If you travel for business and are looking for ways to maintain a healthy diet, boost your immune system and generally stay in tip-top shape while travelling, look no further. We spoke to nutritionist-in-training and self-confessed health nerd Gabby Hergety, who shares her tips for staying healthy while travelling for work.
Thanks for joining us Gabby! Can you start off by telling us about your wellness journey and why educating people about nutrition, health and wellbeing is important to you?
Absolutely! My journey towards becoming a wellness warrior, or ‘health nerd’ as I like to say, started in my twenties. Like many people when they’re young, I used to be a party girl. But after a while this lifestyle really began to take its toll; I started feeling really terrible and dizzy all the time. I saw a doctor who diagnosed me with hypoglycemia, which is when the level of glucose in your blood drops below normal, and is common in diabetics. The doctor told me there was nothing I could do, but I was stubborn! I didn’t want to keep feeling so awful all the time, so I did some research and took up a low GI diet – the symptoms of my hypoglycemia soon stopped.
Afterwards, I felt like my health was in my own hands and I was in control – it was game-changing. I began to share this passion with family and friends; not only was I helping them, but in turn I felt great sharing this knowledge. When I turned 40, I realised that I could turn my passion into a career, so I started to formally study nutrition, with ambitions of combining my experience in sales and marketing to advocate for better health education.
You’ve worked in both Australia and the UK; how much air travel do you do for work?
Let’s just say I’ve spent a lot of time on planes! When I was living in London, I was travelling very regularly around Europe and to the US. Now that I’m back in Australia, I do a lot of domestic travel for work.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges people face when trying to maintain a healthy diet while travelling for business?
The two biggest challenges I think everyone faces for maintaining a healthy diet while travelling, especially for work, are being out of your routine and being away from your own kitchen. When you have to rely on take-away and eating out for all your meals, which are common with business travel, it’s often harder to find healthy options. Then the temptation for more indulgent, not-so-healthy food is even greater. Add to this the increased socialising with work colleagues for business meetings, and you’re more likely to indulge in a few alcoholic drinks, which tends to lead to not-so-great food choices.
Tiredness when travelling for business is also a challenge. We tend to drink more coffee and crave sugary foods when we’re tired, but both actually just make us more tired – and hungrier! It’s a bit of vicious cycle.
A drink with colleagues may be tempting when travelling for work, but alcohol will leave you feeling tired, dehydrated and prone to making bad food choices as a result
How do you manage these challenges? What are your most important tips for maintaining a healthy diet when travelling for work?
1. The best thing is to be prepared. Pack your favourite healthy snacks and your exercise gear. Do some research before you go to find some healthy places to eat or buy healthy foods when you arrive at your destination.
2. When you do indulge, do it mindfully. Figure out what are the very best treats and indulgences that your destination has to offer, and research where you can get the best versions of these (like the best pizza in New York or the best chocolate éclairs in Paris). Make an effort to go and seek out these perfect treats and enjoy them slowly, savouring the moment. Then opt for healthy options for the rest of your meals. It’s fine to indulge, as long as you balance it out.
3. It goes without saying, but if you want to feel your best when on the road, avoid sugary and processed food. This also includes high carbs, like pasta, white bread, pizza and pastries. These just make you feel a bit gross and sluggish, bloated, sleepy and uncomfortable, which can ruin your trip. Instead of reaching for a chocolate bar for a quick sugar hit, eat some nuts or fresh fruit to avoid that dreaded sugar crash.
4. Go easy on the coffee and alcohol as they will also make you feel sluggish – in moderation they are fine, but too much will just make you feel agitated and tired. I never drink alcohol or coffee on flights, for instance, as I want to feel alert and awake for any work meetings I might have when I arrive.
5. You should drink at least two litres of water a day, whether travelling or not. If you’ve been on a long haul flight, you’ll want to increase that amount as flying is very dehydrating. The same goes for if you’re indulging in alcohol. I always bring a reusable water bottle as it’s better for the environment, and most airports have places you can fill them up.
6. Plane food is unfortunately not always tailored to keeping you healthy or making you feel good. Avoid the high-carb option as carbohydrates can make you bloated on a plane – especially as you’re sedentary for hours. Opt for protein and vegetables, avoid the bread roll and skip the dessert – a piece of dark chocolate and a herbal tea is a much better end to your meal.
Eating real, whole foods like fruit and vegetables is key to maintaining a healthy diet
7. If you’re not hungry, say no to the in-flight meal altogether. Sometimes we feel that because we’ve paid for the flight we need to get the best value for money, so we eat and drink everything on offer, even if we don’t really feel like it. On long-haul flights, I always skip at least one meal (and eat healthy snacks instead), as I know the meal probably won’t be very good for me, and I’m often only eating it because it’s there. If you have snacks on you, you know you won’t get hungry. We also tend to eat on flights just because we’re bored. Instead, flick on a movie to keep you entertained and eat some berries or nuts instead.
8. And lastly, I always take a good multivitamin with me. Taking one with breakfast each day helps to make up for any nutrients I might be missing while I’m travelling, and also gives my immune system an extra helping-hand. Aeroplanes are full of germs, so put lots of good stuff into your body in the days after you arrive to avoid feeling unwell for any business meetings. Vitamin C is great for your immune system, so aim to eat lots of Vitamin C-rich fruit, like citrus or berries, or take a supplement.
When arriving at a destination, what are some ways you would recommend for how people can stay healthy?
Exercise is really important when you arrive; not only does it help to alleviate jet lag, but it also keeps you energised. I usually try to wake up early the morning after I arrive and go for a run, but a brisk walk is just as good. I also try to make sure I do some exercise at least every couple of days while I’m away. Track down a health food store or supermarket and buy some healthy snacks, too. If I have a fridge in the hotel, I’ll often buy healthy breakfast food to eat as well.
And finally, do you think there are foods people eat with the impression that they’re healthy and are good for travel, that perhaps aren’t?
Health bars, protein bars and muesli bars are often snacks people think are healthy, but in actual fact they’re usually packed with sugar. Next time you’re in the airport newsagent, check out the sugar content in one of these bars and compare to the sugar content of a chocolate bar – you’ll see that they’re not as healthy as they seem! As a general rule, real whole foods are always the best choice, so things like nuts, fruit, veggies, and yoghurt are much better options.
Gabby works in Sydney as the Australian General Manager for Studio Etch, a creative digital agency with offices in Sydney, New York and London. She balances her time working, and sharing her passion for nutrition and wellbeing.
Don’t forget that the last thing you need when travelling for business is arriving late to a meeting: book your airport transfer before you travel for a stress-free start to your trip.