Before I stepped foot on stage with my strippah heels, I was a frequent traveler. My job took me to different cities across the continental United States (in case you're wondering, the worst city in America is Shreveport, LA). I've been to almost all 50 states; so has my purse chicken. It's not glamorous, by any means, to whip out a plastic baggie full of room temp tilapia and green beans and eat it on an airplane next to others..........but you gotta do what you gotta do when it comes to getting ready for the stage. Airports can be tough when it comes to finding healthy eats, so I found that brining my own food was always the best defense against the grease and fat-laden airport options. Don't get me wrong: I'd do naughty things to Cinnabon from time to time, but that type of food will kill you if you have physique goals. Now that I'm in an off season and not needing to worry about every bite of food affecting my physique, I've discovered a way to travel sanely without having to eat purse chicken around poor, unsuspecting travelers.
First, I'd just like to say, that it IS possible to eat clean on the road, whether you are a "normal" person or a figure competitor. I have a lot of friends who try to use the travel excuse as a reason for why they can't adhere to their diets. I call bullshit, and I'll call them on it every single time. The methods that I'll discuss throughout this post can be applied to BOTH competitors and regular people, so after you read this, there should be no reason that you can't eat healthy while visiting your in laws next weekend. Now holidays and special trips to tropical or exotic locations are an exception to the rule: it is my personal opinion that when taking these types of trips, you should indulge a bit and not worry about what you're eating; you can't get fat in a day (trust me, I've tried). When you're around family/friends who aren't in the competitive world, just go with the flow. When I go home for Christmas I go to the grocery store and get things like greek yogurt, salad, soups, rice cakes, ground turkey, pre-cooked chicken, tuna; I eat that in whatever portions I choose during the day (the food scale stays in NC while I'm in Boston), and then eat one of my mom's home-cooked meals with my family at night. My mom cooks healthy, but it is technically "off plan"; I don't care. If it means I can be normal with them and not get weird looks, then I'm all for it. And when the day comes that Jim makes an honest woman out of me and we go on our honeymoon, you better believe I'm going to be eating and drinking. There are some things that are way more important than worrying about every calorie that goes into your face - and to me that's family. Choose your battles, folks. Remember - we're trying to be NORMAL here. And don't feel guilty for indulging. If you're clean most of the time and you bust your ass in the gym, you earn a little free noshing from time to time. It's life!!
Rule #1: Preparation
This is perhaps the #1 rule for both travel and regular, everyday life when it comes to eating healthy. You have to be prepared: the fridge/pantry need to be stocked with healthy options (not shit!) so that you can grab and go. And, another personal belief: if 1 person in the house is dieting, so must all of its members. I am so tired of husbands and kids sabatoging their wives' attempts at losing weight and staying healthy. Support your family members, please. If you want ice cream, go out and get a damn ice cream cone instead of keeping 8 gallons in the house. That's an accident waiting to happen: women cannot stay away from sweets, period. So just do us a favor and get them out of the damn house! My house is full of fruits, veggies, whole wheat grains, nuts, healthy soups, lots of things that used to have a face (meat!!), and fat free dairy options. I have no cookies, no cake, no ice cream, no juices, no NOTHING that could potentially sabatoge my efforts at staying lean. In an off season on the weekends, I throw a mixture of carbs, proteins, and fats into my bag and go. No need to weigh or measure - I just eat a protein and either a carb or a fat and a veggie at each meal and call it a day. And as long as I have something healthy within reach, I won't get fat.
The 2nd part of the preparation equation is food prep. This is perhaps the most difficult part for EVERYONE: spending a few hours in the kitchen 1-2 times a week can be a daunting process, especially when kids are added into the equation. I don't have kids, so I can't at all even begin to imagine what that's like. But what I do have are a full time job and other personal training obligations that keep me away from my house from 830am until 10pm on most nights. So when I get home, I have about 2 hours before I go to bed, and in those 2 hrs I have to try to prep food, pay bills, do laundry, clean the house, take care of the dog, and make sure the place hasn't burned down while I was gone. I also have to work on client diets and workout programs. So, no, I don't have a whiny kid pulling on my shirt, but I do have limited time. So here's what I usually do: I split up my food prep into 2 separate nights: 1 is for meats, 1 is for veggies/grains. Monday is my meat night, and I cook my turkey, chicken, tuna/fish, etc. Thurs is my veggie night, and I prep all of my asparagus, green beans, polenta, sweet potatoes, pasta, rice, etc. When I'm in an off season and cooking dinner every night, this becomes less of an issue. In an off season I'll usually just have a veggie night so that I can add veggies to my daytime snacks with ease.
So, how does this all play into travel? At the bottom, you'll see pics of what my suitcase looks like when I go out of town while prepping. That's right - baggies and tupperware full of my food. Is it glamorous? No. Is it necessary: yes! About 2 nights before my trip I'd start by washing all my tupperware and rationing out my meats. 1 night before I add my veggies/starches and separate the tupperware/baggies into days and label each item so that I know what's what when I'm fishing through my suitcase. I never check bags, which I highly recommend when you're traveling with food, otherwise you'll end up with a huge mess. AND your food will always be available to you. All in all, it would take about 3 hrs of total time to portion, pack, and secure all of my food. Lots of time, lots of preparation, but it ensured 100% compliance. I never missed a meal, and I never had to deviated. Ever.
In an off season, and for normal people, just pack essentials that will make it through security: rice cakes, nuts, protein bars, some fruit, maybe a bit of protein powder or some pre-cooked chicken to hold you over until you land. Most airports have places where you can buy raw nuts and fruit, so you might not even need to pack those. And Starbucks is like a healthy oasis for me. They have oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs, fruit/cheese platters, veggie/hummus platters, etc. Between Starbucks and packing a few healthy snacks, you can make it through the airport without compromising your waistline.
Rule #2: The grocery store is your friend
Another option is finding a grocery store when you land. I used to do this ALL THE TIME. I'd just pack my meats and sweet potatoes, and then I'd find a grocery store and buy microwaveable veggies and brown rice, lettuce, and fruit. You can even find pre-cooked chicken or grab some deli turkey or tuna pouches for quick protein sources. If you're staying with friends, prepping healthy food at their house shouldn't be a big deal at all. If you're staying in a hotel, call ahead and see if they have microwaves and mini fridges that they'll bring up to your room. They usually charge for it, but it's worth it. I used to always stay in hotels that had mini-suites in them, and some of them even come with full kitchens, so I could cook all my food there. It was such a stress-reliever. I would just pack my food scale and some empty tupperware and then buy EVERYTHING when I got to a grocery store. Easy as pie.
Rule #3: Realize that you're going to have to suck it up
This is a big one for me. Stop the excuses, stop the whining, stop the BS, and just DO it. I will never, ever, ever tell you that eating/prepping like this is easy or cute. It's hard work, it requires commitment and dedication on your part, and it also requires you to sacrifice both your time and some junk food. But here's the thing: at the end of the day, if you really do want to improve your physique and eat healthier, you'll make necessary adjustments. If it's not worth it to you to prepare, then that honestly means you're not 100% dedicated to your physique goals. You might think you are, but you're not. People ask me all the time why I compete, and why I choose to deprive myself of ice cream every day. It's just that: a choice. I actively decided that I wanted to do this for myself, and my goals outweigh my love for ice cream. Ice cream will ALWAYS be there: competitions, my youth, and my bangin' metabolism won't. So, for now, I choose to do this, and because I'm focused and dedicated, I'm able to pass a plate full of cookies without even being tempted to grab one. Would 1 bite hurt? Nah. But what is that going to solve? It's not going to satisfy any craving or fill me up, so why bother? Make the choice, stick to it, don't BS, and you'll be successful. And stop making excuses, already!