Balancing health and fitness when traveling can be a struggle.
Whether it’s traveling for work, for weddings, or a vacation, keeping up with your diet and training can be really tough.
It makes sense, right? It’s much easier to stick to your health and fitness goals when you’re in the comfort of your home and in your routine. It’s when we travel outside of our routine and have limited resources when it gets challenging.
I know because I’ve done it too. I’ve traveled and backpacked Europe for almost a month, taken week long road trips around the country, flew to Minnesota for a week to spend time with friends and family, and will be flying to Minneapolis for the holidays here in about a month.
Through these experiences, I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error. I’ve learned a lot of “what not to do”, and have been able to find and implement some strategies along the way for staying on track with my diet and fitness goals when traveling.
With summer behind us, I’m sure you’ve don’t quite a bit of traveling the past few months yourself. And since the holidays are right around the corner, I want to help you stick to your goals too! Let me share with you some of the strategies that are currently working for me to stay on track when traveling. These are simple things you can implement anytime and anywhere, no matter if you’re traveling for just a weekend, or a month at a time.
Here are 8 strategies you can use to stay on track when you are on-the-go!
1) PREPARE AND PACK SMART
Foods to pack when flying:
Whey protein powder (with shaker bottle)
Fruits (apples, clementines, pears, oranges, bananas, berries, etc)
Nuts (shelled pistachios are my favorite)
Serving size nut butter packets
Veggies and hummus
Pretzels and hummus or peanut butter
“Quest” or “Pop” chips
100 calorie pack popcorn
Of course, I could go on with a huge list of each, but let’s keep it simple for now.
You can bring any food on a plane as long as it is not a liquid over 3 ounces. Yes, any food you want you can bring through security.
2) WHAT TO DO AT THE AIRPORT
A) Think ahead of your triggers, and avoid them. If you know that walking into a magazine store where they sell a ton of different candies and chocolates is a trigger for you, don’t put yourself in the situation. Avoid that debate with yourself.
B) This one sounds kind of weird, but make your wallet difficult to get to. Put it at the bottom of your luggage bag making it very inconvenient for you to grab. You will be less likely to spend money on something that you probably don’t need in the first place.
C) Skip the sugar and the starch. On travel days, I am usually less active, and I’m sure you are too. We don’t need as much fuel when we are mainly sedentary during that day sitting on a plane. Sugar and starch can also trigger hunger and cravings for me so I avoid this when traveling. I stick to the foods I prepared ahead of time and brought with me for situations like this.
D) “But Tom, I NEED A TRAVEL SNACK.”
Okay, fine. I’ll let you off the hook on this one…
If you insist on needing a snack, make sure to check those Nutritional Labels on the back of your choices first!
Nuts are a healthy choice, right?
So this could be a great choice to snack on when traveling…
Or is it?
Let’s check the Nutritional Label on the back…
Hey, that’s not so bad!
But let’s look a little closer…
Servings Per Container: 6
That means that each serving is 190 calories, not the whole box. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the self control to have 1/6th of that small box of nuts and save the rest for later. That’s crazy talk.
In reality, most would consume this small box of nuts in one sitting and consider it a “good choice” and feel good about the decision they made.
But let’s do the math…
This little palm sized box of nuts packs in a total of 1,140 calories, and 102 grams of fat!
That’s more fat in one sitting than most should consume in a full day.
This small “healthy choice snack” of 1,140 calories can easily put someone over into a calorie surplus for the day assuming they continued their day with their normal meals.
Do you now understand why it’s important to read and understand Nutritional Labels instead of just assuming you’re making the right choice?
Okay, now that we’ve covered what not to do when searching for a snack at the airport, let’s look at some actual better options.
I took this photo at the Minneapolis Airport when I flew home for the holidays. This cold food section would be a good place to start to find a healthier alternative for a snack to have. Things like:
Pretzels & hummus
Veggies & dip
Sandwiches (read the label though)
Are some good choices.
Here are a few other good choices I found at the Denver International Airport:
These snack bars are convenient, delicious, and are all under 200 calories for the WHOLE SERVING.
Some other lower calorie options I found:
Again, when traveling and calorie control is a priority, these options should keep you satisfied, in check, and will allow room for larger, more satisfying meals once you arrive at your destination.
*For those who are not flying, but driving instead… Don’t worry, I got you.
I’ve been pretty impressed with gas stations lately. They have been really stepping up their health game. I went to my local 7-eleven gas station to see what I could find to help you stay on track when traveling.
Below are a few options for travel snack ideas that are fairly high in protein, lower in calories, and easy enough to fit into your daily calorie budget. I have also laid out the calories and macros for each below the photo to give you a visual on what you’d be consuming.
GAS STATION ON-THE-GO ROAD SNACKS (from left to right):
Skinny Pop Popcorn
Macros: 2P/ 15C/ 10F
Special K Protein Bar
Macros: 12P/ 25C/ 4.5F
Quaker Chewy Yogurt Bar
Macros: 2P/ 25C/ 4.5F
Power Crunch salted caramel bar
Macros: 13P/ 9C/ 13F
Muscle Pharm Combat Crunch protein bar
Macros: 20P/ 25C/ 10F
ThinkThin salted caramel protein bar
Macros: 10P/ 20C/ 4.5F
Quest Nutrition protein bar
Macros: 21P/ 20C/ 9F
Oatmega Bar chocolate coconut crisp bar
Macros: 14P/ 21C/ 7F
Wonderful Pistachios- 100 calorie pack
Macros: 4P/ 5C/ 9F
Mighty Bar- Beef jerky
Macros: 8P/ 3C/ 3.5F
Epic Bar – Chicken jerky
Macros: 15P/ 1C/ 4F
Pure Protein Crunch snack
Macros: 10P/ 15C/ 7F
Quest Nutrition protein powder
Macros: 22P/ 3C/ 0F
Looking for some heartier options? Look for foods like these below
This BLT salad shown above would be a great choice. High in protein, lower in calories (270 total). Carrot sticks and celery, a fruit cup,a large dill pickle, string cheese, and Greek yogurt are all great snack options you can find at gas stations when you’re on the road. If you’re driving, the black coffee shown above could also be a good idea to keep you focused on the road. These are just a few ideas I found going into one gas station. I am sure there are many other options out there as well. Remember, just because you’re on the road doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to throw your health and fitness goals out the window while you’re driving!
Okay, back to air travel tips…
E) Avoid sitting during layovers. Walk and move whenever possible. Don’t worry, you’ll have time to rest those legs of yours on the plane, so why not get in as much activity as you can when you can? Walk back and forth through the airport. You burn 3x as many calories when you walk compared to when you sit. Use it to your advantage!
F) Remind yourself, hunger is NOT AN EMERGENCY. You are not going to starve to death being a little hungry on the plane. Ever heard of Intermittent Fasting? More on that later… But sure, being hungry can be a bit uncomfortable at times, but you will be just fine. This isn’t the best example in this situation, but it’s still relevant… You’ve heard it before, “Great things never came from comfort zones.” Not saying to do this all the time, but I think it’s good for everyone to experience what it’s like to feel a little hungry at times. It will help you get in tune with your body and feel your hunger cues. This can also be beneficial when practicing intuitive eating habits in the future. Nowadays we are so set on our scheduled eating times out of habit. We eat at times when we really aren’t even that hungry. It’s almost noon so it’s time for lunch, right? But are you ACTUALLY hungry? Use this as an opportunity to get in tune with your body and it’s hunger cues. This is good practice for it.
G) Stay focused on how you want to feel later on. If you’re debating on getting that candy bar, but know it will not support your goals, ask yourself these two questions…
1. “If I make this decision to eat, how am I going to feel in 30 minutes?”
2. “When I’m laying in bed tonight, do I want to feel guilty about the choices I made today?”
These questions may help with your decision making.
3) AVOID THE “VACATION MINDSET”
Just because you’re traveling or going on vacation, it’s not an excuse to eat like a fat kid (no offense). I’m all for balance and moderation, but remember your long term goals should be a priority. You’ve worked hard to get to where you’re at, so why would you use this as an excuse to blow all of your hard work? Traveling is not an excuse. You can maintain and even make progress anywhere at anytime. You just have to get your mind right, and remember your goals.
Now if you are on vacation, you can have treats and a few drinks here and there and be just fine. Keywords here: a few… Just because you’re traveling or on vacation doesn’t mean you have to eat mindlessly. Instead, be mindful. Pick and choose your indulgences. For example:
“If I skip the bread basket at dinner, and have a high protein, moderate carb, low fat meal, I can have a dessert OR a glass of wine after.”
Pick and choose your battles, then reward yourself with the one thing you really want.
4) SET YOUR CALORIE BUDGET
Your body still counts the calories you consume on vacation, even if you don’t. If you’re serious about your goals, tracking the calories you consume daily (use an app like “Myfitnesspal” to make this easier) will be the determining factor to whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight. So it’s important to budget your daily calories accordingly. Let’s say your calorie goal for the day is 2,000. You will most likely have to pick and choose your battles with food. When on vacation, there are going to be temptations to indulge. But it’s important to understand that there should be tradeoffs. You will have to make some compromises with your choices. Assuming that the 2-3 desserts and multiple drinks throughout the day probably won’t fit within your calories budget for the day, you will have to make some comprises with yourself. Skip the dessert this time, so you can have a drink. Craving the dessert after dinner? Go for it and skip the drink. You will most likely have to make some tradeoffs if you want to stay within your calorie budget for the day. You are an adult… eat like one.
5) EAT THE SAME MEAL EVERY DAY
Eating at least one meal every day that is the same can eliminate decision-fatigue, cover your nutritional bases, help you stay consistent, and give you more freedom to try new and different foods for your other meals throughout the day.
I recommend starting your day with a “fat loss friendly breakfast.” You can read more about why and how HERE.
This “staple meal” should have a good amount of protein, a healthy fat source, and some veggies to get your fiber in. This way, no matter what else you use to fill up your calorie budget for the day, you can feel good that you covered some of your nutritional bases at the beginning of the day. Like mentioned above, this will also take the guess work and decision making out of what you’re going to have for breakfast. Pick a meal, and have it for your first meal every single day while traveling. No decisions need to be made, just eat!
6) PRIORITIZE PROTEIN AT EVER MEAL
You will be eating out more than normal without the ability to cook and prepare your own meals when traveling or on vacation. That’s totally fine, but use this strategy to stay on track and control your hunger and appetite: have a protein source at every meal.
There are many benefits when doing this such as:
-Reduce appetite and control hunger
-Retain and build muscle mass
-Increase fat burning
So when you are out to eat, choose a meal that is high in protein. Every style of food has some kind of high protein option.
Skip the pizza and spaghetti and go for the chicken marsala.
Pass on the nachos and smothered burritos. Choose the chicken or steak fajitas.
What about Chinese?
Skip the Lo Mein, fried rice, and crab rangoon. These are high calorie bombs.
Go for the beef (not fried) and broccoli with a side of mixed vegetables. You can also ask for their sauce on the side so you can control the portion.
7) SKIP BREAKFAST
I have been implementing intermittent fasting (IF) for over 4 years now and it’s one of the most effective and effortless “diet strategies” I’ve come across.
If you are not familiar with intermittent fasting, it’s essentially a timing window one sets to consume food, then fast (not consume food) for a period of time. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most popular protocols of IF (and the one I use) is the “Leangains Method” designed by Martin Berkhan. Simply put, this protocol is a 16/8 split, meaning one would fast for 16 hours, followed by an 8 hour eating window.
This can be a great tool to use when traveling or on vacation for overall calorie control. Skipping breakfast will eliminate 300-700 calories one usually has at this time. Therefore pushing your meals back later in the day allowing you to have larger, more satisfying meals for lunch and dinner. For an example on how easy this is to implement:
Step 1) Consume your last meal of the day around 8pm.
Step 2) Use the majority of your fasting period while you are sleeping.
Step 3) Wake up, have a few glasses of water, some black coffee if desired (0 calorie beverages do not break your fast).
Step 4) Skip breakfast, drink more coffee and water.
Step 5) Have your first meal around noon.
Boom. You did it. If you can skip breakfast and have your eating window from noon to 8pm, you can easily fit in 3 satisfying meals, a dessert, and a drink or two and be able to stay within your calorie goals for the day.
There are many other IF protocols you can implement when traveling, but I have found with myself and my clients that the 16/8 method seems to work best and is more realistic to stick to.
8) JUST MOVE
When it comes to exercise, if you have a gym available, use it. I will usually do some type of full body circuit for the day, especially if I know I may or may not have access to another gym for a few days. My last full body circuit I did when I was in Minnesota looked like this:
Barbell Back Squat: 3 sets of 8 reps
DB Chest Press: 3 sets of 10 reps
DB Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 12 reps
Barbell Overhead Press: 3 sets of 10 reps
Single Arm DB Back Row: 3 sets of 12 reps
DB Hammer Curls: 3 sets of 15 reps
This took me about 45 minutes, but could be done in less or more time depending on rest time between sets. I like to “superset” a leg exercise with an upper body exercise to be more efficient with my time.
No gym? No problem.
Here’s my go-to bodyweight circuit you can do anywhere:
20 prisoner squats
20 push ups
20 “Supermans” (back exercise)
12 jump split squats (6 per leg)
20 tricep dips (use bench, chair, or table)
40 mountain climbers (20 per leg)
I did 4 rounds of this circuit. You will be cursing my name half way through.
With that said, you don’t have to do resistance training to get in a good workout. Use your destination to your advantage.
On vacation near a beach?
Go for a nice run or walk.
Near some mountains?
A nice hike is a great workout!
In a large city?
Walk around and check it out. Set a “step goal” for yourself. Aim to hit over 10,000-15,000+ steps that day.
Wherever you are, with or without a gym available, you can always do something.
Just get out and move. Do whatever you can to be active.
In summary, these are a few of the strategies I’ve been using that have been most effective when maintaining or even progressing toward my health and fitness goals when traveling. I understand everyone is different, and every place you travel to will be different too. Take what you can from this, implement some of the strategies, and who knows… You may come up with a few others of your own that work for you. If you do, let me know. I love hearing what works for others so I can try it for myself as well!
If it’s a priority to you, then you will find a way to make it work. Leave your excuses at home. There’s no room for them in your bags.