Traveling can wreak havoc on your fitness, but it doesn't have to. When done properly, time off can actually be beneficial to your fitness goals.
Why It Matters
Most people go on vacation and completely fall off the wagon. They change their dietary habits and stop exercising. This combination can kill your fitness and health in a hurry. Following a few simple rules can allow you to enjoy time off without taking steps back.
- Do not track your food
- Keep your protein intake high
- Consider intermittent fasting to control your consumption
- Perform 1 resistance training workout per week of vacation
- Perform 1 cardio training workout per week of vacation
- Walk whenever possible and add “fun” exercise to your plans
Fitness and health rely heavily on an individual's habits. When traveling these routines can become more difficult to maintain. Cooking your own meals becomes less likely leading to eating out and a sub optimal diet. You may lose access to training facilities or lack the necessary equipment to follow your current workout plan. This usually leads to a reduction in overall exercise and the hard work you put in before leaving begins to unravel. The combination of the new food intake plus lack of exercise will put you into a caloric surplus causing weight gain. Although these obstacles seem unavoidable, following a few simple rules will allow you to enjoy vacation without losing your fitness.
When you are eating in a new environment and getting most of your meals at restaurants it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet. Here are some basic guidelines to consider.
You are on vacation to enjoy yourself and relax. Do not spend time tracking every calorie. Try to avoid snacking and stick to two or three well rounded meals a day. A balanced meal contains some form of lean protein and vegetables. High quality animal sources of protein are steak, chicken, and fish. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, chickpeas, edamame, and tofu are solid sources. Instead of tracking, use hunger as your guide. Try to eat until comfortably full. Feeling lethargic could be a sign you overate. Be mindful about the pace at which you eat. Waiting until extremely hungry can cause individuals to clear their plate fast, preventing them from noticing the signals of being satiated. Try putting your fork down between bites and savor the taste of your meal instead of eating as fast as you can.
High Protein Intake
When on vacation it is important to keep protein intake high. Following this guideline will help maintain muscle mass, keep hunger levels in check, and generally reduce the amount of carbs and fats consumed. At each meal aim for at least 40 grams of protein (4). This is equivalent to about 6 ounces of meat. If possible, try to bring a protein supplement. You can take a freezer bag with the scooper to avoid traveling with a full-sized protein container. TSA usually swabs these containers at the airport, but they are still eligible to carry on. If you do not want to travel with a protein supplement airports carry excellent ready to drink alternatives at the convenience stores. Look for drinks that contain 30+ grams of protein and are low on fat. Here are some of our favorites.
Intermittent fasting is a dietary strategy where an individual determines a set number of hours to consume food per day, then only takes in water and/or coffee and tea for the remainder of the day. While more research is necessary to determine if intermittent fasting protocols are effective in changing metabolic health, much research does exist to support fasting as a productive weight loss strategy. Intermittent fasting has been shown as a possible treatment for obesity, showing up to a 13% loss in body fat with no adverse health effects in short term studies (1). Fasting protocols have also demonstrated improvements in glycemic control for individuals that have type II diabetes (2). Even if you do not normally follow a fasting protocol, narrowing the window in which you consume food can help control your daily caloric intake while on vacation. Daily caloric intake is the most important marker to consider when looking to achieve weight gain or loss.
Vacation is a time to focus on rest, recovery, and enjoying yourself. You should not be spending your time in the gym. You can maintain or even improve fitness levels with minimal effort by following a few simple tactics.
Strength & Muscle Mass
Following a resistance training regimen has allowed you to build strength and lean muscle mass. These qualities make daily tasks easier to perform and boost your metabolism. We do not want to lose this progress and the good news is, it won’t take much effort to maintain. Research has found that after following a consistent long term resistance training protocol (12 weeks or longer), a short maintenance workout one day a week was enough to maintain strength and muscle mass. Some individuals actually continued to improve their strength levels from maintenance training (3). Surprisingly, these strength and muscle measures were maintained all the way up to 6 months. I would not recommend a maintenance exercise protocol for that long, but it demonstrates the point. As a general rule, try to perform one resistance based total body workout for every week you are on vacation. A few sample workouts can be found below.
Cardio is an excellent form of exercise geared towards heart health and the improvement of your overall cardiovascular system function. Cardio also contributes to many people’s daily energy expenditure creating a buffer to prevent weight gain. The rule for cardio is the same as resistance training. Try to perform one maintenance session of cardio based exercise for every week of vacation. The beauty of cardio is that it can be done quickly, 15 minutes is enough time to get a great interval training session in. Based upon equipment availability you may bike or run, but a quick bodyweight circuit will do the trick if you have no gym access. In addition to this workout try to walk whenever possible. Take the stairs instead of the elevator and plan “fun” exercise if it is applicable. This might be a mountain hike, spike ball, beach volleyball, golf, tennis, skiing, or even a day at the pool/ocean with light swimming. A few sample workouts can be found below.
Bodyweight workouts are highly effective, but you may want to pack a few implements for a long trip. The ideal implements will be light, easy to pack, and universal. Jump ropes, TRX, and a set of bands will travel best. Here are some of the top brands.
Overall, it is important to remind yourself that you are on vacation for a reason: to enjoy yourself and relax. A few days of enjoyment will not offset a consistent healthy lifestyle. However, knowing your own personality and tendencies is paramount. If you struggle getting back into the training groove after taking breaks, consider keeping some of your habits stable through the trip. The length of the trip is another important variable to consider. While a weekend trip will not be a huge setback, going on a month trip without any maintenance habits can negate much of your previous hard work. If you plan on being gone for longer than a month, working with a quality personal trainer either on location or virtually is an excellent strategy to stay on track.