Travel Tips

Five Secrets to Staying Fit on the Road, Without Skipping Happy Hour

Locations in this article:  New Orleans, LA

Barman with drinkWhen the sun is shining and the sand is warm beneath your feet, a frozen cocktail is essential to enhance the experience. The same can be said for a well-made drink at the end of a long day of meetings.

But whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, no one wants to come home 10 pounds heavier after a few too many at the hotel bar.

Dietitian and mixologist Tina Ruggiero offers her tips for healthy drinking on the road.

1. Seek out seasonal drinks

Fruit drink glassesIn restaurants and bars around the nation, the culinary arts and the cocktail culture have never been more integrated: Bartenders are seeking out fresh ingredients from the green market to be elements in cocktails; garden and seasonal ingredients have become the base for creative alcoholic beverages; and herbs are making a profound appearance in everything from classic cocktails to frozen drinks. This being the case, look for drinks made with a fruit or vegetable base like a cucumber caipirinha or a fresh strawberry Collins. They tend to be simply prepared but with a splash of nutrition.

Get more fabulous food options with Suzy Gershman’s Postcard from the Fancy Food Show: Cocktails, Pomegranate Fields & Lollipops. Or to explore a city that really knows its cocktails, check out Spotlight On: New Orleans.

Blue Martini2. Appreciate the classics

Most calorie-dense drinks are made with three to five different types of alcohol plus sugar-sweetened mixers and sometimes colas. Classics, including the Pisco Sour, scotch and soda, and the Champagne cocktail are simple, forever stylish and tend to have fewer calories than mojitos, margaritas or cream-based concoctions. The classics are almost always a wise choice.

3. Talk with the bartender

Mixologists can be very creative, even though they might pour the same drinks 10 times a night. So, ask them if they can make you something low-calorie. Many bartenders create their own drinks (which don’t necessarily appear on their bar menu), and they can easily recommend and make a low calorie, thirst-quenching refresher that’s big on taste. If the bartender can’t help with weight-conscious suggestions, know the recipe for your favorite skinny drink; he’ll be happy to shake it up for you!

Get more help: Travel Diets: Balancing Your Calorie Checkbook on the Road.

Lime water4. Savor the flavors

Enjoy every sip of your cocktail, and set down your drink between sips. Let’s face it, there’s absolutely no reason to drink quickly. If possible, eat while you drink, since food will slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream.

Drinking water between cocktails is also smart, since alcohol is known to be dehydrating. Research shows that dehydration triggers thirst, and this can prompt you to want to drink more alcohol, so enjoy a glass of ice water with lime between drinks to curb your biological urge to have another cocktail.

5. Set limits for yourself

This is my personal mantra, since I want to be both socially responsible and health conscious, but doing both means being practical. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than two drinks per day if you’re male and one drink per day if you’re female. (Although, when on vacation, I might enjoy two drinks a day. I just make sure to stay active to burn those extra calories.)

Get more Tips for Healthy Eating for Business Travelers.

Champagne GlassesOne way to achieve this balance is by doing what I call the “cocktail-mocktail trade.”

First, choose a cocktail that can be ordered without alcohol, such as a vodka (diet) cranberry or vodka soda.

After ordering the drink classically prepared, alternate it with the mocktail version: either diet cranberry and lime, or soda and lime. Then, return to your standard preparation and follow that with another mocktail version.

This trick saves calories and keeps you more focused, especially important in social situations with business associates.

Of course, red wine is always a smart choice when imbibing, but keep in mind, one serving is just 5 ounces. Most restaurant stemware is 12 ounces, and the server will tend to pour and refill in a rather random fashion, so be cognizant of what you’re drinking.

Get more Business Travel Tips & News here.

Below are two of my own, original, low-cal drinks. Shake them up, and enjoy!

Lime closeupLime Breeze
Serves 1
161 Calories

1 ½ oz. tequila
½ oz. agave nectar
Lime wedge
3 oz. lime-flavored sparkling water, such as Biba

Pour the tequila and agave nectar into a chilled rocks glass.
Add a generous squeeze of lime juice, then toss the wedge into the glass.
Gently muddle all ingredients.
Add ice, then top with lime-flavored sparkling water.

Pear Orchard
Serves 1
170 Calories

1 tsp. Tupelo or other specialty grade honey
1 oz. pear liqueur
½ oz. Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur
1 oz. Asti Spumante or sparkling wine

1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
2. Add honey, pear and orange liqueur.
3. Shake well and strain into a chilled Champagne flute. Leave the honey, which will remain solid, in the shaker. The essence of the honey will be strained into the glass.
4. Top the liqueur with the Asti Spumante and serve.

By Tina Ruggiero for Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., is a Registered Dietitian, author, spokesperson and certified mixologist. You can read her perspectives on From January 31 to February 7, 2010, Tina will be giving hands-on workshops about guilt-free cocktail mixing and low-fat desserts aboard Holland America’s MS Ryndham. For more information or to sail with Tina, click here.

Get more help staying fit on the road: