I recently experienced a long week-and-a-half stint of travel. Memorial Day weekend was spent in Toronto for a fitness conference (a five hour drive both ways), arriving back home for a quick two-day break before heading back out on a flight to San Francisco for a day-and-a-half, before finally making the two hour drive to Sacramento for another three days where I eventually made the flight back home to Ann Arbor (with many delays).
Why do I tell you my full itinerary? Simply because my schedule has been hectic these past two weeks, and my normal routine of fitness and eating has been completely turned upside down. I’ll admit, it’s hard to keep a regular eating and workout schedule on the road when you lose control over a lot of variables such as access to quality food, the ability to cook said food, and gym facilities.
I’d like to discuss strategies and tips you can use to stay on track while traveling. This includes everything from maintaining your workouts with limited means to sticking as close to your nutrition goals as possible. The goal is to fully prepared for your next adventure.
5 Strategies to Maintain Your Health While On-the-Go
The biggest challenge that traveling presents is lack of control over your environment. At home, we stock our homes with foods specific to our goals, we can easily avoid takeout for these healthy meals, and our workouts have become somewhat routinized with access to a gym and equipment that we are used to using.
While travel is the obvious example of a wrench being thrown into your plans, it is a great metaphor for the challenges one often faces any time life gets extremely stressful or hectic. Inevitably, chaos will ensue, and your life (for whatever reason) will be in shambles. Whether work, travel, family, or personally-related, during these times it will be near impossible to stick to your routine 100%. Many of these travel tips can also be applied when you’re faced with these situations as well. These strategies are great any time you have a loss of control over your environment.
Strategy #1: Always Travel With a Plan
If you want to stay fit during the storms of unpredictability, fall back on your MAP (minimum acceptable plan).
What the heck is a MAP? It’s simply the minimum exercise and nutrition goals you set for yourself during times of uncontrollable chaos; that 20% effort that will be just enough to keep you on track and hold you steady until you can get back to your normal routine.
For example, my personal MAP includes a 2-mile run, hitting within +/- 100 calories of my daily calorie goal, and consuming approximately my bodyweight (in grams) of protein during the day. This means no matter how hectic my life may become, if I complete those three things by the day’s end I can feel good that I was successful in staying on track.
Nutritionally, I’m normally regimented, consuming specific foods and nutrients at specific times during the day and around my workouts. However, during these high-stress times where I have less control over the availability of certain foods, I don’t get bogged down by finding food or getting the right nutrients so long as I maintain my calorie goal and get enough protein.
Your personal MAP goals will be different. Some choose to get 10,000 steps in by the day’s end, while others focus on staying hydrated (an important travel consideration altogether). It is up to you to decide what the minimums are that will make you feel good at the end of the day.
Then, when life gets chaotic, simply fall back to your MAP and don’t worry about the rest.
Strategy #2: Stay Hydrated
There is literally no easier thing to do when traveling then to dehydrate yourself. While many people might be used to carrying a water bottle with them when at home, the liquid restrictions at airports make this impossible, and most might forgo the expensive airport bottled water altogether. Not to mention, whether flying or driving, many people naturally consume less water to avoid having to make repeated bathroom stops. Irregular meal times and frequency also contribute to becoming dehydrated throughout the day.
Staying hydrated is the simplest thing you can do to help feel your best while traveling. Shell out the extra few dollars for a water at the airport, or take the time for extra bathroom stops on the road if necessary. Additionally, you can easily pack an empty water bottle for the airport, as most airports have the water bottle fillers at each water fountain. Then you can easily keep it full without paying a fortune. When dining out (particularly if meals are sporadic), be mindful to consume extra amounts of water with your meal. Not only will this help you if you must go an extended period without any water, but will also help reduce overall calorie consumption during your meal.
Strategy #3: Hyper-Focus on Protein
Protein becomes an interesting challenge when traveling. Most convenient foods (think gas station or airport kiosk snacks) are low in protein, and usually high in carbs and fats. Hitting protein goals while traveling takes an extra level of mindfulness to complete. You will sometimes have to go out of your way to find protein. As I mentioned above, my protein consumption is a component of my MAP. Here are some tricks I use to ensure adequate protein consumption away from home:
- Pack protein bars/powder – Great for car and plane rides, choosing protein bars that have the highest protein-to-carb/fat ratio will aid in hitting your protein goals without overconsuming the other nutrients in the process. Quest, Oh Yeah ONE, and other such protein bars where most of the carb content is fiber are all good choices. I’d recommend spacing these high-fiber bars out during the day to avoid any stomach issues. Additionally, packing individual-size protein powder packets is great for traveling protein. These packets can be purchased online or at stores like Walgreens and CVS. Powder, as opposed to bars, is usually all protein with negligible added carbs and fats. This makes it an awesome protein source, particularly while traveling. Since they are sealed packets they are easy to store away in bags, don’t take up much space, and won’t give you any trouble if taking them on your carry on at the airport.
- Take advantage when protein is available – While consuming protein regularly throughout the day may be optimal for your fitness goals, optimal is often unrealistic while traveling or during times of chaos. Consuming protein regularly is often hard to maintain, even when packing the above high-protein snacks. In the end, getting as close to your daily protein goal, by any means, is going to be more beneficial then not hitting your protein goal. If you find yourself at a meal with great protein sources, fill up.
For example, while I was traveling in California I attended a buffet-style catered meal complete with various meat sources along with the usual sides (vegetables, potatoes, etc.). Since I wasn’t sure when, if at all, that I’d be able to consume a good protein source during the rest of the day (aside from my packed bars and powder), I took this opportunity to eat primarily protein during this meal. This way, regardless if I had another opportunity to consume a good amount of protein I would still be able to fulfill my goal by the day’s end.
Strategy #4: Embrace Unconventional Meals and Workouts
Many of us have preconceived notions of what a meal should look like: some form of protein (usually meat), some vegetables, a starch (potato, rice, pasta, bread, etc.), and something sweet to round it out. As a result of these implicitly held beliefs, many people will either try to stick to this archetype when building meals at home with limited options, or recognize they are lacking one of these components and opt to eat out instead. This mentality, especially when traveling, will easily lead one to derail their nutrition plan when circumstances are less than optimal.
An unconventional meal is a hodgepodge of random foods that, when eaten together, allow you to reach your appropriate macronutrient goals. One such example I utilized while on my trip, was day of eating that consisted of a protein bars and peanut butter straight out of the jar. Does this fit the structure of a typical day of eating? Absolutely not, but the nutrient profile over the course of the day was exactly what I needed to stay on top of my nutrition goals.
Are you used to working out in gyms equipped with all the latest equipment and amenities? When you get thrown into a travel situation where you’re stuck in a hotel gym with minimal equipment, or perhaps with no gym access at all, suddenly you feel like your workouts are inadequate. When I miss workouts (or have inadequate workouts) I feel lousy all day (call me crazy, and I’ll agree). It’s important in these situations to set your MAP for workouts, which in my case is a 2-mile run. I chose running because a) I love running, b) it gives me a great workout that I can fee good about having completed, and c) it requires no equipment or gym access and can be done anywhere at any time.
Determining your MAP for workouts will help you decide how creative you need to be. For some people, this may just mean 20-min of physical activity every day, which could include walking or a hotel room bodyweight circuit. For others with more specific goals, it may mean finding a local gym in which you can purchase a day pass to gain access to the equipment you need.
Strategy #5: Take Care of Your Back and Mobility
Whether traveling by car, plane, or train, you will likely find yourself sitting for extended periods of time in less-than-comfortable seats. The hotel beds you sleep in will likely be different than your mattress at home, and regardless of comfort can cause you to feel a little bit achier in the morning. Without proper self-care, your workouts and general feelings of wellness will suffer. Take extra time during the day—first thing in the morning, just before bed, any after any extended travel—to stretch your back and any other problem area on your body. Staying limber will help you avoid stiffness and feel your best. This is an easy component to overlook and you may feel weird performing stretches in the airport, but it is, hands down, totally worth it.
Put My Advice to Work
By following the above advice, you can, at the very least, maintain your progress until you can return to home base. Traveling for vacation or work (or because of a stressful life event) does not mean you have to regress because of bad nutrition or missed workouts.