How to Stay Fit While You Travel
Ah, the joys of business travel – on short notice, you’re up at 4am to catch a flight to somewhere three time zones away – and then a full day of meetings and a formal business dinner. Just keeping on top of your regular email and to-do list is a challenge – never mind fitness and nutrition.
But sometimes less is more. And when you are traveling there are better options.
If your travel schedule has a lot of free time – the sky is the limit. But we’re going to assume that’s NOT the case. At midlife family, career, and other obligations make the fitness challenge much greater – but not impossible. The key is efficiency. We will present options that are time efficient.
Finding time to eat right and workout while traveling for business is definitely a challenge. When you are traveling for business your schedule is often packed to the bursting point – there’s no time to find a gym or roam around a local park. And forget about equipment – you’ve likely got everything in a single carry-on and anything beyond a pair of running shoes is probably out of the question.
With that in mind, we are going to give you tips for maintaining your fitness while traveling. These tips assume you are on a hectic, business schedule – and not operating at a leisurely personal travel pace. Most of these will require nothing other than some space (and most are hotel room friendly) and possibly a pair of running shoes – but nothing else.
Diet and Nutrition – Stay on track
All these tips apply when you are not traveling as well. Diets don’t work. But long term fundamental changes in your lifestyle, attitudes about food, and nutritional intake does work.
It’s true – you can’t out-work a bad diet. And so, a business trip isn’t a valid excuse to go crazy on food. The temptation will be there – because your jam-packed schedule will mean every minute counts and you’ll likely be presented with convenient, but less than desirable meal options – but here’s some nutrition tips for travel that work:
- Salad – learn to love it. Double (or triple) up on the side salad that accompanies the buffet for the “working lunch”. Double up on lean protein – and minimize the carbohydrates. This means skipping the cookies, brownies, and other dessert sweets – and also keeping away from pasta and bread that is part of the entree as much as possible. And to be clear – we’re not demanding zero carb compliance – just don’t go overboard. You don’t have to be the person stripping the bread from a sandwich – unless you are doing the keto diet.
- Thirsty? Drink one of these healthy options: water, tea, or coffee (nearly black – keep it simple). Sugary sodas, juices, and energy drinks all carry too many calories and result in an energy crash that can leave you feeling worse than when you started out.
- Those apples or bananas they offer in the hotel lobby – they aren’t just for show. Grab two and keep them on-hand for an afternoon, late night (or early morning) snack.
- Every restaurant has some variation of a salad with a solid protein. The Cobb salad is one of our go-to favorites because it’s loaded with protein. Get the dressing on the side, of course.
- If fast food is your only option, and you’ve simply got to eat – go salad and a chicken sandwich (or hamburger) patty.
- Snacks on the plane – go for the nuts (preferably almonds). Sure, they’re probably salted and roasted with vegetable oil, but it’s likely still your best option.
- People like to say breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) are the most important meal of the day. But there’s not really scientific proof to back any of that up. It’s possible to skip a meal (or meals) and not waste away – we promise. If the food options you are presented are really bad – just try and skip the meal. Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the dieting principle by which you incorporate relatively long stretches of not eating (or drinking calories) – and it helps reduce your blood sugar, burn fat, and has other benefits. We recommend using IF all the time – once you get adjusted you don’t miss the extra meals – and you benefit from a constant, steady flow of energy.
And lastly, be flexible. Business travel is a disruption to our normal lives. A bad meal here and there can be compensated for by a good meal later.
In the Airport
The airport isn’t just a necessary stop on the way to your destination – it’s an opportunity for a workout! Ok, we’re stretching things a bit here. We recommend you minimize the proportion of your life spent in airports – but it’s an unavoidable certainty of business travel. So, here’s some points to maximize this time that is otherwise pretty much wasted:
- Carry your bags versus rolling them around – You know what’s a wicked workout? The farmer’s walk – it’s simply walking with heavy objects in your hands. The weights were dealing with here (a laptop bag and a carry-on bag) aren’t going to build strength – but carry those in each hand and you’re going to be burning a lot more calories as you move.
- Stand when you can – Go ahead and be one of those people that lines up for Zone 1 about 40 minutes too early. Does standing burn an extra number of calories compared to sitting? Maybe not – but there’s evidence that sitting (and other extreme sedentary behavior) causes our body’s processes for processing blood sugar to stop. And besides, you’ve got a 5-hour flight to sit and relax. So, keep things upright (and moving, ideally) in the airport.
- Pace the terminal – Killing time waiting for a connection? Keep it moving through the airport – it’s an interesting people watching exercise, and it’s a small workout opportunity.
They’ll have Wifi on the plane – you can get caught up on email then, when moving is not an option.
The Hotel Gym
Here’s some quick tips from Paul Roberts of Sand & Steel Fitness:
- Scope out your restaurants before you leave.
- Use a meal delivery service for some of your meals.
- Check out some hotel based workouts.
- Use your FitAtMidlife workout generator.
- Work on your mobility.
The hotel gym is a wildcard. It might be a good option – but be prepared for it to be crowded during rush-hour and probably small and not full of a lot of options (a treadmill or stepper and a few dumbbells are typical). Hotels with a pool sufficiently sized for an actual workout are also rare. Make the best of the space that the hotel provides – if you can. You may have to think a little bit outside the box to make it work.
We recommend you do some Internet recon when booking travel – there’s usually a pretty good description of the space on the hotel’s website. And then you know what you are working (or not working) with when you arrive. Secondly, many hotels have a deal or partnership with a local gym – find out where, how much, and what hours they are open. All that will factor into whether you can actually make use of it.
If the hotel gym is rubbish, but the weather is nice, take a walk, jog, or run. These are all great options. But not in Minnesota in February.
Minimal Equipment Options
Beyond running shoes and workout clothes, there are a few other exercise related items you can pack pretty easily, and still make it through security.
Resistance tubes are easy to pack in a suitcase and offer a weight-like resistance. These can take a number of bodyweight exercise movements and make them even more challenging. These add a lot of options for you in a small space – so whether there’s a gym, outdoor area, or you are confined to your hotel room – you’ll have more you can do.
Similarly, a jump rope or skipping rope is an easy to pack option – and it’s a calorie-burning, time-efficient exercise. Just remember a jump rope requires overhead space, and is possibly going to be noisy for whomever is below you. It’s also possible there’s not going to be enough room in the hotel gym, especially with a crowd.
But neither of these are necessary. Truth be told – if you’ve got bodyweight – you’ve got a workout. And we’ll discuss this simplest option next.
Got Bodyweight? You’ve got a workout
Strength training (or resistance training) causes long-term structural changes in your body. It takes a while to build strength and muscle – but these changes are pretty persistent – you’re not going to lose much or any strength or muscle by skipping a week of weight lifting workouts (The exception being if you are lifting advanced or elite levels of weight and are in the middle of a peaking cycle – but we’ll assume that’s not 99% of the general population). That’s one of the reasons we love strength training. In comparison cardiovascular and endurance fitness comes on quick, and dissipates just as quickly. If you are training for endurance – you’re going to need to keep up with it while on travel – or you risk backsliding.
Ok, let’s assume your only options are the hotel room itself, and the public spaces of the hotel (other than the gym). You can use the halls and walk – but honestly that’s a very boring experience. Better is to walk (or run) the stairwells. That’s a calorie-burner that will get your heart rate up quickly. And that’s efficiency that means we can fit in the workout and get back to business.
Your own bodyweight is fantastic resistance too. Here’s a list of bodyweight exercises you can do in a small space:
- Air squats – The squat movement with no added weight. Don’t think this is a workout? Do 50 and get back to me afterwards…
- Bulgarian Split Squat – elevate one leg on a chair or other furniture
- Pistols – a one legged squat. These are tough
- Planks – Crunches as a core exercise are dead and gone – but the plank is deceptively challenging. Sit-ups still have merit as well, just watch out for lower back stress
- Pull-ups – Use fingertip grip on the door jam. This one is a bit of a stretch – it’s not always a realistic option. But if it works, it works.
- Burpees – This hellish combination of a squat, push-up and a jump is perhaps the best thing you can do from a time and efficiency standpoint in a hotel room.
- Dips – You can often use the furniture to rig up some way to do bench dips. But this is usually more hassle than it’s worth. Do some hand stand push-ups for regular push-ups instead.
- Vertical leaps – Just jump up and down (landing lightly) many times. Again – don’t think this is hard? Do 50 and get back to us.
- Jumping jacks – a classic that everyone has done
- Yoga – Yoga is fantastic as a challenging exercise regimen that can be done in a small space. There are many, many moves that will challenge your strength and with holds for time you’ll be breathing hard and sweating in no time flat. There are already a million good Internet resources on yoga, so we aren’t going to attempt to recreate them here.
Let’s talk about efficiency. Working hard, and fast is a proven fitness technique. Studies show that interval style training (High Intensity Interval Training techniques such as Tabata) are significantly more efficient than long slow cardio – in nearly every measurable way. So, take some body weight exercises and perform them against a clock, stopwatch, or a timer. Need more specifics? We’ll talk about that next.
FitAtMidlife catches up with Paul Roberts from Sand & Steel Fitness and asked about what they recommend to their clients while traveling. Here’s what Paul had to say:
Number one: Have a nutrition plan and a workout plan before you leave for your trip. For example, I schedule a meeting with my clients to search out all the local restaurants and find the ones with the healthiest menus. Look for Chinese Restaurants (and get your food steamed with the sauce on the side), Vegetarian Restaurants, Salad Places, and Restaurants that served grilled fish.
Number two: Use a meal delivery service (e.g. Hungry Root or MegaFit, etc.) to have some of your meals shipped. Don’t forget to make sure you have access to a microwave.
PROTIP: For clients who taking meal planning very seriously, I recommend they travel with an electric burner and backpacking style frying pan. This way you can heat foods without the soggy microwave effect.
Number three: While hotel gyms vary, all hotel gyms have medicine balls, benches, and dumbbells. There are many different workout programs you can do with just those three pieces of equipment. Here’s a sample workout that can be done with just dumbbells. https://vimeo.com/229779074
Number four: FitAtMidlife has an excellent random workout generator. It’s really good for those times you get to the gym and you have “athlete’s block” or are just bored with your current routine. One of the nice things about this generator, is that it suggests workouts that you are good at and ones that you are not. As with all online programming, just be sure you have the technique, mobility, and stability to execute the exercises correctly.
Number five: Work on your mobility. All you need is a lacrosse ball and a rubber band for most mobility exercises, so use the time to loosen up some fascia and improve your motion. Definitely, target your back and legs from sitting on that plane.
Announcing the FitAtMidlife Travel Workout Generator
Ok, so now we’ve bombarded you with numerous fitness ideas. It’s almost too many options – where do you start?
We’ve built the FitAtMidlife Travel WOD (Workout Of the Day) Generator to help. It’s totally free, simple to use, and works on iPhone, Android, Windows, and Mac.
What’s a WOD? It’s the Workout Of the Day. Simply load up the Travel WOD page and you’ll see a traveler-friendly, randomly chosen fitness routine – complete with a stopwatch style timer. If the exercise choice doesn’t work for your situation – simply hit the “Change WOD” button and try another combination.
The WODs utilize a lot of time constraint techniques to boost intensity and keep you moving –
such as Every Minute On the Minute (EMOM), Tabata intervals, AMRAP, and just plain trying to beat the clock (“For Time”). Again, this is the key to efficient training.
We built this for ourselves, because we practice what we preach. And we’re happy to share with the world. We hope you find it useful.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Business travel is a disruption to your normal fitness regimen. But if you think creatively there are many time-efficient methods you can employ.
At the end of the day, being fit is a lifestyle, and a journey without an end. Don’t sweat it if you have to miss a few proper workouts and nutrition, just make the best of what you’ve got. It’s sustained effort over the long term that will bring you to success.
Photo and Image Credits
- This website is not affiliated or associated with CrossFit, Inc. CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc.
Tim is the founder of FitAtMidlife.com – an avid gym rat for 30+ years, he’s a reviewer of many, many shoes – and founder of the Speed Bag Gathering – the world’s only gathering of speed bag punching enthusiasts. See more gym reviews at Tim’s YouTube channel.