Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Routine is key to progress. When you’re at home, it’s much easier to stick to and maintain consistent training, nutrition, sleep, and hydration. You’re home, you’re comfortable, you have access to what you need.
Traveling that involves an overnight stay in a hotel, can be the nemesis of consistent progress. Especially if you have to do it regularly. You have no fridge, no pantry, and a different gym, if any at all. It can be very easy to let your health fall by the wayside when you go out of town on a consistent basis, which to be honest, makes a lot of sense.
All these factors are very plausible reasons to ignore your health and just focus on what you have to do for work or whatever the reason for travel. But, just like with anything, with proper planning, you can continue to lose weight, build muscle, and just feel better even if you have to travel 4 days per week.
The amount of preparation will depend on the reason for travel.
Just enjoy yourself. Assuming this trip is less than two weeks, eat what you like, relax, don’t stress.
A few tips would be to:
Somewhat control portions: eat anything you choose, just don’t have the whole cake
Workout when possible: No strength training (muscles will be too tight from travel); focus on cardio and stretching when possible to get a nice sweat in
Don’t snack: chances are you meals will be nice and dense so limit caloric intake by limiting how often you eat
Travel for Work: One off situation
If you don’t regularly travel for work, this is the section for you. Let’s say you have to go to a conference once every few months for a couple of days. This is a situation where the key is to “soften the blow.”
You won’t make progress in these few days. Since you rarely travel, the idea here is to just maintain where you are on this trip...basically not to go backwards! At these types of work events, there is usually an abundance of catered (typically unhealthy) food, lots of drinking, and little sleep.
If sleep is a limited resource, then working out will be really tough. When traveling, working out at night is never reliable; some event will most likely going on, and even if there isn’t, you’ll probably be wiped out from a long day of being in front of other people.
With that said, the morning is your only option. If you were out late the night before, then having a minimum of six hours of sleep is more important than working out. So, if you have the time, do a cardio/high intensity interval based workout in the hotel gym or in your room. Look to take 30-45 minutes at most, and make sure proper mobility/stretching is implemented. If you don’t, that’s okay.
As for food, with all the free delicious items scattered throughout, this is the real danger.
Step 1: Hydrate - often during travel water intake will decrease, so carry around a water bottle and fill that thing up 4,5,6 times a day.
Step 2: Don’t worry about macronutrients (fat, carbs, protein). The main focus needs to be on total caloric intake. If food is being provided and that’s all that you have access to, then you need to focus on the lowest calorie foods and monitor portion sizes. Usually the importance of protein is stressed, but if it’s a very fatty source of protein, than a healthy complex carb is a better option.
Let’s outline an example. Let’s say Chinese food was catered for lunch. Options are white rice, fried rice, vegetable stir fry, chicken teriyaki, orange chicken, fried shrimp, and a bunch of cookies and brownies.
Cookies and brownies should be pretty clear (c’mon now). You might be inclined towards the protein sources and have a bunch of them and steer clear from the carbs. Notice, however, that two of those protein sources (orange chicken and fried shrimp) are breaded and likely cooked with lots of oil. The best options would be about a cup, or even more if you’re hungry, of the white rice (slow digesting carb) with the chicken teriyaki (hopefully it’s grilled). The vegetables too but be careful of how much sauce they’re doused in because that’s all sugar.
So eat 2 cups of rice, it doesn’t matter. It’s better that you’re eating a lot of a quality food that will keep you satiated versus fatty, simple sugars that will make you inclined to go back and get more.
Step 3: Be smart with snacking. Anytime you see a healthy snack option (i.e. nuts, yogurt, fruit, some cheese), get your hands on it! It will make it easier to resist the endless soft serve ice cream later.
Travel for Work: Recurring Situation
Let’s say you travel most weeks, for at least 3 days a week. Not working out won’t cut it here! You need to develop a reliable plan to ensure that you can sustain progress while you’re away from home. Doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you try and wing it, you’re setting yourself up for ordering takeout and skipping workouts.
Step 1: Find a gym. The hotel might have a decent enough gym that you can do your workouts in. Find out ahead of time and determine if you need to look elsewhere. If you want to lift heavy (aka need barbells/plates) chances are you will need to find a gym. Use google maps, find a nearby commercial gym that you can get day passes at, and figure out a way to get there. It might even be worth it for you to get a month to month membership.
Whatever workouts you need to get done, make sure you know where you’re going to do them ahead of time.
Step 2: Find out where most meals are coming from. Presumably you will be eating out most meals using a stipend that will be more than enough. Again, use Google Maps to see what food options are near your hotel/office and narrow down a list of a few that you know have healthy options.
Step 3: Bring snacks. Bringing a small tub of protein powder is highly recommended. If that seems a bit extra to you, then put 4-8 scoops in a Ziploc bag and take it in a shaker bottle. Have some every morning with water (not as tasty as milk but we will persevere) and you will crave fatty foods less throughout the day. Other non-perishable snack items to bring would be nuts, beef/turkey jerky, and protein bars that are low in sugar and don’t have a 2 page list of ingredients.
Step 4: HYDRATE
Depending on what kind of travel is ahead of you, a different approach for maintaining your lovely fitness journey is necessary. On vacation, just enjoy yourself and get back to it upon return. If it’s an infrequent work trip, the key is to soften the blow. Don’t let it backtrack you. Lastly, if it’s recurring, then you have to treat it as a second home. Plan for it as you would if you were home. Know where your workouts will occur, keep your nutrition on point, and be as consistent as you would be at home.