We’ve all been there.
“Hey, I am on vacation, might as well start my day with some decadent stuffed waffles. Best burger joint in town? Sure, let’s hit it up for lunch. Please bring a side of ranch for my fries and a beer to wash it down.” Then a couple of hours later, walking through the city you are exploring you see some Authentic Gelato. “Yes, please. Give me a double scoop!” The day goes on and you pretty much indulge at every corner. You think, “I am on vacation. From work. From stress. From routine. From worrying about my nutrition intake.”
It’s common, but that doesn’t make it the best approach for us (though I’ll admit, it can feel like it in the moment!). This is often conditioned behavior learned from family vacation habits as a child or from binge eating that has happened on vacations in our past (especially after crash dieting for that vacation). In some cases, it’s simply a case of black and white thinking or lack of routine that causes a complete blow out leaving us to feel tired, miserable, and unmotivated when we return home.
The truth is, there is a very happy and enjoyable medium between stuffing your face at every meal with high-calorie foods devoid of adequate protein and vitamins AND feeling like you need to restrict and “diet” on vacation to stay on track.
Here are my top tips for strategizing your nutrition and your training while on vacation based on your current goals:
LET’S START WITH NUTRITION: SHOULD YOU TRACK YOUR FOOD/MACROS ON VACATION?
Do you have a big & specific body composition goal coming up in 10 weeks or less away?
- If yes, it may be necessary to track your nutrition in an app like MyFitnessPal and to be mindful of the food you’re eating at each meal. That doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in some treats, but they will need to be accounted for and you may have to have some boring meals like a protein shake or salad with chicken to fit it in.
- If no but you are working on a specific body composition goal on a timeline 10+ weeks away, you may consider bumping your calories up to your maintenance intake or slightly above by 200-300 calories per day and keep up with your tracking to ensure you don’t get too far from your baseline.
- If no, a few days or even ten days off of tracking your food in an app (while taking the general tips below into consideration) won’t impact your BIG picture progress. You might feel a little bloated when you get home, but a week or two back in your routine will make all the difference!
General Nutrition Tips to Vacation By:
- Stay hydrated. Get 90-150 oz of water daily
- Be mindful of protein intake. Try to get 20-30g per meal and at least 100 grams per day.
- Have a salad each day. It will make all the difference for your digestion and will give you the micros (vitamins) you need to keep your immune system strong and your body functioning at its best. Fruits and veggies of your choice will do, I just find salads a simple and generally accessible choice… plus, they can be a filling and low-calorie meal.
- You should definitely enjoy some treats and splurges, especially in a new culture, but every meal doesn’t need to be a YOLO high fat/high carb gut bomb. Prioritize the treats you really want and then move on while still mindfully building balance on your plate.
WHAT ABOUT TRAINING? SHOULD YOU DO STRUCTURED WORKOUTS ON VACATION?
As usual, the answer depends on you and your current goals! Here are some questions to help you gain clarity.
Do you have a big & specific goal coming up on a timeline?
- If yes, it will be necessary to train to stay on track for your goal (unless you’ve programmed a training unload). If this is the case, book hotels that have gyms or find gyms near your destination that you can drop in to so you can stay on track. The more specific your training needs (for example, if you’re 4-6 weeks out from a powerlifting meet), the more you’ll need to plan ahead to make sure that you can find a gym with the proper equipment. Otherwise, you can probably make due with even the simplest of hotel gyms.
- If no, a few days or even ten won’t impact your BIG picture progress. You might feel a little bloated when you get home, but a week or two back into your routine will take care of that as long as you don’t eat like a total asshole your whole trip.
Do you ENJOY exercise? Will doing so ADD to the enjoyment of your vacation?
- If yes, getting some training in will only make your trip that much better. Go for it!
- If no, don’t force it.
Will you be walking a lot, hiking, or staying generally active?
- If yes, you likely don’t “need” to workout as much as you perceive. I have had my highest step days when traveling and burned more calories than days I did some of my hardest training sessions. (According to my FitBit Charge 2 which I LOVE by the way!)
- If no, perhaps consciously getting some exercise would be best to level out your calories in and calories out.
So, let’s say you fall into group 1 or 2, but need some help with hotel workouts… This section is for you:
The truth is, wherever your travels take you, you may not have access to your usual equipment and gym setup. One of the reasons it’s hard to program for hotel training is you never know exactly what to expect from a facility and equipment standpoint. For this reason, it’s important to head into your trip with a flexible mindset and approach!
To eliminate some stress, I have taken some time to put together some framework for you to create your own effective hotel workouts, no matter what equipment you have at your fingertips should you want to lift weights on your trip!
Here are the things you will want to keep in mind as you navigate your training on the road:
Alternate Upper and Lower body workouts. Generally, barbells will not be available so you can use Dumbbells to do exercises like goblet squats, DB Deadlifts, DB Bench, etc. (Or you can do full-body workouts every other day)
Prioritize your main movement patterns at the beginning of your workout (Squats, Bench, Deadlift, Overhead Press) even if that means using dumbbells or cables to add resistance.
For your first 1-2 exercises keep reps in the lower range (6-10) and go as heavy as you can with equipment available.
Then complete 3-4 supersets in the 8-15 with exercises that you know for whichever day you are doing (for example: lower or upper). If you’re having a hard time coming up with exercises you can do supersets with ab or cardio exercises instead.
For example, you could do the following for Lower Body Day:
DB or KB Goblet Squat, 8
DB or KB Deadlift, 8
4 sets as a superset
Walking Lunge, 10 (each leg)
Bicycle Crunch, 15 (each side)
4 sets as a superset
DB or KB Romanian Deadlift, 10-12
Treadmill Sprint, 30 seconds
Bulgarian Split Squat, 10-12 each side
Plank, 30-60 seconds
So all I’ve done here is picked exercises assuming that there will at least be dumbbells, cardio equipment, and space for you to use your bodyweight at your hotel gym.
Trust yourself to be able to pick some exercises based on what’s there, and to put together a good workout!
And here’s an example for Upper Body Day:
DB Press, 8
Bent Over DB or KB Row, 8
DB Bench Press, 8
Plank, 60 seconds
DB Push Press, 8-10
Jumping Jacks, 30
Side Lateral Raises, 8-12
Bicep Curl, 8-12
As always, the magic is typically somewhere in the middle and it’s always worth zooming out to look at things from a big picture perspective versus giving SO MUCH stress and power to one weekend or trip.
No, I do not recommend having 3 doughnuts washed down with a white chocolate mocha for breakfast, nachos for lunch, Snickers and Doritos for a snack and a burger with a side of fries for dinner followed by dessert…but following a generally balanced nutrition plan with some splurges here and there, plenty of steps and adequate hydration can allow for a fun trip that leaves you feeling rested, recovered and motivated when you get home!