Traveling often throws a wrench in reaching health goals. Why? It takes you out of every healthy habit you have developed. Think about it, travel usually disrupts sleep, movement/exercise, food, and sunlight. Every core pillar of living a healthy life is thrown for a loop. However, that doesn’t mean that you should just give up. Mindset is important, things are not going to be perfect, don’t have any kind of illusion that you are going to be able to have the perfect nights sleep, hit those 10K steps, or eat a clean diet. There is a lot we can do to mitigate the damage that travel can do. Here are some of my top tips for traveling healthy.
Food is probably the toughest. You might be eating out multiple times a day. You may not even have a choice as to where you are going to eat. There are plenty of great options though when you are in a major city. The best way to stay on track with your diet is to get an Airbnb or VIRBO. With a full kitchen you can make your own food.
If a full kitchen is not an option, then you are going to have to eat out. Obviously you are going to have to do the best you can. I personally like to try and find a Whole Foods (or similar grocery store) in the area. They usually have a kick ass salad bar (just avoid the canola oil of course). Restaurants like Chipotle, Panera, and similar restaurants have good options as well. The best thing to do is to research the area you will be staying before you get there so you have a good idea of the clean food options in the area.
The other strategy I implement is fasting. Of course you should only do this if you are healthy and have a healthy relationship with food. I usually fast in two scenarios. The first scenario is when I am flying, especially on the long flight. You are not moving much, so you are not going to be burning many calories. The food on the plane is almost always garbage, you don’t want to eat it anyways. If you are crossing time zones fasting can help reset your circadian rhythm when you land in the new time zone. The other scenario I fast is when I have a late meal the night before. The late night meal makes it easier to skip breakfast the next morning and make it to lunch.
Movement and Exercise
Traveling often throws off you movement and exercise routine. Some people find it hard enough to exercise in their ideal environment. Taking them out of their environment can make it near impossible. Avid exercisers also face a challenge because their normal gym environment is not available. Here is how I address movement and exercise while traveling.
Moving Throughout The Day
It can be hard to move frequently when traveling, especially for work. If, for example, you are attending a conference you might be expected to be sitting and listening to presentations all day. Do the best you can. Almost all work events will have breaks sprinkled in throughout the day (usually allowing attendees some time to go indulge in some garbage food, don’t do that!). Take advantage of these breaks to get up and move, do anything you can. Ideally get outside and move so you can get some sunlight as well.
A nice hack you can use to squeeze in some movement is to take advantage of online streaming. Many of the conferences I go to will stream the keynotes online for free. Instead of having to sit in a giant auditorium for sever hours first thing in the morning, grab your phone and headphones and head outside for a multi-hour walk while streaming the keynote on your phone. You can surely get in your 10K steps in the length of the keynote 🙂
Unfortunately travel throws you a bunch of curve balls that make performing your normal workout a bit of a challenge. Your sleep might be off, your food consumption and/or quality might be off, you will be outside your normal exercise environment (gym), you might be forced to workout at a different time of day, etc. This is why I suggest my clients try to take a rest week, or de-load week, when traveling. It might be an ideal time to NOT workout if you have had a hard training block leading up to your travel. Or you might consider doing something a lot less intense like yoga or other mobility practices. If you want to try and workout, do the best you can with what you have. I always travel with bands or a TRX so I know if all else fails I can throw together an effective workout.
Looking for an effective hotel workout? Check out this video from Ben Greenfield
We all know how important a good nights sleep is, but it is often hard to get while traveling. Being outside your normal sleep environment can really make a good nights sleep hard. The bed, pillows, sheets, temperature of the room, background noise, lights, and much more can throw everything off. Here are some things you can do to help optimize your sleep environment.
Make It Dark
When I first arrive in wherever I am staying the first thing to do is make the room as dark as I can. I unplug the things everything I can to reduce the amount of light that is in the room. Some people travel with black electrical tape they put over the things they can’t unplug. Also people like to travel with sleep masks, personally I can’t sleep with one on so it doesn’t work for me.
Make It Cool
Next make the room cool. Adjust the temperature to what you are used to sleeping at (most sleep experts say somewhere between 65-68F).
Watch Your Caffeine And Alcohol Intake
When traveling it is often easy to indulge in things you normally wouldn’t. Extra cups of coffee, and alcohol can really hamper your sleep. I am not going to tell you to not enjoy yourself, but at the same time realize that you might be sacrificing your sleep for that cappuccino or extra glass of wine.
Finally be sure to establish some kind of normal sleep time and wake time. Try not to deviate too much from what you are used to.
For a great article on how to optimize sleep in general check out this great post on the Nourish Balance Thrive website.
Time Zone Changes
Travel can often involve traveling across time zones. This can make things particularly challenging. Luckily my health coach, Megan Roberts, gave me some great tips on how to deal with time zone changes. Here they are
**Sunlight and food are the two great circadian zeitgebers (environmental cues).
- Start adjusting to the new time zone a few days before leaving
- Slowly shift food, light, sleep, and caffeine consumption backward or forward depending on which way you are traveling.
- Make use of blue light blocking glasses at night and bright light (outdoor is ideal, but the Human Charger 2 or a light box are good alternatives) in the morning.
- Assume you can adjust to crossing one time zone per day
- Traveling east: get as much morning sunlight as possible and shift bedtime 30-60 min earlier each night before the trip starting 3 days out.
- Traveling west: get as much afternoon/evening sunlight as possible and consider pushing your bedtime back 30 min per night starting 3 days before the trip.
- Upon arrival, get as much morning sunlight as possible in the new time zone.
- For traveling east: low dose melatonin (0.3-1.5 mg ~30-60 min before bed)
- You may start this when you start adjusting you food, light, and sleep (as in 1c above).
- Use the Entrain App 2 or Jet Lag Rooster 1 website to help shift your circadian rhythm.
- Take charge of your hotel sleep environment.
- Bring a sleep mask, ear plugs or white noise machine (or phone app), black electrical tape (for those little pesky lights you can’t get rid of), blue blocking glasses. Try to replicate your sleeping environment at home.
- Take advantage of fasting on the day of travel.
- Fasting isn’t for everyone and is by no means necessary. For some, it can also pose an added stressor on top of traveling. But it can be a useful tool in the jet lag toolbox depending on the person.
- If you do want to fast, consider fasting for the duration of the travel day and then eating when you arrive, regardless of the direction you’re traveling.
- For traveling east: a mid afternoon flight means you just skip breakfast and lunch and then eat when you arrive (usually early morning).
- For traveling west: you might want to eat on the plane at what would be breakfast time at your destination.
- Exercise at the same time of day as you normally would.
- Try to stick to your usual morning and evening routines as much as possible.
- For shorter trips, you might be better off just staying on your home schedule
Thats it! What travel tips do you have? Let me know in the comments below!