Monday, March 7, 2011

Travel Health Basics: Protein

Hi everyone! April here, back with another installment of our current series on Travel Health Basics. My last topic was carbohydrates, and this week we'll dive into proteins (like the legumes I'm holding at left).

While abroad, your student’s protein requirements will increase slightly due to the highly active schedule and extra demands of traveling. Like the medieval castles your student might visit on his/her trip overseas, proteins are constantly being broken down, transformed, and rebuilt. This means proteins must be replaced on a daily basis through proper nutrition to maintain overall health.

What are proteins?
Proteins consist of chains of amino acids linked in very specific sequences. The order of the amino acids determines the type and function of the protein. Imagine the EuroRail train with the entire unit representing a protein and each box car an amino acid. (Image credit:

Some amino acids can be made by the body but almost half are considered essential because they must be obtained from the diet. Consuming protein-rich foods during travel is necessary in order to get the appropriate amounts of these essential amino acids. Proteins are involved in every bodily process, including growth and repair of muscle, maintaining fluid balance, and immune function. They also serve as an energy source when needed. Therefore, adequate intake of protein is critical for daily recovery and health while traveling abroad.

Where can I find proteins?
Protein is found in both animal and plant-based foods. Your student should consume a variety of protein-rich foods daily while traveling in order to ensure he/she is getting the required amino acids. Animal and soy-based proteins are considered complete because they contain all of the essential amino acids in high amounts. However, animal protein sources are often not as healthy as their plant-based counterparts. A food gallery of protein-rich sources and proper portion sizes can be a very useful tool to help educate your student prior to travel.
(Image credit:

When consuming a vegetarian (and especially vegan) diet, your students should eat complementing proteins throughout the day. One food may complement the other by providing differing amounts of the essential amino acids. Examples of this are grains and legumes or nuts and beans. These types of sources will provide your student with plenty of protein, while keeping his/her muscles and immune system ready to tackle each day’s adventures.

Including a source of protein with each meal and snack will increase stamina on busy travel days by helping your student feel fuller for longer. A helpful reminder from the previous blog on carbs: low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products provide a convenient mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber – a perfect combination for active travel days.

Healthy Protein/Carb Snacks for Travel
  • Popcorn with chocolate soy milk
  • Yogurt topped with fruit and nuts
  • Whole wheat crackers with string cheese or a hard-boiled egg
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Banana, celery sticks, and peanut butter
  • Hummus and veggies
How much protein should be consumed daily?
Individual protein requirements will vary based on age and gender; however, youth and teenagers have increased needs to support growth and development. When combined with the additional demands of travel, your student should be getting 12-20% of his/her daily intake in the form of protein.

Take-Home Message: A proper intake of protein will help ensure your student’s overall health and stamina throughout his/her dynamic travel experience!

For more information of protein, please visit


April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

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