As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, the ketogenic (or “keto”) diet continues to ride the crest of an increasingly fashionable food culture wave. What the ketogenic diet essentially boils down to is limiting your carbohydrate intake (aiming for lower than 50 grams a day) and sustaining yourself mostly on healthy saturated and unsaturated fats (around 75 percent of your food consumption). Protein should also not be overindulged as any excess proteins in the body will subsequently be converted into carbohydrates.
When you’re on the move, sticking to the keto diet — or any diet for that matter — isn’t always an easy feat, but with a little direction and planning, it’s usually achievable. Here are some tips on how to stay in ketosis while you’re traveling, most of which can be applied anywhere in the world.
But first, let’s take a little look at what exactly ketosis is.
Editor’s Note: Like most other trendy nutrition plans, the ketogenic diet has its own fair share of controversy and naysayers. Please consult a doctor or nutritionist before making changes to your diet.
What is ketosis?
Without getting too deep into the scientific weeds, ketosis is a metabolic state during which your body is fueled by tiny energy molecules called ketones. In the absence of excess carbohydrates in your diet, they subsume glucose as your body’s primary energy source. This means that you’re using your body’s fat stores as energy and shedding excess fat in the process. Being in ketosis provides your body with a stable supply of energy while preventing serious peaks and troughs in hunger.
Keto-friendly foods include: red meat, fatty white meat, oily fish, eggs, avocados, nuts, butter, various plant and nut oils, cream, and unprocessed cheese. Foods to avoid include complex carbohydrates and carb-rich foods such as rice, potatoes, pasta, root vegetables, starchy and super-sweet fruit, bread, oats, wheat, and cereals.
The theory behind this popular diet is that if you can maintain this eating regime effectively, your body will enter a state of physical functioning known as ketosis, which research suggests is an optimally auspicious metabolic state for increased fat loss and muscle growth.
If you want to know more about ketosis or the ketogenic diet in general, the internet is awash in instructive podcast resources, keto food blogs, and low-carb YouTube channels, as well as fantastic books on the topic by authors like Gary Taubes, Leanne Vogel, Ori Hofmekler, Robb Wolf, and more.
Top keto travel tips
With the ketogenic diet, there is no one size fits all; each individual and how their body metabolizes food is both varied and dynamic. These tips should be viewed as general guidelines, so feel free to play around with them to see what works best for you.
1. Stay in a place with a kitchen.
Okay, this one isn’t always feasible or convenient, but, with the proliferation of Airbnbs and fully equipped backpacker hostels across the globe, it is getting easier to stay in accommodations with a kitchen by the day. One of the true joys of traveling is stumbling upon a smorgasbord of local culinary delights, of that there is no doubt. However, just whipping up one meal a day by yourself can be critical in staying in ketosis. Eggs are a great keto option; eggs are everywhere. Scrambling as many eggs as you see fit in a pot with butter, salt, and possibly a dash of high-fat milk is a cheap, easy, and efficient way to get your keto day started.
2. Utilize hotel buffets.
Hotel buffets the world over generally stock foods in all of the main macronutrient food groups (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins). As such, said buffets generally provide keto kickstarter breakfast options like eggs, cheese, meat, and fish. Omelets, in particular, are a great keto dish.
3. Try intermittent fasting.
Conversely, skipping breakfast by fasting intermittently can be great for some people too, although this very much depends on the traveler in question. Are you doing a lot of exercise? Are you an adventure seeker? Are you going somewhere with limited access to the correct foods? If the answer to any of the above is yes, then maybe breakfast isn’t a bad idea.
If you do opt for the intermittent fasting route, it can help your body go into ketosis as you will burn off your remaining glucose stores first, before the ketones take over — sometimes people even naturally go into ketosis between meals. Generally, intermittent fasting is considered to be between 16 and 24 hours (including time spent asleep) without food of any sort, but drinking water or black coffee shouldn’t affect your metabolic state too much. If you’re in ketosis already, you won’t get the same hunger craves as are customary on high-carb diets (this is a direct result of how carbohydrates affect your blood sugar levels).
4. Make a keto travel pack.
You can make your own keto travel pack containing a few essential buffs to keep your body in ketosis. Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil is a keto superfood. It is a distilled version of the healthiest fats in coconut oil — in itself a verified titan of the superfood world — which is a great addition to coffee, imbuing it with serious energy benefits, without really affecting the taste. MCT oil also comes in a powdered form (which may be easier to transport), as do certain keto sweeteners (like cacao powder or erythritol) in case you just can’t resist a bit of saccharine in your morning cup of joe. Keto snacks are another useful addition to your DIY travel pack.
5. Get some keto snacks.
One of the great things about the keto diet is the lack of hunger between meals, so in general, if you’re eating the right food at mealtimes, you will need to snack less. However, if you’re active you may get peckish when you’re out and about. Here’s a few tasty keto snacks that should help to satiate your hunger: nuts, nut butters (preferably unsweetened), keto bars (an ad hoc snack for keto eaters that can be purchased online), fat bombs (snacks that are typically made from butter, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds — can also be purchased online), and beef jerky or smoked fatty meats (salami, chorizo, and the like).
6. When eating out, go for real, fresh, high-fat food.
Eating out is probably the number one hardest time for ketogenic travelers to stay in ketosis. Sticking to keto-friendly foods isn’t always easy, especially in countries where the diet relies heavily on starch.
Going to restaurants that serve fresh produce cooked with olive oil or butter can help a great deal. Where possible, do a bit of research online or even call ahead to ask what oil they use, or if they can cook certain dishes without sugar or flour. Swapping out rice or potato-based side dishes for a side of greens is also a good way to chop down the carb count.
Some good keto fixes include: swapping burritos for salad bowls (without the rice), getting burgers without the bread, or ordering curry with green vegetables instead of rice (savory curries and those cooked using coconut milk are more likely to be keto-friendly). Salad bars are great, especially when you can build your own; you can mix lettuce, meat, boiled eggs, nuts, avocado, green vegetables, and a low-carb dressing like buttermilk ranch or hot sauce. There are also some keto dishes that you typically can’t go wrong with like steak, omelets, and non-breaded chicken wings.
If you love a bit of street food, skewered meat and vegetables are usually your best bet, and avoid anything that is doughy, battered, or deep-fried. With street food, it’s not always easy to gauge or reasonably discern how the food has been cooked. Food that has been grilled in front of you is more likely to be keto-friendly, as opposed to something that has been deep-fried in hydrogenated vegetable oils away from view.
Most sit-down restaurants and eateries now have social media pages or websites containing store menus. You can also try to contact them through these online channels (though admittedly these are not always the most reliable). But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
7. Drinking on keto
Can I drink on keto? The question of all questions. In short, yes. But invariably your options are somewhat limited. Having a drink is part and parcel of most travelers’ vacation plans, especially in places where the local punch is so alluring. German beers, Japanese sake, French wine, the list goes on.
Light beer and wine can be relatively low-carb, but only in smaller doses; for example, 148 milliliters of wine usually contains around 3 to 4 grams of carbs, so once you start charging through the bottle, you’ll jump out of ketosis pretty quickly. Pure spirits like rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, and tequila have next to no carbohydrate content and are therefore incredibly keto-economic alcoholic options. If “neat” or “on the rocks” is not your style, then zero-sugar sodas are a good mixing option — while claiming that they’re healthy is a little misleading, they shouldn’t really affect your state of ketosis.