This was my third cross-country drive. I have to say, the US has a really diverse set of biomes and cities which have made each drive exciting and different from the rest. Here are a few more photos from last week's trip:
Despite the long driving days and lack of healthy restaurants in many small US towns, I didn't struggle to keep up my healthy lifestyle. In fact, after five long days of driving, I lost 2.2 pounds (some of that is probably muscle, but that can be regained quickly after returning to normal training habits). For those of you who don't want to jeopardize your current physique and health for a long road trip vacation, here's what I recommend:
- Be prepared. Bring a cooler and fill it with hard-boiled eggs, canned or pouched fish (stores like Trader Joe's carry wild Alaskan salmon, anchovies, and sardines, to name a few), cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery, berries, and water. Put in a new bag of ice each day. Nuts and organic beef jerky are non-cooler snack options.
- Hike while at some of your destinations. This helps by increasing blood flow through full body muscle contractions. It will also slow down the rate of muscle atrophy and provide some vitamin D (as long as you don't slather on the sunscreen right away).
- If you're hotel has a gym, use it...for just a few minutes. We stayed at hotels during three of the four nights on our trip. Two of those three hotels, Chicago and Moab (Utah), had small gyms. The equipment wasn't great, but still was enough to produce a challenging workout in Moab. I did one set of two exercises (the pulldown and chest press), each to failure with an added rep assist. It took a total of about five minutes and my upper body felt sufficiently worked.
- Avoid buying food at gas stations and don't eat at bars. Gas stations rarely have any quality food, and even the healthier options that they carry, like nuts, are typically prepared with vegetable oils or sugar. Most of the food is highly processed. When you need to restock the cooler, go to a supermarket. If you are in a large city, you can probably find a health-oriented food store (Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Sprouts, Fairway, etc.) by using a navigation system. In regards to bars, the food is generally fried and prepared with cheap vegetable oils. The latter is probably a problem with most places you go to eat, but you will have more and tastier options to choose from at a local restaurant.
Small Towns, Young People...Big Problems
Two concerning observations from the trip:
One of the two hikes we took was at Mount Rushmore National Park. However, I wouldn't really call it a hike...we were walking along a boardwalk with no steep climbs and it took less than an hour (despite all the standing around that we did while taking pictures). The picture below shows part of the walkway.
We were walking along at one point when we someone say, "I can feel my heart racing." I turned around to see that it was a girl, roughly 15-20 years old. She was extremely obese and out of breath.
According to a recent WebMD report, that young girl is a microcosm of a bigger US problem. 38 states feature obesity rates over 25%. Childhood obesity has "tripled or quadrupled since the 1970's," according to James Marks, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
This doesn't surprise me, due to my second observation on the trip: small towns are littered with horrible food options. Almost every small town we visited across those 13 states featured some combination of fast food restaurants along the main street. This is probably built to attract travelers like my friends and I who are looking for something familiar, but that doesn't prevent locals from frequenting such places. It's not surprising that most of these towns seem to have high obesity rates, judging from the population sample size that we witnessed.
Marks, like any other public health official would, blames the portion sizes along with physical inactivity (clearly physical activity is key...I mean, isn't that what helped me lose two pounds over five days in which I spent over 50 hours sitting in a car?). We need to minimize the role of grains, sugar, and refined carbohydrates from our diet while filling up on nutritious foods that don't have long ingredient labels, such as like fish, meat, eggs, and vegetables.
Changes clearly need to be made in how this country eats. That starts with giving people the right information.