How To Maintain a Workout Regimen While Traveling
For those of us that train regularly, traveling can be quite a problem. We’ve all been there before: after two weeks of little-to-no exercise and over-eating, we just can’t wait for the trip to end so we can get back into the gym and restore balance to our lives (and our scales).
I used to travel a lot for work, and I found that traveling doesn’t have to be a downward spiral of shrinking muscles and expanding waistlines, though. There are several training and dietary strategies you can employ to minimally maintain your conditioning while you’re gone, or even continue in the gym with business as usual.
Let’s dive in, starting with the toughest part: diet.
Think Ahead With Your Meal Planning
When you’re traveling, the biggest dietary hurdle is controlling how much you eat every day. Restaurant food is almost always laden with hidden calories (butter, sugar, oils, etc.), so it can be really hard to keep tabs on your daily intake.
Furthermore, it’s fairly easy to lose track of where your calories are coming from in terms of macronutrients, which causes more problems. If you have any appreciable amount of lean mass and start eating only 10% of your daily calories from protein and, let’s say, 60% from carbs and 30% from fat, and you’re not working out, you’re going to lose muscle.
So, the first rule of eating on the road is making sure you get enough protein every day. The easiest way to do this is bring protein powder, and familiarize yourself with the protein content of various foods that you can get anywhere, like fish, red meat, poultry, etc. Various smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal make this easy, even when you’re on the go.
If you need to stay on diet due to cutting or maintaining a low body fat percentage, then you will want to create a simple meal plan out of foods that you can pick up at a grocery store or health food store like Whole Foods, and that don’t require cooking or preparation.
Things like Greek yogurt, rotisserie chicken, low-sodium lean deli meat, low-fat cottage cheese, almonds and almond butter, fruit, and salad (buy salad dress and packaged greens). I also include protein powder in my meal plan for convenience purposes, and count out the number of scoops I’ll need into a big Ziploc bag.
Make sure your hotel room has a mini-fridge with space for you to store the few items that need to stay cold. Then, once you land, head to the store, pick everything up, and you’re good to go. I’ve done this many times while cutting and it works great.
Reduce Meal Frequency If Necessary
While I enjoy eating more, smaller meals every day (I don’t like the post-meal lethargy that comes with eating 1,000+ calories at a time), I’ll often reduce my meal frequency when traveling to make it easier to stick to my numbers.
For instance, if you know that on a given day you won’t have access to much food for a long stretch of time, or don’t want to eat much during that time for whatever reason, simply plan your meals around it and ensure that you hit your daily targets in the meals you do get. That day might look like this:
8 AM Breakfast
50 grams protein
100 grams carbs
20 grams fat
You go to a conference, and won’t be sitting down to eat another meal until the middle of the afternoon. You will only have a small snack that you can bring in your bag.
12 PM Snack
5 grams protein
30 grams carbs
5 grams fat
You return from the conference and make a sandwich for lunch:
3 PM Lunch
30 grams protein
40 grams carbs
20 grams fat
You head back out for meetings, and use a late dinner to ensure you hit your daily macronutritional targets.
9 PM Dinner
100 grams protein
70 grams carbs
20 grams fat
This flexible style of dieting is incredibly useful for traveling, and especially so when you need to hit specific numbers without having your schedule revolve around eating times.
Using Intermittent Fasting to Minimize the Damage of Vacation
When we travel for work, it’s usually easier to just stick to a meal plan of simple foods, and include a cheat meal or two if necessary, which won’t get in the way of anything in the long run.
Vacation is another story though. We’re usually gone for longer periods, we usually have access to delicious food several times per day, and we want to unwind and enjoy ourselves. But we’d also like to minimize the fat storage. What can we do?
The solution I’ve found best is to simply follow an intermittent fasting style of dieting. If you’re not familiar with this, I recommend you read my guide to intermittent fasting.
For the purpose of this article, however, you just need to know that intermittent fasting (or IF as many people call it) is a style of dieting that revolves around restricting your eating for extended periods of time, and then eating your day’s worth of food during pre-determined “feeding windows.”
For instance, you might fast (eat nothing) for 16 hours per day, and eat during the remaining 8 hours. Or you might fast for 20 hours per day and cram all your calories into a 4-hour window. Some protocols even call for eating one day, and fasting the next.
Intermittent fasting helps us maintain our body fat percentage while on vacation because it allows us to load all our calories into a few meals per day, and to enjoy the fat-burning benefits associated with fasting.
The protocol I like best is the Leangains method created and popularized by Martin Berkhan, and it works like this:
You fast for 16 hours per day (14 for women, because you’re all cute and special). That means no food, but coffee, tea, and non-caloric beverages are fine.
You have an 8-hour daily feeding window (10-hour for women).
You eat a lot of protein.
You eat more carbs and calories on training days, and more fat and fewer calories on rest days.
Your post-workout meal is absolutely huge–about 50% of your daily calories.
There are a couple additional rules I follow when vacationing:
I try to keep my dietary fats in check because they’re very calorie-dense, and the body stores them as body fat very efficiently.
On a day-to-day basis, I try to keep my calories around a maintenance level. I don’t gorge myself with thousands of extra calories every day.
Here’s what an average vacation day might look like:
It’s 9 PM and you plan on visiting a great restaurant tomorrow for lunch, and another for dinner, and plan on eating quite a bit. Breakfast isn’t a big deal in the hotel, so you’re going to skip it to save calories for lunch.
You wake up and have a 0-calorie drink like coffee or tea. You drink plenty of water throughout the morning, but you don’t eat any food.
You hit the restaurant and enjoy yourself. You have a steak, bread, a baked potato with butter and cheese, and some pie for dessert. You check My Fitness Pal and know that the entire meal contained about 80 grams of protein, 150 grams of carbs, and 40 grams of fats (just making a rough approximation is fine—you’re not counting every calorie here).
You’ve been out and about for the day, and dinner will be the last meal in your feeding window. You’re hungry and don’t want to have to eat 100 grams of protein at that meal, though, so you mix a couple of scoops of protein powder in water for about 60 grams of protein.
You enjoy another large meal, eating approximately 40 grams of protein, 100 grams of carbs, and 50 grams of fat. This puts you a total intake of about maintenance calories for the day, or maybe a mild surplus, and you got to enjoy two large cheat meals.
Your fasting period now begins, and you don’t eat again until your first planned meal the next day.
This is the absolute best way I know to minimize fat storage while on vacation while still enjoying good food, and maintaining a very flexible eating schedule that doesn’t get in the way of everyone’s plans (“DROP EVERYTHING I NEED TO FIND PROTEIN NOW OR I WILL GO CATABOLIC!111!1!!!”).
Training While Traveling
I figured I’d save the easy stuff for last. Training while on the road is terribly simple. You have a few options:
Find a local gym where you will be staying, and book a hotel close to it. I always try to do this while traveling for work, and never had to miss a workout. I may do this while traveling for vacation—it just depends on the circumstances.
Use the hotel gym. Yeah, the normally suck, but it’s better than nothing. Because they normally have very light weights and machines, your best bet will be a 30-45 minute whole-body routine that you can perform every day.
Use the TRX Training System. If you can’t hit a gym for whatever reason, this is a great solution for burning calories and maintaining your conditioning with in-room training. The TRX allows you to do a wide variety of resistance exercises and get a good whole-body workout in.
Do a bodyweight routine every day in your hotel room. If you prefer body weight training, you can do a full-body circuit every day. Here’s a simple one I like:
Push-ups to failure
Rest 60 sec
Pull-ups or chin-ups to failure if you can do them (you will need an Iron Gym Workout Bar)
Rest 60 sec
Squats for 30 seconds (one-legged if possible)
Burpees for 30 seconds
Mountain climbers to failure
Rest 90 sec
Crunches to failure
Rest 60 sec
Start over with push-ups
I do this for 20-30 minutes and it’s a decent workout.
Do HIIT cardio. If you’d rather just take a break from the weights or resistance training, you can do a 20-30 minute session of HIIT cardio to help burn off any excess calories. Or you can do both (do your resistance training first, followed by the cardio).
My favorite method of HIIT is hopping on the recumbent bike with a podcast or even book to read, and doing 30-second sprints at medium resistance, followed by 60-second rests at the lowest resistance.
As you can see, staying on track while traveling isn’t as hopeless as many people think.
By using the above strategies, I’ve gone on vacations for as long as 3 weeks, fully enjoyed large meals every day, and came back at exactly the same weight and conditioning as when I left.
I hope this article helps you do the same.