Stay Fit While Traveling | The Ultimate Guide to a Healthy Mobile Fitness Lifestyle
Work travel is real. And staying fit while traveling is tough.
It can be a challenge to maintain the healthy habits your prioritize at home when you’re traveling for work, in and out of meetings, events, and conferences. Not to mention client dinners, late nights, and jet lag.
Work trips are a huge adjustment to your normal routine
- If you’re used to eating at home, the foods you have on hand are no longer there.
- If you train at a gym, you don’t have access to your regular machines, trainers, and gym buddies.
- If you normally prioritize your sleep schedule, suddenly that’s out the window with jet lag and different time zones
- If you have a regular morning routine, that’s interrupted by loud neighbors, crappy hotels and different amenities.
I used to just grit through work trips or use them as an excuse to fall off of my training and diet plan. But I found that I was really setting myself back with this mentality, and each time I felt like I would have to re-start my fitness lifestyle completely. If you’ve ever been there, you know how difficult it is to start from scratch once every week or two.
I was exhausted.
But with so many demands on our time, an unfamiliar set up, lack of motivation, constant low-grade tiredness, and the prospect of another set of meetings tomorrow, what choice do we have?
Luckily there’s a better option.
You don’t need a gym to stay on track, nor do you need a 60-minute workout to get results. Let me show you a better way to stay fit:
Growing up as a super skinny dude, high school wasn’t incredibly kind to me. So I gravitated toward the gym and started “working out” when I was 16.
Ever since then, I’ve had a gym membership and made fitness a priority in my life. I made sure that I trained 3-5x per week, ate basically the same healthy breakfast and lunch, and cooked nutritious foods for dinner.
I had access to a gym, a blender for my breakfast and post-workout shakes, and I would schedule time every week to work out.
BUT all this got turned upside down every time I traveled. Without access to my stuff, I would basically say “oh well” as I skipped another workout and tossed back my 4th beer. At first, this would happen once every few months and it wasn’t a big deal to take a couple of steps back.
But over time as I started to travel more for work and the trips became closer and closer together, the damage I was doing became apparent when it would literally take me up until my next trip to get back on track from the previous one.
It was unsustainable, especially given that this was a piece of my life I relied on for healthy stress relief and maintaining the energy I needed for my work and life.
My Big Trip
In 2015 my wife and I quit our jobs, sold our belongings, and embarked on a 14-month journey of a lifetime through Central and South America.
This trip magnified the small issues that I had been having while traveling previously because most of the time we lacked access to not just a gym, but to other basic amenities like sidewalks, stores, or dry land (island and boat living comes with its own cost).
On top of that, I suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns down the left side of my body within the first week of our trip, which limited the types of food I was able to eat, the activities I was able to do, not to mention things like being unable to be in direct sunlight.
There was a moment when I looked at myself in the mirror and started having the same negative self talk that I experienced in high school, about being soft, weak, low energy, and not living up to the standards I had held myself too in real life.
That’s when I had my epiphany – I needed to create a lifestyle that made fitness automatic.
EVERYONE KNOWS that they need to exercise to be at the top of their game. To be healthy and have energy, of course, but let’s not forget the real reason many of us hit the gym rather than the bar. We want to look good with our clothes off.
I committed to training 6 days per week for just 30 minutes. For me it was every morning from 7:00am-7:30am. Since I only had access to my body weight and a suspension strap, that’s what I used. Every. Damn. Day.
Outside of the physical results I got from this style of training, I also got the mental relief of no longer WORRYING about my workout – how long it was going to be, what I was going to do when I could fit it in. It was already a part of my schedule, and something I just “did” every morning.
Scheduling TRANSCENDS motivation
This is my biggest takeaway, and honestly, if you stopped reading here and put this into action you’d be ahead of 95% of people who continually yo-yo, always looking for that next best thing or the magic pill.
Make It Automatic
Look, not everyone is motivated to exercise, and that’s totally fine. But most of us aren’t incredibly “motivated” to put on pants for our 8 am meeting either, but we know that if we don’t show up at least mostly sober, we won’t get to eat anymore.
Exercise should be a grounding force in your hectic calendar.
When everything else is changing – your schedule, transportation, food, and lodging, prioritizing exercise on a daily basis will keep your day normal.
No matter where you are in the world, dedicate 30 minutes in the morning to exercise. Not only will this give you a baseline for your day in the morning, but you will also use it as a ‘trigger’ to set yourself up for a productive day with a lot of mental energy.
30 Minutes is All You Need
If you’re using efficient bodyweight exercises in a smart program, fitting a full workout into 30 minutes is not only easy but more beneficial. While many people at the gym are taking their sweet time between sets to check social media, we aren’t resting, but pushing the pace for a full 30 minutes to maximize our results in the time we have.
It can be tempting to write off working out because 60 minutes isn’t an option and a 30-minute workout “isn’t worth the effort”, but by training in a specific way using highly effective bodyweight exercises you can actually trigger fat loss and muscle gain through a biological mechanism.
By the way, bodyweight doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing hundreds of pushups, crunches, and squats. There are thousands of more advanced exercises that train strength, balance, and coordination, and yes – pretty much every move will rock your core.
And yes, a weighted pushup will always be a great option, most of the time when you’re traveling you won’t have access to the same equipment everywhere so I only count on what I personally bring.
Where and How Do I Exercise?
If you have the time to take a walk around the area you’re staying or find directions to the nearest park, most places will have a pullup bar station, tree, basketball hoop, or large post that you can use with suspension strap and bands.
Sometimes you don’t have time for a walk, but you do have time to hit the hotel gym. This can be a fun exercise in figuring out a quick workout circuit with random equipment. These can be great if you’re just looking to do cardio.
But in spite of our best efforts and the amenities provided to us, sometimes the hotel gym just doesn’t work for us. Either it closes as inopportune times, only has four old dumbbells for use, or is packed full of sweaty individuals from the conference you’re attending.
Sometimes, turning your hotel room/patio//laundry-room-in-a-dirty-Colombian-hostel into a gym can be the best option, especially if you’re only able to squeeze in a 15-30-minute workout.
Good workouts are rarely glamorous, but always effective.
You only need two things to get an effective workout:
- Some type of resistance (bodyweight, suitcase, bands)
- A good training program
The program is the most important piece. Not just having it in your hand, but also knowing how to use it effectively. You could have the world’s best program, but if you pull it out for the very first time when you only have 15 minutes to train, you’re gonna spend the whole time puzzling over it.
Since you bring your body with you wherever you go, it’s a great option that can be used for an effective workout without any other equipment at all.
I prefer to bring a suspension strap with me to ensure I can use my body in different ways and movement patterns, and because to be honest – pure bodyweight training can get boring.
That’s why using a strap, bands, or sliders can not only provide you a more effective workout, it’s also more fun. While a lot of us don’t think of training as being fun, having new implements or exercises to do will make the workouts more interesting, which is important.
Your suitcase can also provide resistance and can be used for a ton of different exercises. Hold it to your chest, put it on your shoulders, or lift it above your head.
These techniques can be quite effective in core training, or just making in-hotel training more interesting.
Setting up your own ideal program is outside of the scope of this article, but I will tell you that the flow is important. Minimal time should be spent on transitioning between exercises, since we’re assuming hotel-room workouts need to maximize a short amount of time.
Set up circuits of 2-4 exercises, alternating between body parts.
For example (videos below):
This way we can move through several exercises in a row without getting overly tired in a single muscle group. This provides a better training effect that will help you burn more calories and train harder in a short amount of time.
If you’re using your suitcase, set up your program as “complexes.” This just means to do a certain number of reps of one exercise before moving on to the next. Finish all the exercises without putting your suitcase down, and then rest.
- Suitcase overhead presses
- Suitcase lunge
- Suitcase squat
- Suitcase front raise
Do each exercise for 40 seconds, and rest 1 minute between rounds.
This is an effective training strategy if you only have one weight implement and want to do a convenient and high-intensity exercise session.
However, you decide to go about maximizing your space for a workout, make sure that you already have a training session written out or decided on before you start. It’s easy to slack off if you’re not sure what you’re going to do next, and with a shorter session, like the one you’d do in a hotel, you need to be maximizing a short amount of time instead of relying on your brain to come up with new exercises mid-session. Standing on your bed naked, spinning your suitcase around your body while screaming is a fine exercise, but it comes with a high risk, especially if you’ve decided to cover your body in non-organic coconut oil.
I help my clients out by sending them programs for every day of the week using only equipment that they can pack in a carry-on bag.
Every workout is programmed to be between 15 and 35 minutes and can be done in 4 square feet of space in a hotel room. The exercises link to videos to ensure that there’s no confusion about what the form of each exercise looks like.
Since we’re going to be working with a shorter time frame than we’re probably used too, we need to choose the right exercises to get max results in the shortest time possible.
This is generally going to be:
- A compound, multi-joint exercise, like a squat or a pullup
- The most difficult progression of the exercise you can do, like a single-arm pushup after you can do 25+ regular.
But while doing Pistol Squats into Pullups into Suspension Strap Atomic Pushups would satisfy all the requirements, that might be overly difficult and wouldn’t allow us to sustain the pace we need to create the rapid results we want.
So often it can be better to use what I call the “Rule of 12” which means you shouldn’t go over a 12 in your circuit difficulty. This is subjective, so I’ll explain what I mean.
If you think that a Suspension Bulgarian Split Squat is a 7 out of 10 in difficulty, you should pick an exercise that’s a 5 or less. That’s when it would be great to do an exercise like a bicep curl or crunch- neither of which fit the 2 rules above.
Because we’re the type of people who are going to prioritize our health anyway, let’s take the small obstacles out of the way ahead of time.
Maybe we overslept, maybe we have a meeting with an east coast client at 5 am – either way it can often be impossible to set the alarm for another 30 minutes earlier.
- Take Five. A new study just showed that it was basically equally effective to do a 4-minute bodyweight workout as a 30-minute run.
- Do Half and Half. Do the first half of your workout in the morning in 15 minutes or so, and then hit the other half when you finish. This is also a good strategy because if you miss that 2nd workout, you will have still gotten something in for the day.
Don’t Know What to Do:
It can be time-consuming and arduous to try to think of a workout right as you go to do it. I’m guilty of this also, and my workouts are ALWAYS less effective when I don’t have a plan, and I’ve been creating workouts for 10 years professionally.
- Use one of the dozens of free programs I’ve put out on N8 Training Systems over the last 10 years
- Join a Facebook Community that talks about this stuff
- Hire a Coach. Take yourself out of the equation by having a structured program that focuses on your goals, not just exercises you like.
It can be frustrating to roll up to a hotel gym ready to implement your perfect “hotel gym workout” based on the photos you saw online. But then you get in there and it’s packed with people who had the same idea and worse hygiene.
- Use Your Bodyweight. Get a great workout by moving around.
- Find Something Heavy. A suitcase, good friend, or big rock will suffice. Hold it above your head for 4 minutes.
- Get Creative. Do a long series of isometric holds (wall sit, glute bridge, hollow body).
- Go for a Run. Get primal.
- Get Real. No one cares if you’re motivated to go to work, yet you keep going…
- Get Accountable. Hire a coach or find a colleague who will go with you.
- Get Motivated. Read my best tips for overcoming the lull.
- Make Eating a Priority
If you want all this info in an easier format to read and digest, you should check out the book that I wrote on travel training: Passport Fitness: The No-Nonsense Guide to Staying in Shape No Matter What City You Wake Up In.
What to Eat
Yes, 30-minute workouts are effective for creating amazing results, a healthy body, strong joints, and an athletic physique, BUT much your results will come as a result of eating well.
The very simple explanation is this: 80% of your diet should come from meat, fruits, and veggies.
If your diet is basically the “ingredients” that make up other foods, you’re doing it right.
Choosing to eat ingredients rather than processed foods that come in boxes and bags is always the best option. Many diets fall back on this simple piece of advice, but give it different names, and apply slightly different rules. The most prevalent of which are the Paleo Diet, and the Whole 30 Diet.
Eating this way has been proven to lower insulin resistance, help maintain lower blood sugar, reduce the prevalence of heart disease, and help to maintain a healthy weight.
Without getting super sciency and talking about how leptin levels affect obesity and atherosclerosis, the ideal diet is whole foods that come in a full range of colors.
Your diet should be aimed at helping you feel and look your best, and while it’s possible to lose fat while sipping Diet Cokes and eating low-fat Triscuits, you won’t feel great, and you’ll never look your best.
Follow these 5 Commandments and you’ll be on your way to a leaner, healthier you without depriving yourself of foods you love.
- Protein-CentricThe first key to picking a good meal that will move you toward your goals instead of sending you into a fiery nosedive that culminates in a week-long Cinnabon binge is to choose a dish that’s high in protein.Normally this is going to a dish based around meat, but eggs or quinoa work as well. So you can instantly eliminate dishes like spaghetti and pizza. Every meal that your favorite ripped celebrity eats is centered around protein.Sorry, lean people don’t put pizza on their “frequently consumed” list. Get over it.
Protein is filling, hard to convert to fat, and great for refueling and building muscle. It’s very difficult to consume enough to cause liver or kidney problems, especially if you’re drinking enough water. Besides, eating too much chicken is not your problem.
Rule: Make protein the focal point of your meal.
- The Drinking Donut
Don’t drink while you eat. Period.Beer and health goals go together like my Uncle Luke and not marrying a hooker in Vegas. We’ll talk more about alcohol later, but since alcohol is a poison, when you drink it, it sends your body into panic mode and shuts down all other processes besides priority Alpha: getting this alcohol out of my body.If you drink, avoid snacking for an hour after you finish drinking. After eating, wait at least an hour to resume imbibing.Rule: Don’t drink and eat at the same time, wait an hour between.
- Freedom Fries
On the count of three, let’s both say a food that isn’t good for staying healthy, strong, or lean.Too late! It’s French fries. Even though bottomless fries come with literally every dish on the Red Robin menu, that doesn’t mean you have to eat them all to get your money’s worth.Ninety-nine percent of restaurants will let you swap your fries for a non-artery clogging option. And the 1 percent? Those are the restaurants that your parents told you that you’d work if you didn’t study.Rule: Avoid French fries, deep-fried foods, and creamy sauces.
- Crush WaterStep away from the sodas and iced teas, water is your abs best friend. You often can’t control that your client just bought four bottles of wine for the price of your kid’s college tuition, but you can adhere to the Drinking Donut we talked about earlier.Try to get at least one glass of water for every glass of anything else you drink that night.Having a big glass of water before you go to dinner is also helpful in managing cravings. Our stomachs respond to the volume of food, not calories, so filling up slightly before going out to an indulgent restaurant is helpful in managing hunger when you see that they have all four of your favorite types of cheesecake.
Rule: One glass of water between every other drink you have.
- Cheat-Day Mentality
We often get into the thought process that since we’re only going to be in Houston once, we should take advantage of that and eat and drink until we’re sick. That’s a big bummer because Houston is … well, fine, but habitually using that logic results in needing new pants.However, if you can get in the habit of training every day, you’ll have built-in some caloric insurance through the calories burned during exercise, and the “afterburn” effect that daily workouts have on your metabolism.If you’re going to be eating big or splurging, make sure you get a workout ahead of time.After a meal like this, make sure your next meal is back in line with your goals and overload your veggies. Don’t let one meal turn into 2 days, turn into a month. This is important.
Rule: Get a workout before splurge dinners, never eat 2 bad meals in a row.
When to Eat
Although not as important as what to eat, meal timing is an important aspect of making your diet fit your lifestyle. If you’re constantly trying to take a stringent approach while you’re on the road and eat small servings of tilapia and rice, you’re going to have a bad time.
In fact, let me just say it. Eating 6 times per day is dumb. It’s difficult and mind-numbing. Plus, toting Tupperware to your tech seminar doesn’t make you a fitness model, it makes you a dweeb. And it’s totally unreasonable when you’re in and out of meetings all day long.
Studies show that eating 8 times per day is no different than eating 2 times per day if the overall calories and macronutrients are the same. Additionally, eating that often means that you’re constantly digesting, and your body rarely enters autophagy, our natural detoxification process.
I prefer a carb-cycling approach, which means adjusting the number of carbs eaten depending on the activity for the day. On days without exercise, we eat fewer carbs, starches, or sugars.
On hard workout days, eat more carbs, especially in the hour post-workout to help with recovery.
Use Carb Cycling to Your Advantage on the Road
ks with the body’s natural processes, and it can be used with any diet you prefer.
To use carb cycling, make sure to eat the majority of your carbs for the day within an hour on either side of your workout. An hour before your workout, enjoy a piece of fruit, oatmeal, or a small meal of chicken and rice. The larger the pre-workout meal, the longer you should wait before training.
After the workout, have some fruit with your protein shake, rice, beans or even bread (if you don’t have better options). Ensure that you are getting enough protein to help your muscles recover from the workout. Carb cycling increases blood sugar, which raises insulin, which is instrumental in shuttling nutrients to hungry muscle cells, so it’s important to have protein in your system to refuel.
Keep the Goal the Goal
When you make decisions about where to eat, what activities you should do in your spare time, and whether or not you should hit the snooze button, just run it through the filter of “is this bringing me closer to the body and life I want or farther away?”
If it’s something like sleeping in or eating just pastries at the continental breakfast – these are not decisions you’ll look back on or remember in a week. Going to a karaoke bar when you should be getting some rest….? Well, we all make decisions.
Stay Active at All Costs
Being on a “trip” can often look like being seated for 12 hours per day, so make sure that you take advantage of times to be active. If that involves getting up and going for a walk during a 15-minute intermission, parking farther away, or simply knocking out a set of squats while waiting to catch a bus, do it!
It comes down to make the decision to prioritize your health
Then making it again…
And once you’ve done this over and over and over again, it will have become an ingrained habit.
Yes, the above information can and will help you depending on what stage of your journey you’re in, but the real battle comes from the small decisions and habits you employ on a daily basis.
You can have it all! Travel, health, finances, and relationships!
If you’re looking for more ways to be able to prioritize your health and fitness when you’re traveling, living a digital nomad lifestyle, or simply at home building your personal empire –