It's a familiar dilemma for many of us: your day's gone a little faster than you thought while you're out and about, and that lunch you had earlier is a distant memory. You know that grabbing a quick bite of whatever you can find isn't likely to be great for your gut, but you also know that you really need to eat something...now.
Or maybe you're traveling, and even though you know you need to support your gut, you feel like you just don't have the time or space for your normal health routine. Who has space to carry around all their supplements, anyway?
And of course, there's the classic bad day pitfall: sometimes when the whole world seems to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, the easiest thing is to just reach for whatever you have around you or forget to eat properly at all––neither of which is good for your gut.
While it's relatively easy to take care of your gut health when you're in an environment that you can control (like your home), it can be harder when you're out. And to be perfectly honest, sometimes you're going to be faced with factors outside your control. But days on the go don't have to be a total wash: you can still support your gut health, given a little planning and prep.
Our Top 5 Tips for Gut Health on the Go:
1. Keep gut-healthy snacks in your bags, car, and desk.
Since your diet is one of the biggest influences on the health of your gut microbiome, keeping gut-healthy snacks around is a great way to support your gut health, wherever you happen to be.1 Try to get a mix of prebiotic and probiotic snacks in throughout the day. (Quick reminder: probiotics are beneficial bacteria, prebiotics are the indigestible fibers that feed them.)
You've got lots of options for prebiotic foods, from classics like carrot sticks and broccoli trees to sweet tooth-friendly dark chocolate. You can also try bananas or apple slices with almond butter; kiwis, kefir, and pickles are easy to throw in a bag on your way out the door, too. Food bars are also a great choice when you're looking for some quick portable nutrition, a healthy snack for your kids, or for a nutrient-rich airplane trip pick-me-up (we’re loving these low sugar, high protein, and high fiber dark chocolate almond bars by Primal Kitchen). Just make sure that you stick to all-natural, food-based bars that contain only natural sugar and high-fiber ingredients like seeds, nuts, and dates so you can stay energized and satiated.
2. Bring along some prebiotic powder.
Our modern lifestyle makes it really hard to get the fiber beneficial bacteria need to thrive. In fact, most of us consume about one tenth of the fiber our ancestors did––which is less than half the modern daily recommendation.2 This means that you can (inadvertently) end up feeding your less hospitable bacteria more than the good guys even if you're eating a relatively healthy diet, simply because it's hard to get enough prebiotic-rich foods into a day.
One way to work around this is by adding prebiotic supplements to your daily gut-health routine. Our organic, food-based prebiotic powder dissolves easily, and is the perfect option for on the go gut support. Try keeping a jar in your car or at your desk so you can simply add a scoop to food and drinks throughout your day. Even better, mix it with a scoop of Vega’s Vanilla & Greens Protein Shake for the perfect on-the-go combo.
3. Find a portable way to mitigate stress.
Stress is really bad for your microbiome: when you're stressed, your digestive system takes a back seat to things like your circulatory and respiratory systems. While that makes sense in the context of survival (it's not as important to digest when you're running away from a predator, for example), it's bad news for bacteria.4 Slower digestion favors certain types of bacteria, which means that those bacteria that rely on a faster transit time diminish, throwing your microbiome out of balance.
Of course, it's easy to keep that in mind when you're sitting at home relaxing...and much harder when you're running around or traveling. So try to find a portable way to mitigate stress and stay mindful, even when you're on the go. Meditation recordings and affirmation cards can both be good options, as can gentle forms of movement like desk yoga.
4. Create a gut health kit.
Research shows that the best way to make a healthy practice stick is to make it as easy as possible to follow through on. This comes down to something called decision fatigue: the more decisions you have to make in a particular amount of time, the more your willpower gets worn down, especially if those decisions are stressful.4 That's why it's so much harder to stick with, say, an exercise routine if you're going through a big change at work. This is also one of the reasons it's much easier to forget about being gut-friendly when you're traveling: when you're constantly having to make decisions, and may be more stressed than usual, your gut health might not be top of mind.
But once you know about this built-in brain quirk, you can use that to your advantage: by making the gut-friendly choice as easy as possible, you dramatically increase your chances of following through with it. One great way to do this is by creating a small kit that contains all the things you need to stay gut-friendly as you go about your day.
Try getting a small bag (something about the size of a makeup bag works well), and fill it with things that you can reach for when a less gut-friendly option tempts you. This can be unique to you, but we'd recommend something like this:
• A prebiotic food bar for something to snack on.
• Headphones so you can listen to relaxing music or even get in a quick meditation.
• A bottle of probiotics or other supplements that you take to support your health. If you're traveling and you have to choose just one supplement, we recommend PRO-15, since supporting your gut microbiome supports your overall well-being.
• Something that makes you smile, whether that's a list of things you're grateful for, a picture, or even a little toy. Smiling can actually reduce stress, and just makes the day feel a little better.5
While creating your gut health kit does take a little planning and prep time, keeping items that make it easy to support your gut nearby helps you make the best possible choices throughout the day.
And speaking of planning…
5. Do your best to plan ahead—it will make staying gut-friendly so much easier!
With a little strategic thinking, you can proactively avoid so many situations where you would otherwise find it difficult to make gut-healthy choices. Something as simple as Googling restaurants along the route you’re going to take can really help. Not seeing any that look particularly gut-friendly at first glance? Don’t despair: many restaurants are happy to accommodate dietary requests and cook up exactly what you have in mind. If you’re in a situation where you don’t have any control over what’s being served—like on a flight—then consider packing some food to bring along. Boiled eggs, quinoa, raw spinach, and salt make a great flight-friendly meal that’s still good for your gut.
And, of course, make sure you’re making the most of all your hard work to support your gut health on the go by living a gut-friendly lifestyle at home. Make a conscious effort to eat as seasonally, locally, and organically as you can, avoid overzealous cleaning, and open up your windows whenever possible. You may also want to see what you can do about spending more time outside and getting some quality sleep.
Maintaining your gut health takes a holistic effort across all the areas of your life, not just the time you spend at home. But it's easier to stay gut-friendly on the go than you think, especially if you take just a little bit of time to plan for it before you leave home. And when you weigh the benefits of having a healthy gut against the minimal time it takes to prep, it's a no brainer.
1. David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., . . . Turnbaugh, P. J. (2013). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559-563.
2. Howarth N.C., Saltzman. E., Roberts S.B. (2001). Dietary Fiber and Weight Regulation. Nutrition Reviews May;59(5).
3. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Galley, J. D., Hufnagle, A. R., Allen, R. G., & Lyte, M. (2011). Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: Implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 25(3), 397-407. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2010.10.023
4. Vohs, K. D., Baumeister, R. F., Schmeichel, B. J., Twenge, J. M., Nelson, N. M., & Tice, D. M. (2014). Making choices impairs subsequent self-control: A limited-resource account of decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative. Motivation Science, 1(S). doi: 10.1037/2333-8113.1.S.19
5. Kraft, T.L., Pressman, S. D. (2012). Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response. Psychological Science 23(11). doi: 10.1177/0956797612445312
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.