Staying Healthy on the Road
Traveling often and for long periods is often problematic for people trying to maintain optimal health and fitness. If you rarely, if ever, travel for work, and only go out of town for the occasional long weekend and a one week vacation each year, this isn’t really for you. Party like a rock star, enjoy new foods, workout if you feel like it, and enjoy your vacation. Now, for those that travel every week, are platinum members with every frequent flier club out there, and have tried to enter the wrong hotel room because you’ve stayed in 4 different hotels in the last 4 days and can’t remember your current room number, listen up!
By staying healthy, I mean not getting sick (cold, flu, constantly tired, etc), maintaining healthy body weight/ body composition, and maintaining a good fitness level. Like we always talk about at the gym, good nutrition is the foundation for health and fitness. I’ve written several posts before about eating out and eating on the road, so I want to use this to talk about the other variables.
Let’s start with sleep. Hotel rooms usually have all sorts of light coming in, sometimes you change time zones, and you’re often required to be out late at night, all of which can make sleep difficult. For sleep, you simply have to do the best you can. I’ve covered bright clocks with T-shirts, put towels at the bottom of the door, and unplugged TVs all in an effort to make it dark. I also started not working out sometimes so that I can get an extra 1-2 hours of sleep (I’ll talk about this more later). Taking a magnesium supplement like Natural Calm or some Melatonin are also highly recommended ways to assist with sleep.
Now let’s talk working out. Jumping off the plane and jumping into a hard workout will not do good things for you. Flying is about the worst thing you can do to just about every part of your body. In addition to sitting in a cramped seat, the plane produces constant vibrations going though your body that can be problematic. Your hip flexors get jammed into your hips and become extremely tight, most people sit with poor posture which leads to a sore back, hamstrings also get extremely tight, and list goes on. So what should you do for your first workout? Lots of mobility and core work. If you jump into a strenuous workout with everything tight, the likelihood for injury goes way up and you will end up doing more damage than good. Remember, we’re after improved health and fitness, not worse. For my first workout after a long flight, I spend about an hour doing nothing but mobility and core work with some squats, push ups, and pull ups mixed in. I mentioned skipping workouts before. If waking up early to workout means you’re only going to get 4 hours of sleep when your body is already being stressed by being on the road, you are better off getting the extra 2 hours sleep. In this case, by working out you will do more damage to yourself than good. You will not “lose fitness” by skipping 1 workout and by eating well and sleeping more you will be able to better maintain good body weight/composition.
Most people who travel frequently for work are in some type of people business. Everyone in the people business knows you get way more done in the bar after dinner than you do in a boardroom for 2 days. So how do you balance this with good health? If you tell a client or business partner that you are a paleo eating Crossfitter and you would prefer to go to bed than join them at the bar, you will probably get some strange looks and not get the deal you are after. In fact, you may never get another deal with that client again. Maybe that’s okay with you, or maybe you need to make the deal to feed your family and pay your Crossfit Forest membership? The first step in effectively managing the late night bar scene is buying the first round. Nobody likes the guy who gets the first 4 rounds bought for him then bails out before it’s his turn to buy. Buy the first round, then it’s not a big deal to leave when the time comes. If you do consume alcohol, stay gluten free (i.e. No Beer). Stick to something like a Tequilla and soda water with a lime (easy to milk for a long time), a glass of red wine, or vodka soda. If you do not consume alcohol, stick with water, drinking diet soda all night is not a “healthy” alternative. Lastly, avoid eating crap at the bar. Don’t lie to yourself and say you’re only going to eat 1 peanut. You know as well as I do that will turn into about 10 lbs of peanuts. If you never start eating crap, it’s easy to avoid. Have a few drinks, make the deal and maintain the relationships that need to be maintained, avoid eating, then hit the rack.
To illustrate all of this, I’ll share my past 2 weeks and how I’ve remained healthy. I’ve been on the road for 2 weeks as I write this and have 3 more days to go. I’ve been on 7 airplanes ( 3 of which were Red Eye flights), covered over 21,000 miles, and been in 3 different time zones. When traveling I tend to eat more protein than normal, so breakfast is often steak and eggs. I usually avoid fruit and this trip I’ve been eating some potatoes for starch. I’ve actually found this very helpful and I feel much better than when I eat fruit. If eating white potatoes, keep the portions small (about a cup max unless immediately after a workout) and make sure they’re peeled. Since I’m traveling through the South Pacific, I eat fish whenever possible because it’s usually really fresh. I’ve focused about 75% of my workout time on nothing but core and mobility. I’ve averaged about 2 MetCon/Crossfit high intensity type workouts per week and kept them all under 10 minutes. 2 MetCon workouts per week is less than normal for me, but my body is undergoing enough stress, I do not need to add to increased cortisol levels by throwing in a bunch of high intensity workouts. For supplements, I’ve been taking an herbal supplement called Adrenal Health by Gaia to help control Cortisol levels, Nordic Natural Ultimate Omega Fish Oil which also has CoQ10 and Oleic Acid, Vitamin D, and Natural Calm before bed. I’ve had a couple nights at the bar where I was able to build relationships with colleagues and get some work done, but I then skipped the morning workout. I don’t get paid to workout, I do get paid to do my job. Work took precedence at times and skipping a couple workouts didn’t kill me. In fact, over the last two weeks my body weight/composition has actually improved slightly, my strength and metabolic capacity has stayed about the same, and mobility has increased in certain areas. I have 1 more plane ride (another Red Eye), then it’s back to life at home for a few weeks where I will strive to make gains in all the above areas.
I share my experience with you because I have done it wrong more than I’ve done it right. I’ve done workouts like “Murph” (run 1 mile, 100 pull ups, 200 push ups, 300 squats run 1 mile) right after taking a Red Eye. I’ve ended up with that nagging cough/cold that stays with me after getting home, exacerbated injuries, and I’ve gained weight/body fat on some of these monster trips. Traveling puts a ton of stress on the body. Do not unnecessarily add to this stress with poor diet and workout decisions. You work way too hard when you’re at home to have it all destroyed when on the road.