06 Jun How To Maintain Your Gains When Travelling
Ever since I started working in the City five years ago, I’ve always trained clients who had busy and demanding travelling schedules: whether it was for business or leisure.
As a result, I’ve had to learn how to get transformations while also navigating around a travel schedule that can often be unpredictable. This is tough, but after years of dealing with it, I’ve got a number of useful strategies I like to implement that many of you reading this will be able to benefit from.
Travelling can’t be used as an excuse for a lack of results. All it requires is some pre-planning and extra accountability to make sure you’re at least maintaining your results when abroad.
With the summer holidays fast approaching, many of our clients are now asking what they should be doing when away so that it’s not a complete disaster. Of course, you’ve got to have fun (if it’s a leisure holiday), but if you’ve worked your ass off for your results, or you’re still in the middle of a transformation deadline, you may want to exert some damage control too.
- The Travel
Door to door, the initial transit can take anywhere from 4 to 24 hours depending on where you’re travelling.
This can leave a lot of room for error, and if you’re not careful, can set the wrong tone for the rest of the trip.
If you can exert a little discipline on the outbound journey, you’ll find yourself less fatigued and prone to jetlag, and in a much better mindset when you reach your destination.
This is especially true for those travelling on business, where they need to be sharp. Business trips are usually stacked with back-to-back meetings, so if you’re flagging, you won’t be at your most productive.
Let’s start with the flight.
The number one thing you need to stay on top of is hydration. Air cabin humidity is significantly lower on a plane, and so we need to try to consume at least 250ml of fluid for every hour above the ground to help offset dehydration symptoms.
The worst thing you could do at this time is to start drinking alcohol. Nothing could be more damaging for body composition, as you’ll not only increase dehydration, but also consume empty calories and probably be more likely to make poor food choices after.
My most successful clients, both in their businesses and their body comp results, all adhere to the rule of avoiding alcohol when on the plane. And they recommend it to their employees too, as they know the impact it’ll have on their focus, productivity and performance on the other side.
Aeroplane food is tricky. What I tell my clients is to pick from one of the following options:
- Pack your meals with you for the journey. This is the most optimal and if you’ve got a time sensitive deadline, or you’re away strictly for business, I’d recommend this option.
- Buy your food at the airport. With healthy food being more readily available then ever, picking up some lean cuts of meat or fish with some greens is no problem. Especially if you’re flying from a UK airport, where there’s almost always an M&S.
- Fast. This is a good option for short (<4 hours) or overnight flights. In the latter option, it’ll also help you regulate your meal times again so it’s breakfast in your new location.
- Eat plane food, but be diligent. This is the least optimal but I know some people won’t do the above, no matter what. In this case, you have to be diligent and not take the piss. Plane food can be hit or miss. I’ve had some good meals and also some terrible ones, so I’d check beforehand before taking this option.
For anyone worried about what they can take on a plane from a legal perspective, Tupperware with all types of solid food, protein powder with shakers (just no water) and packs of meat/fish are all fine. Be careful of gel-like foods such as nut butters, as I think you’re only allowed limited amounts, so it’s probably best to avoid it. The key is to bring a plastic fork/spoon with you.
- What To Eat When Abroad
So now you’re at your destination, what are you going to eat?
This really depends on your goals and where you’re at right now.
When I was in Hong Kong last year deep into my off-season, I didn’t have much of a plan. It was more about just making sure I ate enough. I didn’t, and ended up 3kg lighter.
On the other hand, when I went to Nice a few weeks ago, I was 12 weeks out from a show, so I was 100% on point throughout.
Here’s what I think:
- If you’re on a business trip, try and be as good as possible. It’s a business trip after all, and while there may be some entertaining involved, I don’t think it warrants falling off the wagon. Especially if you’re in the middle of a transformation.
- If it’s a holiday in the middle of a transformation, enjoy yourself but try follow the [70:30], or [80:20] rule, just so we can at least maintain the results we’ve got so far.
- If it’s a business trip or holiday in the middle of a time sensitive deadline, like a competition or photoshoot, you need to be on it. No excuses if you want to look your best in front of the camera or on show day. You’ve just got to suck it up really.
In my own example during the two trips on this year’s prep, I’ve gone self catered both times and brought the raw ingredients for carbs with me, and then bought the meat and veg when there. This way I kept progressing while away. Depending on how far you are out from the deadline, you could potentially IIFYM it and manipulate macros, but this really depends.
- If you’ve worked your ass off for 12-16 weeks with the goal of looking your best on holiday, enjoy yourself!
The latter two leave little to discuss, so let’s delve into the first two options a little more…
Eating To Maintain When Away For Business Or Leisure
Business trips and holidays tend to have two things in common: lots of eating out and alcohol.
If you’re clever about it though, you can apply some damage limitation using these strategies:
- Eat 3 main meals a day. If you normally eat 4 to 6 meals a day, dropping to 3 helps control calories. This will also allow you to have bigger meals when you do eat, and makes sure you don’t miss out socially.
- Protein and greens first. No matter where you eat, you can almost always pick some lean protein off the menu, and ask for vegetables on the side.
- Keep protein intake up. One thing that helps control cravings and hunger is keeping protein intake up, even when abroad. If you’re now only eating three main meals when abroad but need something in between, your best bet is to have some protein powder or a snack like beef jerky. Both are travel friendly, and make for great snacks when abroad.
- Opt for lower carb options. Carbs are the hardest macronutrient to control on the road. When you get carbs in restaurants or shops, it usually comes with a lot of fat too, unless you’re in a place that serves dishes like steamed rice. Going low carb is easy, and much more of a safe bet to make your trip a success.
- Eat light in the day, and eat big at night. Whether you’re on holiday or away on business, dinner is usually when you go to the nice restaurants, or have entertainment events. So it makes sense to make your last meal of the day the biggest. I’d recommend you to eat light during the day, sticking with mainly protein and veggies, and then allocating the majority of your carbs and calories to dinnertime.
A typical day may therefore go something a little like this:
Breakfast: Eggs with greens or some fruit at the hotel
Optional snack: Protein shake or beef jerky
Lunch: Lean meat/fish with greens
Optional snack: Protein shake or beef jerky
Dinner: Lean meat/fish with greens, some carbs, and maybe some alcohol…
Which brings us onto the next topic…
Travel usually means alcohol, whether it’s at a client entertainment event, or you’re out with your friends or significant other.
If you must drink, the key is to stick to one type. Try and avoid beer, and stick to clean spirits with no mixers.
Alcohol has the greatest potential to cause slip-ups with the diet, so if you can, try limit it to 2-3 drinks max and stay hydrated throughout.
- How To Train When Abroad
If I’m not competing, I usually plan my training so my deloads or breaks from training coincide with my holidays.
This works if you’ve been pushing your body hard, and it would be beneficial to take some downtime. Or if you just want a mental break from it all.
For the majority of people though who are pushing towards deadlines or need to maintain their results when travelling, it’s imperative you keep up your training schedule.
Exercise is one of the best ways to mitigate jet lag often accompanying long haul flights. It does so by speeding up the body’s return to normal circadian rhythms.
To reap these benefits:
- Train as soon as you land. This is a tip I picked up from listening to an interview with professional wrestler Triple H, who said one of WWE’s secrets to staying fresh and focused during their manic travelling schedule was to do something when they land in their new destination.
- Train first thing in the morning. Again, this will help reset circadian rhythms. Try wake up at your normal time and train first thing – you’ll feel much better for it.
When you’re abroad, you probably don’t want to spend much time in the gym. You want efficiency and bang for your buck.
That’s why I love these strategies:
- HIIT. Simple but effective, 10 to 20 minutes is all you need to get some real work in. All hotel gyms have some sort of cardio equipment, and at the very least, a treadmill which you can do deadmills on. I’d keep HIIT super simple when abroad, and just go hard for 20-30 seconds, followed by 60-90 seconds at a slower pace or rest. Repeat for the allocated time you have.
- Timed Paired Stations. If you’re strapped for equipment, the best thing you can do is pick non-competing exercises, set a rep target for each exercise, and perform as many exercises back and forth as you can in the time you have. For example, you could do dumbbell overhead presses paired with split squats for 10-15 reps each, for 20 minutes. The next day, you could do dumbbell bent over rows with chest presses. You get the idea.
- Bodyweight/Band Circuits. There really isn’t any excuse not to get these done. They can be done anywhere with little space required. Below are two of my favourite circuits I give to clients:
Workout A – Bodyweight Only
Perform the following with no rest between each exercise, and 60-90 seconds at the end of each circuit. Complete anywhere from 3 to 8 rounds of it.
- ‘Squeeze’ Press-Ups – 10-15 reps. As you go down, squeeze your hands in against the ground to activate chest more. You can make this easier by doing normal press-ups, or elevating your hands. To make it harder, elevate your feet, or if you have a band, use that for resistance.
- 1 and ½ Bulgarian Split Squats – 10-15 reps each leg. Go all the way down, come up half way, go back down, then come up for 1 rep. You can make this easier by doing normal split squats. To make it harder, you can slow the tempo down so it’s 5 seconds down, a pause at half way, and then 3 seconds up. You could even try Bulgarian split squat jumps.
- YTWL – 3 reps each at 10 seconds in each position. Squeeze your upper back on each move. It’s tough to train your upper back with no equipment at all, so the best alternative would be pull-aparts with a band.
- Single Leg Hip Thrusts (foot elevated) – 10-15 reps each leg. To make it easier, do these on the floor. To make it harder, add pauses or reps.
After you’ve completed the above, move onto the following ‘metabolic’ section, Aim to complete 3 to 5 rounds with no rest between exercises, and 60 seconds at the end of each circuit.
- Plank to Press Up – 10 reps a side
- Reverse Lunges – 10-15 reps a side
- Mountain Climbers – 10-15 reps a side
- Super Slow Squats – 10 reps. 5 seconds down, 5 seconds up.
Workout B – Bands
If you can, try taking a few resistance bands to upgrade your bodyweight workouts.
Here’s an example band routine you can use with no other equipment in your hotel room. The exercise order may look weird, but I’ve deliberately put compound exercises after isolation so that you won’t need super thick bands to get some stimulation. Aim to complete 3 to 5 rounds with no rest between exercises, and take 60-90 seconds at the end of each circuit.
- Band Pull Aparts to Hairline – 10 reps
- Band Pull Aparts to Neck – 10 reps
- Band Pull Aparts to Chest – 10 reps
- Band Bent Over Row – 30 reps
- Band Biceps Curl – 10 reps
- Band Lateral Raises – 10 reps
- Band Overhead Triceps Extensions – 10 reps
- Band Resisted Press-Ups – 10 reps
- Band Hip Thrusts (around knees) – 30 reps
- Band Squats (around knees) – 30 reps
- V Ups – 10-15 reps. The only exercise not involving bands, just because it’s easy to train the abs without it!
This is just an example. Feel free to get inventive, and even perhaps mesh the two styles of training together.
Travelling doesn’t need to hold you back. Hopefully after you’ve read this you’ll realise that time abroad can be used to maintain, and possibly even progress your gains in the gym.
Focus on what you can control, and make the best choices with what you can’t. This way when you come back, you’ll be ready to push on further and accelerate your results.
If you know of anyone who travels regularly and struggles with their training and nutrition, please share this article.