My friend Denver Steyn has no trouble staying in incredible shape while traveling the world.
I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t like traveling.
But it’s not all fun.
You may not be able to find a gym. You probably won’t be able to stick to your normal diet plan.
“I could have done better,” you think.
“I can always get back into my routine when I get home.”
Yet often you don’t. After a single trip it takes you weeks to a) reverse the damage from the trip, and b) get back on track.
The good news is that if you follow a few simple principles, staying in shape while traveling isn’t nearly as hard as most people think.
Focus on Maintaining, Rather than Gaining, While Traveling
In general, it’s much easier to maintain your body composition, muscle mass and strength, than it is to build it. If you go into every trip expecting to continue with your current rate of progress, you’ll be disappointed.
If you’re traveling for a week or less, focus on maintaining your current fitness instead of improving. You’ll likely come back a little fitter, but focusing on maintenance takes a lot of the pressure and anxiety away.
If you’re gone for more than a week, it’s best to keep trying to improve.
Focus on maintaining your weight instead of gaining or losing.
If you don’t have a strict deadline looming, it’s generally best to focus on maintaining your weight while traveling. Many people who try to lose weight give up after the first day at the buffet.
There are two situations where you should keep trying to build muscle or lose fat:
– If you are operating under a deadline — a physique competition, race or a photoshoot, or your own stubbornness — then it’s fine to focus on continuing your current rate of progress.
– If you are gone for more than a week.
Focus on maintaining your strength and muscle mass, rather than improving.
Maintaining your strength and muscle mass is much easier, and requires much less volume, than building new muscle or strength.
In some cases, a small break from training can actually help you bounce back stronger than when you left. But, if you’re gone for more than a week, it’s best to keep improving.
Above all, focus on maintaining heathy habits.
If you pay a little attention to your food choices, and try to get in one or two workouts, you’re in a much better position to jump back into your normal routine when you get home.
The worst thing you can do is “choose 0% efficiency instead of 70% efficiency,” as Menno Henselmans says.
In other words, understand that you may not be able to stick to your normal plan one hundred percent of the time. Instead, focus on maintaining your current physique, performance and habits, so you can easily jump back into your normal rate of progress when you get home.
Here’s how it’s done.
The Complete Guide to Flexible Dieting for Travelers
Most people don’t like counting macros when traveling. Sure, if you’re preparing for a bodybuilding competition, you should, but you don’t need to be that precise in most cases.
If you don’t mind counting macros while traveling, and it’s relatively easy where you’re going, then keep doing it.
But, if you want a more flexible method, here are some suggestions.
Eat Protein at Every Meal.
If you’re traveling for less than a week, just focus on eating protein at every meal.
If you eat enough so that you aren’t hungry, you generally don’t need to worry about counting your protein intake.
Protein is also satiating enough that it makes it harder to eat too many calories.
If you are tracking, try to get at least 1.6 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. (That’s about 0.8 grams per pound).
Change Your Meal Frequency to Suit Your Agenda.
Traveling can be hectic, even if you’re having fun.
For example, it might be hard to eat breakfast. When I visited London, I skipped breakfast to beat the crowd at the British Museum. I wasn’t hungry anyway, so I spent the entire morning looking at 4,000 year old mummies and Greek pottery.
Earlier that same week, I was at a conference that started in the morning and went late into the night. I didn’t always have time to eat lunch, so I’d have a protein bar and some fruit for breakfast and a few other snacks until dinner.
Don’t get stuck on any single type of meal frequency — the most important thing is adherence. Change your meal schedule to fit whatever will make it easiest for you to stick to your diet.
That said, I generally prefer to use a lower meal frequency while traveling. That makes it easier to plan my day and stay lean while eating larger meals.
Make Better Choices When Eating at Restaurants
Finding healthy meals at restaurants isn’t as hard as most people think.
Here’s my process:
– Pick a kind of protein, and get as much as possible.
– Pick some kind of vegetable, and get as much as possible. Get vegetables as a side if the main course doesn’t come with any.
– Get starches or breads in small portions and eat them if you’re still hungry.
It’s that simple. Basically you fill up on protein and vegetables, and then eat the higher calorie starches and breads if you’re still hungry.
If you want to get a general idea of the macronutrient content of local restaurant meals, try the app Fudi.st.
Yelp also makes it easy to find relatively healthy restaurants in most major cities.
If you want dessert, then decide whether to have it based on your behaviors over the past few days. Have you been eating around maintenance, sticking mostly to whole foods? Then have some and stop worrying about it.
Adjust for Your Alcohol Consumption
When most people travel, either for business or vacation, alcohol usually slips into the equation.
Alcohol isn’t very satiating, so it’s easy to drink more than you need.
Here are my tips for drinking while traveling:
– For every drink you have, eat around 10-grams less fat.
– If you plan on drinking *a lot*, choose low-fat meals throughout the day and eat just enough to stay satisfied.
– Prioritize low-calorie drinks like a vodka club or a gin and tonic over high-calorie ones like a White Russian or a margarita.
– In general, choose a dessert *or* alcohol, not both. This makes it easier to keep a lid on your calorie intake.
In other words, the more alcohol you drink, the more you should cut back on your total calorie and fat intake. The easiest way to do this is to focus on eating meat and vegetables throughout the day, and minimizing your fat and starch intake.
Be More Strict When Necessary
If you’re on a three week trip and you realize you’ve already gained four pounds, it’s probably time to tighten up your diet.
Here are some easy places to start.
– Start eyeballing portions and counting macros.
– Write down everything you eat.
– Stop drinking liquid calories, except alcohol in moderate amounts.
– Eat less often.
– Start counting protein.
One of the goals of flexible dieting is to make it easier to eat more mindfully and intuitively — without tracking — while traveling.
Don’t get addicted to tracking macros. Eventually you’ll have to take a break, and it’s best to look at traveling as a test of your ability to stay lean without tracking.
How to Do Effective Workouts While Traveling
1. Use the “One-Workout” Rule
Whenever I’m traveling anywhere from a few days to about two weeks, I promise myself that I’ll do at least one workout.
Right now I’m lifting six days per week. While traveling, one workout almost feels like it’s not worth it.
But by doing at least one workout, I don’t get anxious about missing the other five.
As long as I do that one workout, I’ve stuck to the plan. This makes it much easier to jump back into my normal routine when I get home.
If you’re constantly traveling, it’s easy to stop training. I get it, it’s a hassle. But as long as you get in *one workout*, you’re doing infinitely better than zero workouts.
2. Try to stay near a local gym.
Whenever possible, stay near a gym.
Most gyms allow you to buy day passes so you can keep working out while traveling. If you’re not sure if they offer day passes, check on their website or send them an email.
The best option is to find a gym that has the equipment you need and keep training as if you were at home. That’s the best way to keep making consistent progress.
Look for both regular weightlifting gyms and fighting gyms like Muay Thai, MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. These places often have great facilities that aren’t too expensive.
3. Use a hotel gym.
If you can’t find a local gym, use the gym in your hotel.
Most hotel gyms won’t have a squat rack, bench press or dumbbells, but they will have some decent machines that allow you to get in a workout.
Remember, any workout is better than none.
You probably won’t be able to follow your normal workout routine in a hotel gym. Instead, pick a pushing movement, a pulling movement, an overhead pressing movement, and something for your lower body (if they have equipment that makes that possible.) Then pick a number of sets and reps and get to it.
I normally don’t like circuit training, but it’s a good option when I’m stuck in a hotel gym. I’ll rest about a minute between sets and keep working out until I hit a time limit.
Is that optimal? No. Is it simple and more effective than nothing? Yep.
4. Do a bodyweight workout.
If you can’t find a gym, don’t be afraid to do a bodyweight workout.
Even relatively “easy” bodyweight exercises like pushups can help you maintain muscle mass and strength if you push them close to failure. I try to find a park or some other place to workout outside, but it’s also fine to do this inside, too.
Exercise bands and a TRX are great tools that give you more options for body weight exercises.
Here’s a circuit that I did a few times in Brazil, before I joined a gym. I did three sets of each exercise for 6-12 reps. Then I repeated it for 20 minutes.
5. Do a cardio workout.
If you’re okay doing a little cardio, it’s a great way to burn a few extra calories, explore and stay in reasonable aerobic shape. Plus it’s fun (at least for me).
Some people love high-intensity cardio, and that’s a great option in some cases.
I prefer walking. It’s simple and easy, and I usually walk a lot anyway just getting around. When I visited San Francisco for two months, I walked about 10 hours a week while exploring. That adds up quickly.
Stop Traveling — Start Living in Interesting Places
That’s the same approach you should take to fitness on the road. Ultimately, the same things that help you stay lean and muscular at home are the ones that will help you while traveling.
“Fit Traveling” is about making those behaviors as easy as possible in different places.