Darya Rose: Perfecting Your Race-Day Road Trip Nutrition
Health and food writer Darya Rose brings her expertise to the ProForm blog. With the topic of travel on the table, Darya offers a unique perspective to maintaining healthy habits in unpredictable situations. Read on to learn her sure-fire methods of eating well on the road, hydrating like a champion, and mastering willpower.
Welcome, Darya Rose
Darya is the author of Foodist and creator of Summer Tomato, one of TIME’s 50 Best Websites. She received her Ph.D in neuroscience from UCSF and her bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley.
“All my life I have strived to balance academic and professional success with personal health and fitness, and over the past two decades I have tried pretty much everything…. The food lover in me now lives in peace with the fitness buff and the scientist…. This is my healthstyle.” –Darya Rose, summertomato.com
“The food lover in me now lives in peace with the fitness buff and the scientist…. This is my healthstyle.”
Traveling is really tough for almost everybody and there are a lot of reasons why. The biggest reason is that you are completely out of your element and you don’t have any of your normal supplies or habits to rely on. What we tend to do is default to the easiest, most convenient thing around. Anything more complicated than that feels like a lot of work. You’re tired and jetlagged, and it can be really tough to make good decisions.
Do you feel that someone with good daily habits is more likely to stick with them on the road? Or is traveling an excuse to throw it all out the window?
I think it’s both. If you have a strong habit of building habits then you may have developed strategies for when you’re traveling—which amounts to travel habits that keep you healthy. If you are someone who travels a lot, I would recommend taking that approach.
That said, even people that are very, very habit driven in their daily lives at home can be really thrown off by travel. I’ve seen this over and over again. It happens to me; it happens to everybody. Every town is different with new challenges. Your activities in each area will vary. It’s definitely a challenge. Being a habit-based person can almost work against you. Because if you’re thrown off your habits, then you default to really bad health choices. If you are mindful of that reality, there are ways you can adjust.
For me, I always look for places I know I can get fresh food, which is not always easy but there are a few tactics you can use. I am very happy when I go to a town that, for example, has a Whole Foods or other healthy grocery store. They have that familiar habit-safe feel. Go to the prepared food section to get a quick meal when you need it. You can also stock up on things to keep in your hotel room—like some trail mix, healthy beverages, or some things you can store in the mini fridge.
“Stock up on things to keep in your hotel room—like some trail mix, healthy beverages, or some things you can store in the mini fridge.”
This way you have some emergency food so if for some reason you can’t get to the healthiest restaurant you can have something to tide you over until you can get to the foods you would rather eat.
I feel like a lot of business people, athletes, or busy people in general—even if they are in their home environment—often experience that same desperate feeling around mealtime that you can get when you are out traveling. Do you feel like these habits are also geared toward the busy people of the world?
Absolutely, but it depends on what you mean by busy. If you are the type of person where your job means running all over the city and you’re always in different environments, and you need to improvise a lot, then yes. That definitely mimics the traveling experience.
You have to develop skills to figure out how to find healthy food. Whether that means getting really good at finding healthy restaurants or stores, knowing what to order—you must identify your personal triggers and traps, and then avoid them to stay healthy.
There are busy people who are always in the same place and in the same routine. That is a lot easier. I feel like I am one of those people. I am really busy but I am always in the same sort of loop: my house, my gym, my grocery store, my farmers’ market. For the most part, I know where I can find healthy food anytime of the day. I had to work out a system for myself.
It’s tougher when you are running all over the city. You have to come up with strategies to eat well in unpredictable situations.
Absolutely. For some reason, there is something about the air on airplanes that makes me so parched. And it’s really hard now because so often they take your water away at security. Then, they hardly give you any water when you ask for it from the flight attendants. They give you this tiny little cup of water, and I’m like, “Can I get 14 of these? Thanks.”
One of the first things I do when I get to a new city is find a drug store and buy three or four really big bottles of water for my room. I think that is really important. It’s also important to remember that it’s easy for our brains to confuse hunger and thirst. So when you are thirsty you can sometimes think you are hungry and eat more than you need.
When it comes to competing in a new environment, what are a couple ways athletes can make sure they are eating the very best to stay in peak condition?
In general, healthy food is the same for everyone whether you’re an athlete or not. Athletes tend to need more calories. But at the same time you want to focus on nutrient dense foods, whole food, enough protein and carbs—balanced meals. One way you can do that is by being aware of the kind of language they use on menus that are secret hints to how healthy a dish is.
Let’s say you are trying to decide between the chicken and fish and they both sound kind of healthy. If the word “glazed” is used anywhere, that is an alarm word, a red light word, that means sugar. You probably want to avoid that. Whereas words like “spice rubbed” or “roasted” are going to be a healthier alternative because it’s probably herbs and spices, which are healthy.
“If the word ‘glazed’ is used anywhere, that is an alarm word that means sugar. Whereas words like ‘spice rubbed’ or ‘roasted’ are going to be a healthier alternative.”
There are certain words that menus use to make foods sound more enticing. Some of them are basically surrogates for sugar, cheese, breadcrumbs, and low quality oils. You want to avoid those. And some of them are things that aren’t that bad like spices and herbs. Also certain kinds of cooking methods like grilling will usually be good rather than deep-frying. You’ll know something is deep fried if they use the word “crispy.” That is your signal that it’s probably breaded or fried or both.
The most important thing to remember is that when you are doing a lot of new things, like when you’re traveling, everything is new to you. You don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what restaurants are available—you’re all over the place. In those situations, every little decision you make and every single thing you do that takes mental effort drains a little bit of your willpower.
So by the end of the day, if you’re given an option of all-you-can-eat dessert buffet or the salad bar, you are going to choose the all-you-can-eat dessert buffet because you are feeling fatigued and drained and starving. So one of the most important things to remember is you cannot rely on your willpower to get you through.
So if you want to get through, you have to plan ahead while you still have willpower so you feel good about your decisions later. Again, if you’re relying on your willpower, it’s going to fail. Use habits whenever possible because those don’t require willpower and you can go on autopilot. Set up travel habits. It is the best option for travelers.
As told to Erica Colvin, ProForm writer