There is nothing more frustrating for a committed athlete or non-athlete than making great progress and then having to travel for work unexpectedly, or even having to go on a vacation. Most people can “lock in” quite easily when their daily structure is black and white and quite routine, but travel can cause a lot of anxiety. I get a lot of questions involving how to best manage a structured nutritional regime while on the road. I have dealt with a lot of travel and many a vacation during my tenure as a bodybuilder, powerlifter, and strength coach. I have also dealt with some of the same anxieties and frustrations, and I have come to a system that I feel is the best way to manage being out of your routine and not having complete control over your nutritional options. I am going to list the options that I feel are best so that you can stay committed to your diet and either still progress or at the very least minimize damage control upon your return home.
Vacationing is probably the most difficult time to stay on a structured nutritional regime. Vacation, by definition, is taking time away from your usual routine to enjoy yourself, your family, your friends, your down time, and not have to perform the customary tasks or responsibilities that you would perform at home, such as job demand and pressure, everyday life stress, family obligations, structured and mundane meals, etc. If you vacation at a resort, your food options are going to be extremely limited to what is available to you. Food at a resort has to look mouth watering and taste delicious or you won’t want to spend the money to come back. To make food taste tasty and delicious, that food is almost always going to be cooked with copious amounts of fat and simple carbohydrates, aka sugar. Why? Because fat and simple carbohydrates taste and smell amazing when covered and cooked with savory butter, sauces, or marinades. Even chicken breast, turkey fillet, or white fish will typically be cooked in some kind of breading and fat to improve the taste and take the flavoring to the next level. Asking for egg whites or a plain chicken breast is not usually an option because food is cooked in bulk.
While road tripping or going on a destination vacation can no doubt be a blast, it can also wreak havoc on your mindset if you are in a fat loss phase or contest prep. Below are some of my top tips for traveling and vacationing when you are trying to keep your fat loss goals a priority.
1. Bring Your Routine with You
You would be surprised at how much building a routine can help your diet success over traveling or vacation. It may seem negligible, but being able to stay in routine can set your day up for success. Clearly, your entire day of traveling won’t be routine, but I highly suggest focusing on the routine of your mornings. For example, when you plan for your trip, think about the steps you take in a typical morning and what your routine is like. Do you take supplements first thing? Do you drink a cup of coffee? Do you read a book, train, or go for a jog?
Whatever it is you do in the mornings, plan to do those things while you travel. Staying in routine in the mornings will keep you in your goal-focused mindset for the rest of the day. Have you ever gone on vacation and just felt extremely out of whack? This could be because you lacked a morning routine.
2. Bring Easy to Carry Grab-and-Go Snacks
One of the biggest pitfalls of traveling is not preparing and having snacks with you throughout the day. Assuming you are not a competitor dragging your cooler around with you, you are inevitably going to be a bit “off-plan” for your trip. This isn’t an excuse to go off the rails, but instead, you can manage it by being prepared.
If you wing it and don’t bring healthy snacks along for the ride, you will set yourself up for disaster. Typically, what happens is folks travel all day and go hours and hours without eating, leaving them starving and making bad choices when it comes time to eat. Take the time to prep snacks to bring with you for the entire trip so you don’t run into this issue.
3. Drink Water!
Dehydration, especially in a warmer climate, is extremely common while traveling, particularly in warmer climates with high humidity. We are usually rushing around and simply don’t think about our water intake. This can leave us simply feeling drained, worn out, and looking soft, fluffy, and water logged, honestly.
This reminds me of the time my family and I went on vacation to the Aulani Resort in Hawaii where I ate some poorly prepared Mexican food and had one-too-many margaritas under the sun by the pool. Before I knew it, my wife was cleaning steak fajitas and guacamole debris off the walls of our hotel room. There was so much collateral damage, we had to use all the bath towels to clean the walls and we ended up throwing them away so we didn’t get charged. I ended up bed ridden for two days. Nice way to spend your family vacation.
Stay hydrated, my friends.
4. If Your Regimen is More Strict, Order Pre-Made Meals
Sometimes we may not have as much flexibility in our diet as we would like, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the things we love and become a hermit or recluse. Nowadays, there are a multitude of meal prep companies that will prepare your food with your macros in mind and send it to your travel destination! This method may be more costly, but I will admit I have done this a number of times to help me stay on track when I was in a strict fat loss phase or contest prep.
Thanks to innovation and technology, there really isn’t a reasonable excuse not to stay on track anymore.
5. Research Your Hotel and Restaurants Prior
This seems like a no brainer, but don’t go on your trip blind. Research the hotel or location and see what they offer and what is around. For example, does your hotel offer a gym? Is there a grocery store nearby? Do they have refrigerators and microwaves in the rooms? Knowing all of those details up front will save you a ton of headaches and hassle.
Furthermore, wherever you are going to stay and eat on your trip, the best thing you can do is peruse the restaurants’ various menus and ask your waiter or cook how the food is prepared. Even breaded chicken breast or white fish will usually be baked in large ovens to provide enough food to feed large amounts of people at a resort or on a cruise. If the food is baked, the fat content will usually be lower, and you can then pick the breading and/or sauce off the meat as best you can, leaving a lean protein option. I do something similar when I take our family on cruises. I can almost always count on a chicken option in a tomato-based sauce with breading, and I get a large plate and separate the chicken from the breading and sauce. These types of options are usually provided in cafeteria or buffet-style fashion.
Pro Travel Tip: If the hotel doesn’t provide a fridge in the rooms for free, call and explain to the concierge that you have a medical condition that requires your medicine to be kept cold. They will put a fridge in your room free of charge, and they don’t ask questions. I may or may not have done this a time or three, and I have never had an issue. You’re welcome.
6. Allow Yourself Flexibility and Stop Stressing
Assuming you are not deep into contest preparation or in a more over-the-top strict fat loss phase, remember to allow yourself some flexibility while on vacation. So many people develop anxiety over their nutrition while traveling, and it does more harm than good. Remember that your fat loss journey should be more about creating positive lifelong habits and practices than conforming to a meal plan. Vacations and traveling are part of life. So instead of chalking it up as a loss, go into your vacation with a moderation mindset that will set you up for future success.
Or you can do as I sometimes do and treat a vacation like a vacation. That means you take a break from everything that is reminiscent of home, indulge in the art of gastronome, and simply enjoy the downtime, opting to clean up the mess when you get home. Though I don’t encourage or condone this option for most people, I would be lying if I said that I haven’t used this approach from time to time. Sometimes breaking form is a good thing, and enjoying quality food while relaxing with your family can motivate you that much more when you return home to get right back on your diet.
7. Stay Active
For most folks, this should be a pretty easy one to hit. Most vacation spots require much more walking than our typical day-to-day routine, so we already are ahead of the game here. For most people, getting a gym workout in every day might not fit into their vacation schedules, and this is all right! Don’t become stressed out or obsessed with meeting your daily fitness objectives or goals. I would rather you spend your day being active by walking and having fun than worrying about the workout you missed in the gym. If you can get to the gym, great! If not, just stay active, drink your water, get some sun, and enjoy the ride!
8. Get Enough Sleep
When you get back from a vacation, do you feel like you need a vacation from your vacation? Most folks feel like this because they didn’t prioritize their sleep while traveling. This can be a challenge, especially if you are crossing multiple time zones, but it is something to be aware of and plan for. Just one day of poor sleep can send cortisol through the roof, setting you up for an increased likelihood of fat gain during this time. Make it a point to get adequate rest and take naps if you need to in order to keep hormones in balance and allow you to feel top notch.
9. Don’t Eat Like a Glutton
This goes without saying, but as an earlier point of mine mentioned, don’t use vacation as an excuse to go off the rails and eat like a glutton. Again, we want to focus on our daily habits as a whole for the long term, not creating a “restrict-then-binge” yo-yo mindset down the road.
I encourage you to allow yourself flexibility and enjoy the food and drinks around you, but don’t let all of your hard work leading up to this point go down the drain.
10. Have Fun and Enjoy!
Most importantly, have some outrageous fun. Nothing is worse than going on vacation with the food police, so don’t be that guy. There is more to life than dieting and fat loss — a lot more in fact. Years from now, you are going to remember the good times and memories with friends and family, not the one cheat meal that you methodically planned for an entire day or the time you independently devoured the entire desert buffet while on vacation. So while our goals are important, always keep perspective in mind and focus on the big picture.
If you are vacationing in a place where it is sunny and you will be running around most of the time during the day with your shirt off and want to look good during the day but still enjoy good food, here is a tip for you that I employ while cruising with my family: Eat a light breakfast of protein and fat and a light lunch of the same, while making sure to get plenty of water all day.
The smaller meals without protein and fat will allow you to minimize distention and bloat, and then when the sunny day is done and you put on regular clothes for dinner, you can have a larger meal with carbohydrates and even dessert. If you distend from the dinner, no one will notice because you aren’t poolside in a bathing suit until the next day.
By the time the morning rolls around, your distention is gone and you are back to drinking plenty of water and having only small protein and fat meals until dinnertime. This will work for most people for about four or five days. At that time your condition might start to slide a little bit, but you only have one or two days left of vacation, in most scenarios. We can’t all look manly and buff for the entire week poolside, but five out of seven days isn’t too bad. Plus, if your vacation is on a cruise ship, almost everyone is soft and fluffy anyway, so you will still look great even if you are distended a bit by the end of your vacation.
To sum it up, make sure to prudently plan ahead, pack on the go and easy to eat meals and snacks, exercise good sense and flexibility when selecting meal options, don’t succumb to temptation at every turn and stuff your face with everything imaginable from the buffet line, and most importantly, make unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime.
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