7 Steps to Peak Performance On The Road

By David Meinz, MS, RD, FADA, CSP

How to Maximize Your Productivity Away From Home.

In today’s global marketplace, traveling to do business is a given. For most of us the exhilaration of being a jet-setter has given way to the exhaustion of being a frequent flyer. You can meet the challenges of life on the road and maximize your performance simultaneously. Here are some tips:

1. Eat At 30,000 Feet

When it comes to fine dining, you probably don’t think of airline food. It’s still relatively easy to get almost your full day’s fat allowance from just one airline meal. While the major carriers have made vast improvements in the nutritional quality of meals over the last decade, they’ve still got a long way to go. For me, I also usually find the portions on the small side as well.

There’s no rule that says you can’t put a sandwich, container of fruit-flavored yogurt or piece of fruit in your briefcase. You can also order your meal on the plane, even in coach. Just do it at least a day ahead of time. All the airlines offer a wide variety of alternative meals including low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-salt, vegetarian, diabetic, fruit plate and cold seafood plate. You can even order Kosher, Hindu and Muslim meals! Why not just tell your travel agent from now on to reserve a healthier meal every time they make a reservation for you?

Remember, too, that the cabin of a commercial airplane is very dry. It’s easy to get dehydrated especially on longer flights. That loss of body water can be one of the factors that contributes to jet lag. So be sure to drink plenty of fluids ­ water’s the best, along with fruit or vegetable juices. Remember, too, that beverages with caffeine, like coffee and cola, as well as alcohol can all contribute to dehydration.

2. Have a Power Lunch

New research coming out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) indicates that it may not only be what you eat, but when you eat.

Drs. Judith and Richard Wurtman’s findings indicate that a meal high in carbohydrates like pasta, breads, potatoes, etc., cause an increase in the production of the brain neurotransmitter “serotonin.” This serotonin appears to give us a more relaxed, calm feeling. At the end of a nerve-racking, hectic day, a nice plate of pasta might be just the ticket.

On the other hand, if you need to be in top form for an afternoon meeting, the research suggests that a lunch that emphasizes more protein like a grilled chicken breast may cause subtle changes in your brain that will actually make you more mentally alert.

While the research is still tentative, it’s worth a try.

3. Get Physical

It’s difficult enough to get the suggested three days a week of exercise with today’s hectic lifestyle. Add a five-hour cross-continental flight to your day-planner and it’s almost impossible. The bottom line: You will never find time to exercise. You need to make time.

Those that are successful at integrating fitness into their lifestyle report that they schedule exercise. If it’s an appointment on your schedule, you’re far more likely to honor that than trying to “squeeze it in” at the end of a too-busy day. On Sunday, I schedule three days in the upcoming week for exercise, I put in a 30-minute time slot and I honor that as I would any other appointment. Putting activity in my appointment book has done more to integrate fitness into my life than all the good intentions in the world.

What’s the best exercise to do on the road? It really doesn’t matter. It’s not what you do, but the fact that you do something.

The most recent research has shown that the exercise that has the greatest long-term success rate is walking. Regardless of what form of activity you choose, you’re more likely to be active five years from now if walking is your activity of choice. Remember the only changes that do you any good are those changes that you integrate into your lifestyle over the long-term. You’ll get more positive health benefits from brisk walking three or four times a week over five years than you ever will from marathon running for three of four months.

When you book a hotel room, ask specifically what kind of fitness facilities they have available. Many of the major hotels are now using their health clubs to favorably position themselves in a competitive marketplace.

Ask your local health club if they’re a member of the IHRSA Passport Program. It allows you member privileges at over 1,250 health clubs around the United States, Canada and abroad.

And remember the F.I.T. Formula: Frequency: 3-4 times per week; Intensity: your target heart rate range; and Time: a minimum of 20-25 minutes per session.

4. Avoid Public Enemy No. 1

The No. 1 cause of death today is heart disease. Preventing it is not complicated.

Eat quality lower fat food, put physical activity into you lifestyle and avoid toxic substances like nicotine, drugs and excessive alcohol. The majority of people in hospitals are there today not due to random bad luck, but because they failed to take personal responsibility for their health.

The best way to minimize your risk of a heart attack is to have a Total Cholesterol/HDL ratio of 3.5 or less. Your total cholesterol number divided by the good HDL reading should give you an answer of no more than 3.5. At that level, chances are very good that you’ll avoid heart disease.

One of the major risk factors that contributes to this killer is the epidemic level of obesity in this country. The most recent studies have found that 55 percent of Americans are overweight! The airlines now offer seat-belt “extenders” for those whose girth is too big for the widest belt length of the standard seat-belt. The bottom line on weight control is simple to explain, but hard to get people to integrate into their lifestyle:

  • Eat 50 grams or less of fat per day;
  • Put physical activity into your lifestyle; and
  • Throw the bathroom scale away. It’s not how much weight you lose, but how much fat you lose. The bathroom scale can’t tell the difference. A tape measure can.

5. Dine Defensively

When we’re on the road on business, the tendency is to let our guard down. You’re in a nice restaurant, you may be with you colleagues and there’s often an air of celebration and good times. Many business travelers will tell you that life on the road has been the downfall of many good intentions. A recent survey of business travelers showed that 63 percent said they ate less well on the road than at home. But the news is good and getting better all the time! Never before have so many restaurants catered to the increasing desire for more nutritious, lower fat foods that still taste great!

Remember: You never have to exercise fat off your body if you don’t put it in your body in the first place. Here’s some suggestions for eating out on the road.

When I’ve got an early morning appointment, the last thing I want to do is get up earlier still just to wait in line at the hotel coffee shop. I pack the miniature boxes of cereal you can get in the supermarket and have several of these in my hotel room while everyone else is fighting the crowds. You can have room service bring up some milk or better yet, just pick up a small carton from the restaurant the night before and put it on ice till you get up. Consider this: a typical eggs, bacon, toast and coffee breakfast has 32 grams of fat. A big bowl of cereal with 2% milk has only five.

Forget the so-called “diet-plate” and typical chef salad. Today you can find much better choices. Many hotels are now listing the nutritional content of their offerings right on the menu. Hyatt Hotels now offer an excellent menu of low-fat, yet delicious, items under their “Cuisine Naturelle.” If you’re not sure whether a particular item fits into your guidelines, don’t be afraid to ask.

When ordering from a menu, look for these words that indicate foods lower in fat: grilled, broiled, flame-cooked, steamed, poached, baked and cooking in its own juices. Some foods to eat less of are those whose description includes breaded, batter-dipped, flaky, puffed, crispy, hollandaise, escalloped, parmigiana and au gratin.

When eating breads, go with the hard rolls, fresh breads and bread sticks. Biscuits, muffins and croissants are notoriously high in fat.

If you don’t see what you want on the menu, ask for it. If I want a big plate of pasta but don’t want the 6 oz. chicken breast that comes with it, I’ll just order fettuccini with a marinara sauce. I never have any problems even though it’s not “on the menu.” And remember with pasta, go with red sauce rather than white. The cream sauces are incredibly high in fat.

If you have dessert, remember cheesecake typically has 16 grams of fat per slice. I find that all I really want is a little something sweet after my meal. Why not split the piece with a friend; or better yet, ask the waiter for a serving of one of those great Häagen-Dazs hard frozen yogurts. They’re delicious and virtually fat-free.

6. Go to Bed

Believe it or not, in the 1700s the average person in the American colonies got a whopping nine and a half hours of sleep a night! By the 1950s that number was down to eight hours of sleep. Today, if you’re a typical American, you’re trying to work at peak performance on seven hours of rest.

A lack of sleep can impair your creativity, lower your energy, and decrease immune function.

When I check into a hotel, I always ask for two things. If the hotel isn’t full, I request a room down at the end of the hall away from other guests, and one without a connecting door. There’s nothing worse than falling asleep only to awaken to the noise of your next door neighbor who’s decided to watch a movie at 1 a.m.

A dip in the whirlpool or a hot bath can do a world of good in helping you relax after a hectic day.

Remember, too, that stimulants like coffee can make it hard to fall asleep. And even though alcohol is a depressant and can make you drowsy, its affect on your sleep cycle can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, and makes the sleep you do get less restful.

If you’re exercising while on the road, try to complete it more than two hours before bedtime. Just as a good morning or lunch-time walk can energize you for the rest of the day, exercising too late can keep you awake at bedtime.

7. Don’t Blow It At The Airport

You didn’t have time for breakfast, and your connecting flight didn’t serve a meal. It’s now four o’clock your time and all you’ve had so far today is a ginger ale and two bags of peanuts. (Next time go with the pretzels; two “airline-size” bags of peanuts have 14 grams of fat, while most pretzels have zero.) You’ve got to have something to eat and you’re in the middle of XYZ International Airport.

Is there any hope? Yes! While you can still get the traditional over-priced, warmed-over hamburger and soggy French fries, they’re no longer the standard.

One of the nation’s best airports for eating is Pittsburgh’s USAirways hub. Bain’s Deli has great low-fat sandwiches and vegetables. Try the spaghetti or a pasta salad at Sbarro’s, and Wok & Roll has healthy cuisine as well.

When I’m flying Delta through Atlanta I always stop at the Chinese fast food restaurant. It’s fast, tastes great, inexpensive, and it’s low in fat. Also look for the Healthy Choice Deli Counter, non-fat frozen yogurt and vegetarian pizza.

When I fly American through Dallas, not only do I get to ride the little train, but I also have to figure out what to eat. While it’s getting better, you’ll still find the more traditional fare here like plastic-wrapped sandwiches; go with the turkey. Fortunately you can get a piece of fruit. An apple, orange or banana has zero grams of fat. Sorry, a slice of carrot cake doesn’t count as a vegetable serving. Not with 16 grams of fat.

At Los Angeles International try Manchu Wok for some great sir-fry choices. Good breakfast items include bagels and cereal with low-fat milk. Remember, a Dunkin Donuts Bran Muffin has 13g of fat; that’s more than a McDonald’s regular hamburger.

Life on the road is a challenge. Integrating these seven steps will not only help you meet the demands of that lifestyle, but also maximize your performance and productivity when you get back home.

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