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How to maintain your physique on holidays… it’s all about damage control

December 3, 2017

I get a lot of questions about this and requests for tips/posts etc. What does it take to stay in shape while traveling? Can you go for a couple of weeks with limited training and be okay? Can you actually enjoy the food and relaxation without gaining weight or losing muscle?

Us fitness people have a love/hate relationship with traveling/holidays/being out of our routine.

Whether it’s for business or relaxation being out of our routine can be scary when we become dependant on our habits to keep us on track. No matter how great a vacation is, after a couple of weeks of no exercise and over-eating, we just can’t wait to get back into the gym and restore balance to our lives.

Well, what if I told you that you travel without gaining weight or losing too much fitness/muscle? What I told you that you could do it without following a strict eating schedule? What if I told you that you could do it while still eating large meals every day of whatever you want?

And what if I told you that you could do it with or without a proper gym? Sounds to good to be true, right?

Well it’s not. In this blog post I am going to share you with several training and dietary strategies you can employ to minimally maintain your physique while traveling, or even continue making progress as usual. The key words here are damage control. If you can learn how to put these damage control strategies in place you will be fine!

Now obviously traveling, going on holidays or even a few weeks where you are going to be out of your routine is probably not the best time to think about going on a fat loss program, but it’s entirely possible to maintain your physique and you don’t need to come back from your holiday 5kg heavier, if you can just

The biggest diet hurdle when traveling--regulating our calorie intake

When traveling, the biggest dietary hurdle is regulating our caloric intake every day.

When you eat out, you have to realise that everything, even the serving of healthy veggies that taste so good easily have an extra 20-30g of fat added to them (which make them taste so good). Traveling usually means eating out a lot, and restaurant food almost always comes with way more calories than we realise, thanks to butter, oils, sugar, and other sources of hidden calories.

The large daily surplus of calories plus reduced exercise is a particularly bad combination for our physiques.

It can also be a challenge to keep tabs on where our calories are coming from in terms of protein, carbs, and fats.

If you’re following a weightlifting program and accidentally drop your protein intake to, let’s say, 10% of your daily calories, and stop working out for a couple of weeks, you’re very likely to lose muscle.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to not only avoid these problems, but do so while still maintaining a flexible daily schedule.

Ensure You Get Enough Protein Every Day

 Protein is your staple nutrient for maintaining your muscle–you have to make sure you’re getting enough every day. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for getting about 2g gram of protein per kg of body weight every day.

The easiest way to keep track of your intake is on an app, which will allow you to research and track the nutrition data of the food you’re eating or thinking about eating throughout the day. This takes the guesswork out and helps you make better choices about what you’re eating. If you aren’t tracking because you are on holiday then if we can at least keep tabs on your total protein this is a good idea!

My biggest tip here is to bring some simple whey protein with you (if you don’t want to bring a huge tub just pop however many servings you’ll need into a ziplock bag) and every morning when you wake up, no matter what, chug down a protein shake. This will bump up your protein every day by 25-30g and will make a difference.

Create a calorie or macro buffer during the day

On holidays it’s often a good idea to “save up” your calories for treats, larger meals, drinking cocktails etc. that you may have planned for the day (i.e. happy hour drinks).

This style of eating is incredibly useful when you’re traveling. It allows you to keep your daily food intake under control without having your schedule revolve around eating times.

For example, if you are having pizzas for dinner, then knowing that you will be obviously eating a lot of carbs, you could save most of your carbs for dinner, and stay with protein and good fats the rest of the day.

Point being, keeping your calories in check over the long run is 95% of the battle. If you’ve got that handled, you’ll be fine. Having a system that you *know* can accommodate for the extra calories involved in eating out at restaurants, take away etc., for a few weeks is by far the most important thing, both for your results and your sanity.

Reduce Meal Frequency

Kind of similar to the above point, while maybe you are used to eating 5 or so smaller meals per day when you are in your normal routine, it’s usually a good idea reduce your meal frequency when you’re traveling to allow for larger, more calorie-dense meals.

For instance, if you eat a lot at the breakfast buffet it would probably be able to hold you over for lunch and then you can have a small snack instead and then a bigger dinner.

If you’re afraid that reducing meal frequency will impair your metabolism or cause weight gain, it won’t. That’s an old myth, and I often find I burn more fat while I am holidays as when your body is constantly digesting food you are always burning that food you just ate.

However, when you haven’t eaten for a few hours and your food is digested your body dips into your fat stores and starts using your stored fat as fuel. When you combine that with the often large amount of low intensity steady state exercise you do (i.e. all the walking you normally do when you are traveling/on holidays) you’ll get a good fat burning effect happening there.

Use Intermittent Fasting as a strategy

This is related to the above tip, but warrants its own section because it’s very useful when you’re on the road.

“Intermittent fasting” is a style of dieting that revolves around restricting your eating for extended periods of time, and then eating your day’s worth of food during pre-determined “feeding windows.”

For instance, you might fast (eat nothing) for 16 hours per day, and eat during the remaining 8 hours. Or you might fast for 20 hours per day and cram all your calories into a 4-hour window. Some protocols even call for eating one day, and fasting the next.

Intermittent fasting not only allows you to benefit from a reduced meal frequency, but it also helps reduce fat storage due to the fat burning effects associated with fasting.

Here is a good way to put it into practice:

You fast for 14-16 hours per day. That means no food, but coffee, tea, and non-caloric beverages are fine.

You have an 8-10 hour daily feeding window

Make sure you eat a lot of protein.

Try to keep your fats and carbs moderate.

Your post-workout meal is absolutely huge–about 50% of your daily calories.

(If I’ve piqued your interest, check out my Stubborn fat course “Target your Trouble Spots” to learn more about this style of dieting, how I use it in general, & how you can use it to hit those really stubborn fat spots)

It’s important that you don’t use IF as an excuse to grossly over-eat, however. It cannot prevent fat storage if you’re in a large caloric surplus every day. If you can handle the fasting periods (and it’s important to note that it gets easier to do, to where you don’t even feel hungry till 12pm) this is just a great way to minimise fat storage while still enjoying good food, and maintaining a very flexible eating schedule that doesn’t get in the way of your plans for the day.

It’s also very useful for when you won’t have good foods available to you for longer periods of time, bus or train trips, airports etc.

Try not to order meals that contain both high fats and high carbs:

This is especially true if you are trying to keep your fat gain minimal. When you eat out the meals that contain high carbs + high fats (i.e. fettuccine) would also be the highest in calories. If you are going to go high fat (i.e. grilled salmon with avocado salsa), then it would be better to stay low on the carbs and vice versa.

Don’t mix alcohol with fat or carbs

If you are going to have a “big night” it’s better not to mix your alcohol drinking with fat or carbohydrates. Lean more towards the meat platter. When you drink alcohol, your body stops processing food, stores everything as fat and tries to rid your body of the booze. Protein is rarely stored as fat, so feel free to eat lean meats, fish (not breaded, no tartar or heavy sauces), etc. before and during...

Happy hour cocktails do the most damage

Although most holiday photos feature someone holding a cocktail & holiday + cocktails just go so well together. I would attribute probably around 80% of the holiday weight gain to cocktails. And while they are delicious if you can find a way to be smart with them you can still enjoy them while doing damage control. For example maybe alternate drinks, i.e. have a cocktail and then a low cal drink, or allocate a couple nights to cocktails and the rest of the time stick with other drinks. And if you are going to fill up your happy hour with cocktails every day, maybe try to make smarter/lower calorie food choices.

Estimating macros when you are traveling

When eating out at a restaurant, takeaway etc.:

Some restaurants publish nutrition information online.

This should be the first place you check. While it is mainly fast food and chain restaurants that do this, there is a chance the place you are eating keeps nutrition data online.

Don’t always assume a restaurant has no good options based on its reputation; my go-

When Nutrition Information Is Not Available: How do you calculate macros for a meal where nutrition information is non-existent? First of all you are best off ordering meals that consist of single components rather than mixed. For example steak, veggies and mashed potato is easier to track than chicken fettuccini as you will not know what is in it.

First of all need to estimate the portion size of each component.

Then you can look up look up the nutrition information for each component

It won’t be perfect but just do your best. Maybe it looks like 1 tbsp of cheese but it’s actually 1.5 tbsp.

From there, look up the nutrition facts for that food. I like using http://nutritiondata.self.com/ as my source. I find it the most accurate.

When visiting someone else who cooks for you:

Apply the same rule you use at restaurants: do your best to estimate.

Eye ball portion sizes. Google nutrition facts.

Don’t stress; just try to get close.

Estimating Steak Macros:

The first step is to identify which part of the cow you are eating.

Next, how much meat are you eating?

Most restaurants list the weight in grams.

Lastly, go ahead and tack on 20g of fat for the dob of butter the chef used. Trust me on this, he/she used butter :).

Estimating Chicken Macros:

There are a few important qusetions to ask here: Is the chicken breaded or grilled? Is it on a bun and is that bun soggy (butter) or dry?

What are the other components of the sandwich (cheese, sauce, etc)? Which part of the chicken are you eating?

The average grilled chicken on a sandwich (a bit larger than a deck of cards) will be 25-30g of protein.

An average bun will have ~35g of carbs with few tag along proteins and fats.

Frying or breading the meat will add 8-15g of fat.

Estimating Pizza Macros:

Pizza is tough. It has proteins, carbs, and fats. Look online first, if it isn’t there, look at comparable pizzas online: is it thin crust, deep crust? In this case I would use a popular pizza chains near you to form an estimate.

Working Out While Traveling

Getting workouts in while on the road is easier than some people think. You have several workable options:

Use the hotel gym.

I know, hotel gyms suck, but they’re better than nothing. Because they normally have very light weights and machines, your best bet will probably be a 30-45 minute whole-body routine that you can do a few times.

Workout in your hotel room

If you can’t hit a gym for whatever reason, you can still do a decent job of maintaining your conditioning with in-room training. Think of bodyweight circuits and workouts involving squats, sit ups, push ups etc.

Go for a run.

Of course you can always go for a run or throw in some sprints.

Do the movements & exercises you love

You don’t have to be a nazi about training if you are on a holiday. It’s a holiday and so you should be treating it as a deload time. But at the same time, it feels great to workout while you are away and it also does make a difference when it comes to maintaining your physique.

Last tip on working out is from my partner. He thinks when you are holiday you should do the type of training you like. Don’t stress about training your weaknesses and working on the things you’re bad at or hate. Really you’re just trying to do damage control and stay conditioned.

For me personally, I love squats, deadlifts and weights in general. So I do pick to do more of that when I am on holidays. Granted I’ll lose some fitness, but you can get that back pretty easily anyway. If you are planning to do some big session consisting of all the movements you hate, there’s less chance you will actually do it and you’ll spend your holiday dreading it, which you certainly don’t want to be doing.

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