A Practical Guide to Holiday Nutrition

We often think about getting on shape for the summer holidays, but we seldom think about how we're going to manage our nutrition when we're there, and we often just assume there's no point in trying to keep things on track or we simply don't know how we can keep things on track, and this can breed a feeling of helplessness around nutrition while on holidays.


Of course, you’re looking forward to it, and all the hard work you’ve been putting in means that for the first time, you may even be confident enough to take off you’re top on the beach. But you know that, inevitably, the different setting will mean you probably won’t have access to the same food that you had at home. Plus, you may even be looking forward to tasting the local cuisine and having a few drinks. But you may also be concerned about how this will affect your progress.

The question is, “How do you stay on track with nutrition without it effecting the enjoyability of your holiday?”, and here are a few things that I'd recommend focussing on.

1. Make the Decision

The first thing you need to do is to have a conversation with yourself and realise that being on holiday doesn’t have to mean you abandon your nutrition completely and go off the rails. If you want to do that, obviously that’s cool. You just have to realise that making this decision will effect your performance and body composition and you’ll probably finish the holiday in poorer condition than you started.

Making a decision about how lenient or strict you want to be will be crucial to making sure you’re happy with the outcome.

If you go into the holiday with the attitude that you're going to completely forget about nutrition, then that's what's going to happen.


2. Plan Ahead

Now that you’ve decided that you’re going to take at least some responsibility for your nutrition whilst on holiday, the next step is to plan ahead.

Starting with the first couple of days; relying on airport food will most likely leave you paying over-the-top for poor food choices. Taking an hour the day before your flight and preparing some easy options for your hand-luggage is a must if you want to avoid this. Depending on your flight time, getting up an hour early and having yourself a decent breakfast can also see you saving a few quid and actually having a tasty breakfast. To me, this step isn’t just about keeping nutrition on track, but will also make the whole airport experience that bit more bearable.

Here are some options that you can throw into your hand luggage:

-Various whole or packaged fruit

-Various nuts and seeds

-Oat bars or protein bars

-Salad in tupperware

-Protein powder

-A sandwich with vegetables and a good protein source

- I actually took a burrito bowl to the airport once, and was delighted I did!

-Oats. (Just add hot water, mix, and top with above options. You should be able to get hot water from a coffee shop if you buy a tea or coffee there)

-Yoghurt. (Again, topped with above options.)

The peace of mind of knowing that you have some good options available to you in the airport, on the plane, and even when you arrive in your destination make for a much better start to your holiday.

Another aspect of planning ahead is to actually think about what sort of food that will be available to you around where you’re staying. Will there be a supermarket close to you? Will you have access to a breakfast buffet? Is the local food good quality? Do you have to travel far from where you’re staying to get food? Are you going to be drinking a lot? Do you have access to a cooker?

It is important to have an idea of these things, so that you can plan in advance. If you’re going to be eating in restaurants, then having a few picked out beforehand, and even having a look at the menu to assess their suitability to your goals can not only help you stay on track, but also helps you avoid frantically searching TripAdvisor for them when the hunger has already hit! (side note: The TripAdvisor app is your best friend when choosing restaurants out of your usual space.)

3. Adapt Your Meals

3.1. Focus on Protein

In general, protein intake will probably be decreased on holidays due to lack of availability and/or cost.

Having adequate protein intake is crucial if we want to build or maintain muscle mass. It is also important because of how filling protein sources usually are relative to the amount of calories in them. This will help you avoid the over-consumption usually associated with being on holiday.

Practically speaking, aiming to have 30–50g of protein per meal is a good idea. Some examples of where to get this: chicken breast, eggs, steak, fish, pork, greek yoghurt etc.

3.2. Add Carbs or Alcohol

As well as the general ‘holiday-diet’ being low in protein, it is usually high in fat. (Think pizza, burgers, fry-ups etc.) So there really is no reason for us to add further fat to a meal, and perhaps reducing the fat intake where possible, would be a good idea in order to keep calories under control. Doing so will also allow us to add carbohydrates to our meal, without blowing our caloric budget. Furthermore, if caloric overconsumption is an issue, and you are planning on consuming a lot of alcohol, perhaps keeping fats and carbs relatively low will be your chosen method of keeping calories in check.

An example of this might be where you are planning to have steak as an evening meal. The steak itself will cover your protein for the meal, but will also have a decent amount of tag-long fat, so you may want to forgo your usual side of onion rings or chips (which are deep-fried and therefore contain a lot of fat, and therefore a lot of calories), and instead opt for something like a baked potato for a carb source. Alternatively, you may even want to drop the potato and just have your steak with a big salad, allowing room for your alcohol calories later in the evening.

Again, as with all this advice, this very much depends on your individual goals. For someone who usually can’t get enough food in to keep their weight up, go ahead and get your calories in here.

3.3. Add Micros

With the above, you’ll want to keep your fruit and vegetable intake up. Being in a different climate and environment, being in contact with a lot of people, perhaps partying a lot; these things can all take a toll on our immune system, and can lead to us getting sick or not feeling so good. Keeping micronutrient levels up can help to prevent these issues, so you can continue to enjoy your holiday.

Also, if you are keeping your fat and/or carbs relatively low, you’ll need something to go alongside your protein source. So as mentioned above, adding a big salad to your steak can be a good option to keep the meal enjoyable, as well as providing fibre, vitamins and minerals, without going over the top calorie wise. Fruit can also be a tasty, convenient snack to have during the day.

4. Win When You Can. Accept it When You Can’t.

There will be certain times on holidays where you can be more on track than others. This will be very much down to the individual and the type of holiday.

I tend to find that while the rest of the day might get out of your grasp with all the holiday activities, breakfast is usually one place where you can win.


4.1 Winning at the breakfast buffet

When staying in hotels, the breakfast buffet can be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to nutrition. Here are a few things I’ve found useful:

4.1.1. Protein first

The breakfast buffet will often have some decent protein-rich options that will allow you to get a good amount of protein in first thing, and as mentioned previously, this is going to help you maintain muscle mass. 
Protein sources are also generally quite filling, so by having them first, you’re less likely to reach for 3 pain au chocolat.
Some good options here are eggs, meats, and Greek yoghurt.

4.1.2. Add Micros

Again, micronutrient intake can often slip by the wayside during holidays. Making the most of the ample supplies of salad and fruit that are usually in your breakfast buffet will help keep that level up!

4.1.3. Adds Carbs

Your protein sources, as well as the fibre from your fruit and veg, will likely be enough to fill you, but everyone enjoys carbs, and depending on how active your holiday is, adding some carbs to your breakfast probably won’t be a bad thing at all! If you’re going to be sitting about all day, probably going easy here is a good option. Adding some toast to your eggs or granola to your fruit and yoghurt is what we’re thinking here. Obviously if you’re someone who tends to lose weight very easily and don’t want to, loading on more carbs (and food in general) at the breakfast buffet can be a good idea.

4.1.4. Add Tasty Stuff (if you want)

Now, after you’ve eaten a filling, tasty breakfast, you can decide if you want something a bit more indulgent. Remember, no one is forcing you to eat the croissants just because they’re there, so at this stage, be mindful and decide if you want to. If so, you’re in a better position to control yourself, now that your filled up and feeling good about yourself for making healthy choices.

Bonus: Grab a couple of pieces of fruit or yoghurt or other options that make sense to have later in the day if you get peckish.


5. Be Active

Depending on the type of holiday you’re on, there will probably be potential for you to be pretty active. Whether that is walking around exploring the city, or getting a few lengths in every morning at the pool. If the type of holiday doesn’t allow for this general activity increase (this is rarely the case, by the way), obviously trying to get a workout or some cardio work in where possible would be advantageous.

The point here is, the more active you can be, the more you increase your caloric output, and therefore the more food you can eat without gaining fat.

Plus if muscle preservation is a goal, getting some resistance training in will be important. Even some bodyweight sessions in the hotel room would likely be effective.

6. Relax and Do Your Best

With all of the above in mind, it’s still worth remembering the real reason for your holiday.

Maybe for you that is to relax, in which case, you should probably only focus on nutrition up until the point where it stresses you out. At that stage, it’s just defeating the purpose of your holiday.

Maybe the reason for your holiday is to see cool parts of the world, and experience their culture. Again, you don’t want nutrition to get in the way of this, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about having an authentic pizza in Napoli or eating the odd chocolate-covered waffle in Belgium.

Realistically, there is only a limited amount of damage you can do to yourself in the space of a week.

The aim here is to find your own balance between enjoying your holiday and making sure you don’t come back feeling like you’ve completely outdone your hard work over the previous months.


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