Maintaining your fitness and nutritional goals when on the road can be a challenge. Here at RP, we have spent a lot of time travelling to all sorts of places, and have compiled some advice to help reduce the stress of balancing travel and fitness. Here’s our top 10 tips!
Train for Maintenance
As much as possible, align your easiest training periods (deloads, active rest, resensitization phases, etc.) with your travel schedule. Training for muscle maintenance when eating at maintenance is surprisingly easy––it requires very minimal volume, intensity, frequency, and specialized equipment. Conservatively, for most muscles, two sets of stimulative training twice per week is enough to maintain size and performance if you are not dieting.
Diet for Maintenance
Just as with training, maintenance dieting is exponentially easier that actively trying to gain or lose weight when on the road. As Dr. Melissa Davis has said, dieting on vacation ruins diets and vacations. A maintenance diet can be easily implemented using daily calorie or macros strategies, which require a lot less fuss than implementing a more rigid meal structure. You can track your estimated macros in the RP diet app to stay in bounds. Choosing to have fewer meals per day also helps you stay in range––you can eat more food per meal with three meals per day and this frequency on maintenance will have no detrimental effects.
Some people (those who have to travel a lot or those pursuing more serious sporting or physique careers) may have to do more rigid diet and training while on the road. If this situation cannot be avoided, it’s important to realize that your diet and training are unlikely to be optimized when traveling. Your gym performances will likely not be as stellar due to changes in your circadian rhythms and differences in the equipment you are using. Your diet will probably be a little bit off simply because you are not eating the food you always eat and might have reduced options depending on where you travel. Both of these problems are perfectly ok! You can still have stimulative training and a productive diet, just don’t beat yourself up when things are not as ideal as they would be at home. Just do your best with what you have!
A little detective work and foresight go a long way when planning workouts and meals on the road. You can figure out which gyms are in the area you are travelling too, and arrange drop ins ahead of time. You can find grocery stores or healthy food options nearby. You can opt for a vacation rental with a kitchen or a hotel with a kitchenette so that you can prepare some food yourself like you would at home. You can also pack non-perishable food items such as protein bars and powders, jerky, or chicken or tuna packs if you know finding good food options will be challenging. You can even request low fat or diabetic meals for long flights to keep calories lower. If you just show up and wing it, you will have a much harder time, so plan ahead.
Sometimes the options you have are just not that great and there is not much you can do about it. Rather than throw in the towel on your goals, you may have to find novel ways of training or ordering food to keep on track. There have been times on the road where we have done all sorts of silly hotel room training using bodyweight exercises, our luggage or household items as weights, using our significant others as weights (aka girlfriend squats), and even occlusion and band training (packing bands or occlusion straps is an easy back up plan if you aren’t sure about gyms). Likewise, if the food available to you is not ideal, you might have to be that fussy person making a special request. In our experience, you can almost always ask someone for a chicken breast or a salad and be accommodated at a restaurant. Other times you might have to eat something kinda crappy, like a small bag of spinach with some nuts and a packet of tuna or extra servings of protein bars to keep your calories and macros in check if you cannot be on a maintenance diet while travelling.
What do you do when you wake up at 3am hopelessly jet-lagged? Go to the 24-hour gyms of course! Many 24-hour gyms are international chains, and can be accessed with your normal key fob. If you are someone who travels somewhat regularly, paying a little extra for a ‘globo’ gym with 24-hour access can actually pay for itself in time when you factor in the drop-in fees for day passes. No need to worry about open hours, just pop in when you are ready!
Manage Your Circadian Rhythms
Getting aligned with new time zones can wreak havoc on sleep and training. Broad strokes, but for every one hour of time zone change, you can expect it to take 24 hours to adjust. So ,10 hours of time zone change might roughly equate to 10 days needed to adjust. Ouch! Luckily melatonin and caffeine can help shorten this transition, as well as help reset your desired sleep times. Generally speaking, It’s also easier to stay awake longer than it is to go to bed earlier when you are not tired. So, it is often better to push through the pain of fatigue and stay awake until night time to try and set a reasonable sleep time, than succumb to the three hour nap. Also remember that after a long international flight, even if you rest during the flight, will always leave you fatigued. When possible try to choose mid-late day arrival times so you can wind down and sleep at the time-zone-appropriate times, rather than push through staying awake an entire day exhausted.
The RP crew has travelled for ~3 weeks at a time with nothing but one backpack each (carry-on), which included our projector, promotional materials, workout clothes, and everything else. How? By leaving all the crap we think we might need at home and having some go-to, versatile travel clothes. Quick drying antimicrobial clothing can be washed in the sink or taken into the shower with you and hung dry overnight, reducing the need for multiples of each clothing item. Choose shoes that can serve multiple functions rather than a shoe for each function. Minimize the amount of electronics, toiletries, and ‘extras’ down to essential items. Leave a little bit of room in your bag for souvenirs as well! Less stress when traveling reduces the impulses to eat and drink outside of your plans.
Precheck or Global Entry
These programs run about $85-100 for a five year period and save an incredible amount of time and frustration. There are very few things more soul crushing than waiting in a customs line for two hours after 15 hours of flying. These programs allow for expedited security in (and sometimes out) of the airport, which not only reduces the amount of travel time needed, but also reduces the need for taking shoes on and off, opening bags and removing laptops and toiletries, and the ‘compassionate touch’ of security officers. Again, less stress means better training and lower likelihood of throwing your fitness intentions out the window.
Choose to be Active
Getting an Airbnb that is walking distance to your activities, gym, and grocery stores will keep your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis––aka the calories you burn going about your business during the day) higher. If you are on vacation and plan to eat and drink and have some fun, adding physical activities to the itinerary can be a fun way to keep up with weight maintenance on vacation. We definitely don’t advise trying to “work off” the extra food or thinking about food and drink as things that have to be paid for in exercise, but staying active can be an engaging way to make keeping a balance easy and fun!
Whatever you do, remember that fitness is a luxury and should not bring you more stress than joy! Get creative and find ways to incorporate your fitness goals into a satisfying and full life! Whether that means lowering your expected outcomes and being happy with little bits of progress between awesome experiences or getting creative so you make progress throughout experiences––the choice is yours and you have to find the point on that spectrum that works for you! I hope these tips help you have less stressful travel and vacation experiences!