McLean, VA (written by Nancy Trejos/USA Today) -- Before she takes a trip, Kathryn Alice spends as much time researching food as she does hotels.
Not because she wants to find the best barbecue or burger in town. Instead, she's on the lookout for something far less indulgent: a salad or baby carrots.
As frequent travelers, Alice and her husband worry about packing on the pounds. So when they hit the road, they pack healthy items from Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. They favor low-calorie meals heated up in their hotel microwave over heavy restaurant fare.
"My healthy diet almost falls apart in some places due to time constraints and hardship in finding decent, healthy food," Alice, a road warrior in Los Angeles, says.
Staying fit is a challenge for many Americans on most days, but even more so when they're on the road.
A recent TripAdvisor survey of 1,400 U.S. travelers found that 29% always or often gain weight during a vacation. The travelers also confessed that they are more likely to overindulge while on the road: 65% said they eat more, while 48% said they drink more alcohol.
Business travelers are just as, or even more, vulnerable, according to a Columbia University analysis of medical records of more than 13,000 employees last year. Road warriors who traveled for business two or more weeks a month had higher body mass index and rates of obesity, the survey found.
"It's hard to make healthy choices," says Scott Isaacs, a weight-loss specialist and author of Beat Overeating Now! Take Control of Your Hunger Hormones to Lose Weight Fast. "When they're in the airports and their plane is delayed, they don't want to have an apple. They want to have wings and a beer."
Many travelers are increasingly starting to watch what they eat now that first lady Michelle Obama is shining a light on the nation's obesity problem. According to TripAdvisor's July survey, 75% say they often or always eat healthfully on vacation, and 58% travel with wholesome snacks.
"I think people are realizing how they dine affects the way they feel," says Niki Leondakis, president and chief operating officer of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants.
Travel industry tunes in
Airports, airlines and hotels are starting to cater to health-conscious travelers.
"I think there's been a big turning point where there are healthier options available if you just give yourself a moment to scope it out," says Junelle Lupiani a registered dietitian at the Miraval Resort & Spa near Tucson's Santa Catalina Mountains.
A survey by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine last year found that 83% of 15 major U.S. airports had at least one low-fat, high-fiber vegetarian item on the menu. That was up from 57% a decade before.
According to Routehappy, a website that collects reviews of airport amenities, 66% of nearly 700 travelers were able to find abundant or sufficient healthy and fresh food options at airports, especially at Seattle Sea-Tac, San Francisco, Miami and New York's JFK and LaGuardia airports.
HMSHost, which operates dining and shopping facilities at more than 100 airports worldwide, has added several healthy dining options, including an urban garden at Chicago O'Hare International Airport that produces fresh herbs for many of the restaurants.
Some airlines, too, have moved in the healthy food direction. The sixth annual survey of 10 North American airlines by Charles Stuart Platkin, an assistant professor at CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York, found there was an overall increase in healthy and low-calorie food options in 2011 from the year before.
Many hotels have redesigned their menus. This spring, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts announced it would trim portion sizes and use more organic foods. Dolce Hotels & Resorts recently launched a "Thoughtful Foods for Thoughtful Minds" initiative with new menus that incorporate such ingredients as quinoa, agave and flax. Kimpton has partnered with health expert Joy Bauer to create seven nutritious in-room meals under 500 calories.
The Affinia Dumont in New York will even pair guests with local nutritionists who can take them grocery shopping and customize meal plans.
Marriott Hotels banned transfats years ago and now urges chefs at properties to serve more reasonable portions and include whole grains and organic ingredients in dishes. Calorie counts are available at The Bistro-Eat.Drink.Connect. at Marriott's Courtyard hotels. The breakfast buffet at the Residence Inn now features healthy items such as granola yogurt parfaits and oatmeal with nuts.
"It's not about counting calories," says Brad Nelson, Marriott's corporate chef and vice president of culinary. "It's really about portion size, vegetables and meats that are not processed."
And the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner (Va.), a Marriott property, has a special spa menu with items such as steamed edamame beans and a Portobello alfalfa wrap. Matthew Morrison, executive chef at the property, says guests are increasingly asking for sauces and dressings on the side, sandwiches without the bread, and baked or broiled vs. fried meats and fishes. And, he says, "People are eating less."
Planning ahead can help
Age and body chemistry have forced Loguercio to make healthier food choices on the road. He is 53 and has celiac disease, which means he has to stay away from gluten.
"I'm disciplined enough to know that I'm 53 years old, and I can't eat the way I used to years ago," says the New York-based sales manager for a technology firm.
He now carries trail mix, nuts and carrots when he travels. At a restaurant, he'll order a salad and fish prepared without butter.
Nutritionists and dietitians say Loguercio is on the right track.
They advise carrying healthy snacks, drinking water throughout the day, and never skipping breakfast so as to kick-start your metabolism early.
Planning ahead is also important, says Heather Bauer, a registered dietitian and founder of Nu-Train, a diet and nutrition counseling center in New York. She recommends studying a restaurant's menu before even showing up, then eating only three-quarters of your meal. Exercising regularly is also key.
"It can actually be a great opportunity to come back from a trip lighter than you started," she says.