if you want to have energy,” Harrison insisted. “The body and brain need fuel, and fasting during exercise has been shown to increase injury rates.”
Harrison suggested searching for more healthful energy bars. But she would still choose a Snickers over fasting any day. “No one needs to start their day ‘hangry.'”
Bacon Or Banana?
When it comes to fruit, most hotel breakfast buffets will usually have apples and bananas. And there’s usually a chafing dish of bacon or sausage. So, who wins that smackdown: the banana or the bacon?
Banana! (Sunglasses Optional)
“Definitely a banana, no question!” Harrison asserted.
She cited World Health Organization research showing bacon to be as carcinogenic as cigarettes. (Shocking!) Other health institutions including the Harvard School of Public Health and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recommend eliminating bacon and other processed meats from your diet.
While farm-to-table bacon may not be processed, you can bet that hotel bacon is likely packed with added sodium and nitrates, too.
Bananas, on the other hand, provide large quantities of sustained energy and are packed with potassium. They’re highly portable, too.
Orange Juice Or Whole Orange?
Should you pour a glass of OJ or peel yourself an orange?
Peel That Fruit, Baby!
Eating the entire orange is always preferable to drinking orange juice. “That way you get some fiber and also phytonutrients, which might be killed off by the heat of the juice manufacturing process,” said Harrison.
Phytonutrients are antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, like resveratrol and anthocyanins, which fight the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as gene mutations and cancers.
Phytonutrients have also been shown to help athletic performance, as well as protect cells and memory. “It’s not that juice is bad, but eating a piece of real fruit is the healthier option,” said Harrison.
Single Serving Peanut Butter Or Jelly?
Ever look at those little peanut butter packets? There can be high fructose corn syrup and added sugar. So why not just have some jelly on your toast instead?
George Washington Carver Would Be So Proud!
Peanut butter may have added sugar, there’s far more good than bad inside almost any swipe.
Jelly will give you very little from a nutritional standpoint, while peanut butter has healthy protein, good fats and vitamins.
Meet Emily Cook Harrison!
Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University.
She provides nutrition counseling for people with diverse needs including athletic performance, weight management, food allergies and eating disorders. She has worked with hundreds of dancers to encourage healthy eating and positive body image.
Harrison received dance training at the Rotaru Ballet School and Boston Ballet School. She danced professionally with Boston Ballet II and Ballet Internationale in Indianapolis, where she worked with legendary Kirov dancers Eldar Aliev and Irina Kolpakova.