Plant-Based Holiday Survival Guide
Let me give you some context first. Assuming you are already doing quite well on a plant-based diet, are well educated when it comes to nutrition and have a good game plan to support your active lifestyle, going away on a holiday where you have no option to prepare your own meals can be quite challenging . The ideal situation would be to stay in an apartment with a fully equipped kitchen where you can make your own meals and buy fresh food from the supermarket.
I recently spent a week away in a 5* hotel where I was not able to prepare my own meals. It’s challenging but it’s doable. Let me provide you with a holiday survival guide on how you can tackle your next holiday and still enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Don’t freak out, a week away will not ruin your diet!
First and foremost you should know that a week away will not break your diet or set you up for failure in the long run. Yes, you might gain or loose a bit of weight, but in the bigger picture, one week of holiday won’t break your good habits!
Set your expectations and know that you will not be able to continue eating the way you are used to eat. That is fine. Your body composition, your overall eating habits and your general health will not take a big set back if you let go of your diet for a week.
Adjust and make the best out of the situation. Let me outline a few tips here to get you through your holidays.
First, choose the right hotel for you and your partner or family
One of the first things I would check is the hotel where you are staying and what meal options they provide. Ask them if they cater for vegans. If they don’t, I would personally go to a hotel where they offer a buffet with good quality. Usually, a buffet provides you with a wide variety of plant-based options such as salads, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. Your building blocks. If you are very lucky you will also be provided with solid plant-based protein options such as tofu and beans. Don’t expect it. Good quality vegan meal options in hotels, event 5* hotels, are still rare. I think this will change and very soon we can expect more good quality options for vegans.
Bring some “emergency food” with you
Let’s assume you are very active during your holidays and training every day, I would bring some of your go-to supplements that will be an emergency kit, especially to recover from your workouts. Here is a shortlist of things you might want to consider to bring along:
Amino Acids, BCAAs, Protein Powder
Omega 3 supplement such as an Algae Oil or Caps
Energy Bars for workouts and post workout fuelling
Fruits, nuts and seeds from the supermarket
Your favourite cereal
I find that having those things at hand is very convenient. Especially post workout snacks, such as a protein powder or an energy bar can act as a good emergency snack, in case your next meal is still far away. I would always check out the next supermarket as well, where you can buy some fresh fruits, water or some nuts and seeds to get you through the day. I like to bring my daily cereal with me on any trip I go to. This is my go-to breakfast every day, so having something familiar on holidays is a good way to start my day. Especially if you have a half-board hotel where you can only eat breakfast and dinner. I find that those little emergency snacks can make a big difference to keep your energy levels high throughout the day.
Front Load your Calories in the morning
Whether you start your day with training or not, I would encourage you to load up on the breakfast and front-load your calories before you start your day. Don’t hold back and ramp up your carbohydrate intake in the morning, so you have plenty of energy to start the day. Knowing that the next “bigger” meal is in the evening and you have an active day in front of you, your body is more likely to use those calories efficiently. This assumes of course that you TRAIN and BE ACTIVE throughout the day.
Here are some tips for the breakfast:
- Stay away from highly processed sugary foods! The temptation can be so big – Just look at those beautiful cakes!
- Load up on fruits – Usually, buffets offer a wide range of fresh fruits. Go for it.
- Throw in some whole grain muesli – usually oats! Mix oats with some fruits, sprinkle over some seeds and add some dry fruits as well
- Ask for plant-based milk – Usually these days there should be at least one plant-based milk option available. If in doubt, ask the staff.
- Coffee – It’s fine to have a cup or two of black coffee
- DRINK WATER! Have 2-3 cups of water for breakfast. That also helps with digestion.
- Bread – Well, it’s not ideal as the bread is usually of low quality but maybe you are lucky and they offer some fresh sourdough bread.
- Good plant-based protein for breakfast in a hotel can be a real challenge. It’s usually all fat and carbohydrate rich food. Either bring your protein powder or Amino acids tablets with you.
- Eat some fresh vegetables
- Take some fruits with you that you can eat throughout the day
Have little snacks throughout the day
In case you train once or twice a day I would encourage you to avoid too long periods between your meals. Assuming you only have breakfast and dinner booked in your hotel, this can lead to some big energy holes as you go through the day and will most likely lead to over-eating in the evening and some problems with your sleep and recovery for the next day.
The most difficult thing I find during a holiday is to stick as closely as possible to your usual eating routine. Assuming you are having 2-3 snacks during the day, your body will miss something if you skip those snacks. I would make sure that you refuel all your workouts. Have your energy bar, some fruits, or whatever you can find (this is a place for some processed food – remember the cake from the morning buffet…). If you train, you must refuel otherwise you will most likely struggle to keep up the workouts.
Eat slowly and to “satisfied” instead of “stuffed”
Holidays and hotels are a perfect combination to stuff yourself with food. Especially if you have an all you can eat buffet. Who doesn’t know the feeling of being fully stuffed after having access to unlimited food at the buffet? The most effective (and sanity-preserving) tool for holiday eating may also be the simplest one: Eat slowly. (And stop at “satisfied”, instead of “stuffed”).
Eating slowly has another awesome benefit: When eating slowly (and stopping at “satisfied” instead of “stuffed”) you can try all the delicious foods on the buffet without guilt or needing to “work it off later”. Being satisfied and not stuffed after dinner, increases your chance of a good night sleep as well. Beside eating slowly, I would also aim to use a smaller plate at the buffet, so you are more likely to keep the portions in check.
Focus your meals on unprocessed foods as much as possible
It goes probably without saying that unprocessed whole foods are your first choice when it comes to food choices. Given the fact when on holidays the temptations to eat more unprocessed and unhealthy food is high, it brings some challenges. I would not stress too much about having one or two cheat meals. It’s fine to eat unhealthy every now and then, don’t feel guilty. Try to stick most of the time to whole foods when possible.
- Raw vegetables – Make a big bowl of salad, add some nuts and seeds and fresh fruits. Use oils sparingly.
- Cooked vegetables – Eat the rainbow. Lots of cooked vegetables. Ask for a plate of roasted vegetables, if a buffet is available there are usually a variety of vegetables on offer
- Legumes and beans – your best bet on protein. Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, soy beans, black beans etc… Again, I would ask the chef if he can prepare some for you if nothing is on the menu. That shouldn’t be a problem for a good chef. If you are really lucky, your chef might even prepare you some marinated tofu 🙂
- Rice and potatoes – a staple in every kitchen. Have them as a side dish.
- Nuts – I would use them sparingly. But here is a little tip: Buy some nuts at the supermarket, soak them in water overnight and have them for your breakfast bowl.
- Fruits – I would have fruits in the morning for breakfast. If you have fruits for dinner, I would have it along with a big bowl of salad or as a starter. Eating fruits as a dessert can cause digestion issues. Eat the whole fruits with its fiber. That way you avoid blood sugar spikes, especially in the evening.
- Water – Again drink lot’s of water with your meals. 2-3 glasses per meal
- Alcohol – keep lit on alcohol! A beer every second day won’t probably cause much harm. But at best, avoid it as much as possible or save it for a special occasion. Save that cocktail you always wanted for the end of your trip! This makes it something really special and something to look forward to.
In case you stuffed it up, have over eaten and feel bloated and full after dinner. Go and take long evening walk! I have gone overboard in my last holidays with dinner. But a good night walk make things a little bit better and helps you kick start the digestion process.
Overall I would say, don’t stress too much. Try to keep your diet as close as possible to your usual eating habits. Knowing that it will not cause too much damage if you can maintain a few good habits during your holiday. A good diet won’t be destroyed by one holiday or a few occasions where you went overboard. It’s fine. Keep the bigger picture in mind and enjoy your holidays!