How To Meal Prep For Business Travel

A business trip means eating out at restaurants, having food brought in to the office, or hotel room service. Sometimes all of the above!

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to stay on track with a fitness goal if this is your diet on a regular basis. But there are ways to eat healthy while you’re out of town.

In this article, I’m going to share with you how to meal prep on business travel.

How to Meal Prep

First, let me tell you why I’m an expert on the subject of meal prep on the go. For more than 10 years I’ve been an engineer in the aerospace industry.

My job requires me to travel all across the country and occasionally even overseas. Sometimes spending several weeks at a time on the road!

Despite this nomadic lifestyle, I’ve been able to get in the best shape of my life and even compete in bodybuilding contests. All while living out of a hotel!

Losing fat and building muscle when you’re rarely home takes a lot of planning. But once you have a system set up, it’s actually quite easy to maintain.

This system includes a good bag to carry meals, smart packing, a basic shopping list, adequate accommodations, meal delivery services, and simple meal prep techniques. Let’s start with the meal prep bag.

Meal Prep Bags

The first element of healthy eating on the go is a good meal prep bag. A meal prep bag is simply a bag or backpack with a built-in food storage compartment to keep your meals cool while you travel.

There are many options on the market today with a couple of the most popular brands being 6-Pack and FitMark. I chose the IsoPack from Isolator Fitness.

meal prep bag - isopack

Pros:

  1. Functionality
    • Normal backpack on top with the cooler on bottom
  2. Size
    • Fits under airplane seats… in fact, it’s under the seat in front of me right now as I fly over Colorado from Minneapolis to Orange County, CA.
  3. Storage
    • Separate laptop compartment and plenty of outer pockets for easy access to headphones, keys, or candy bars — I mean protein bars…
  4. Durability
    • I’ve used and abused it every day for 2 and a half years and it’s still intact!
  5. Appearance
    • Looks less like a giant turtle shell and more like a regular backpack (so I don’t stand out like a sore thumb walking through the airport… at least not more than I already do)

Cons:

  1. Weight
    • Still on the large side compared to regular backpacks and weighs a ton fully loaded
  2. Price
    • On the higher end of the price scale, coming in a cool $209

This bag also comes with meal prep containers of a few different sizes. All of which fit nicely in the cooler compartment.

However, I’ve found plain old Tupperware containers to be more durable and fit just as well. Food will stay warm or cold for hours and it comes with a reusable ice pack. But for shorter trips, I leave it behind to reduce weight.

As a side note, you’re allowed to bring food through security at the airport so feel free to pack the cooler. It’s been my experience, however, that if you travel with copious amounts of meat, the TSA will sometimes have a little conversation with you.

Not to worry though, they let most items through. Although one time they confiscated my peanut butter and I was on the verge of assembling a mutiny.

How to Meal Prep in a Hotel

Assuming you can get through the airport without starting a “right to bear nut butter” revolution, the next element of how to meal prep on business travel is adequate accommodations.

If you’re a high roller and can afford a luxury suite or extended stay room with a full kitchen, meal prep options are wide open. But for the rest of us, meal prep in a hotel won’t exactly be gourmet, so don’t get your hopes up.

However, with a couple of basic amenities, you can prepare decent food that also fits your meal plan.

When booking a hotel, make sure it comes with a microwave and a mini-fridge at a minimum. You can usually find these amenities on the hotel’s website or you can ask over the phone.

In a pinch, I’ve scraped by with a Styrofoam cooler and a microwave borrowed from hotel maintenance. But, believe me, you’ll feel more at home with a mini-fridge your own microwave that doesn’t smell like burnt popcorn!

Meal Prep Delivery Services

A good option for how to meal prep while traveling are meal delivery services. These services pre-cook healthy meals and ship them to your home, hotel, or pretty much anywhere else with an address.

There’s been a rapid growth of services like this over the last decade so there are many companies from which to choose.

For several years, I’ve been using a company called Icon Meals. They tailor to the fitness industry and have a wide selection of healthy meals.

Icon’s menu is also updated weekly so it doesn’t get mundane. The staple products include some form of meat, starchy carb such as rice, and vegetable but they have specialty items too.

how to meal prep - icon meals

The reason I prefer Icon Meals is that they offer ‘Protein by the Lb’. In other words, you can order just the pre-cooked meats like chicken, turkey, steak, or fish in 1 pound increments.

For a high protein bodybuilding meal plan, this is the ideal way to hit your macros without resorting to unhealthy processed meats.

The only drawback to Icon Meals is that they don’t cook on the weekends. So they cook and ship meals on Monday and it can be delivered Tuesday.

Meaning you might have to find an alternate meal if you travel Monday. I get around this by eating large meals early and traveling in the afternoon. Or by prepping an extra meal and bringing it along in my meal prep bag.

Meals range from $7-9 each. If your company pays for meals while you travel just run it by your boss and put it on the company card. These services are cheaper than going to restaurants for every meal so it’s easy to justify.

With the meat taken care of in the form of ‘Protein by the Lb’, all you have to do now is acquire the carbs and healthy fats to make complete meals. For this, I stop at a local grocery store.

Business Travel Meal Prep Grocery List

how to meal prep - travel grocery list

The business travel grocery list will vary depending on your particular goal. That is, foods change a little depending on whether your primary goal is fat loss or muscle gain. But here are some items that are routinely on the list:

  1. Fresh fruit and veggies
    • Typically in the form of apples, bananas, berries, or carrots (you can also snag free apples and bananas from most hotel breakfast buffets)
  2. Frozen veggies
    • I recommend steering away from high sodium flavored kinds and go with basic stir fry or ‘fiesta-style’ blends
  3. Cheese or yogurt
    • String cheese makes an easy snack and Greek yogurt can be mixed with berries or protein powder for an easy snack
  4. Pre-cooked rice
    • Look for unflavored varieties and avoid sodium bomb brands like Uncle Ben’s
  5. Oats
    • Can’t go wrong with old fashioned oats. Instant oatmeal or low sugar granola cereals are also okay.
  6. Nuts, seeds, or peanut butter
    • I always keep almonds around. Walnuts, pepitas, and natural peanut butter are healthy options too (I decided to purchase a new jar of peanut butter in lieu of a rebellion).
  7. Rice cakes
    • Plain or lightly salted are best for a low sugar meal plan
  8. Protein powder
    • Depending on the store and brands available I’ll sometimes pick up a whey isolate protein powder. Otherwise, I pack it (see next section).

That may look like a pretty extensive list for a tiny hotel room and mini-fridge. But you only need to pick up about 6 of the 8 items on the list to fill out your meals.

I should also note that I rarely buy beverages, with the exception of occasional vegetable or fruit juices. For the most part, I carry a 1-liter BPA-free plastic bottle and refill it from fountains or water coolers.

That takes care of the grocery list, but bodybuilding meal plans include nutritional supplements as well. So how do you stay on your supplement protocol on the road?  Bring them along!

Vitamins and Supplements to Pack

I’m a big proponent of supplementing sound nutrition with vitamins and minerals to optimize performance.  In addition, there are many holistic heath benefits.  Therefore, I always pack my vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional supplements when I travel.

how to meal prep - pill organizer

The first step is to purchase a pill organizer so you don’t have to bring along multiple bottles. You can find these at any pharmacy or online.

The one I use is from Stuff Seniors Need pictured above. I just take the organizers out of the tray and pack as many as I need.

Also, if you don’t think you’ll be able to pick up a protein supplement where you’re headed, pack a 1-quart bag with several scoops of powder. And don’t forget the scoop itself!

You may have concerns about bringing large amounts of pills or powders through airport security. Not to worry. A quick full cavity search and you’re on your way… kidding!!

I travel with conspicuous amounts of pills and powders all the time. I mean, if the TSA doesn’t stop me from the copious amounts of meat or the jar of peanut butter I’m smuggling, they might stop me for the pharmacy in my bag!

Jokes aside, just be aware that they may stop you to have a look in your bag, but 99% of the time you’ll be on your way with no hassle. And, FYI, the TSA agents don’t find it funny when you write “not drugs” on your zip lock bags of powder (though it’s amusing to see their reaction).

How to Meal Prep for the Week

Finally, now that you have all the components for your meals it’s time to actually learn how to meal prep! Fortunately, this is the easy part since everything is microwavable or doesn’t need to be cooked.

First, I’ll lay out a typical daily meal plan for an 8-5 type shift and working out in the evening.

  1. Breakfast – Protein shake, cereal, or berries
  2. Mid-morning snack – Carrots or almonds
  3. Lunch – If the office has a microwave, bring a Tupperware of pre-cooked meat, mixed frozen veggies, and pre-cooked rice. Otherwise, an apple or rice cakes with peanut butter.
  4. Afternoon snack / pre-workout – Proats (see blog post for recipes), or cereal with a protein shake
  5. Post-workout – protein shake with maltodextrin or banana
  6. Dinner – Pre-cooked meat, mixed frozen veggies, and pre-cooked rice
  7. Bedtime snack – Protein shake, Greek yogurt, string cheese, or nuts

How to Meal Prep on Business Travel

To conclude, I apologize if this post has been a bit of an incoherent ramble… I’m better at meal prepping on business travel than I am at blogging on business travel!

But as you can see, the actual meal prep while traveling is limited to dinner and sometimes lunch. And the meal plan is as simple as calculating the quantities of each meal item needed to fit your target macros then heating it up in the microwave.

You can do these calculations on an app like MyFitnessPal, or get a Custom Meal Plan from Nutritioneering that does all the calculations for you.

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