How to Stay on Top of Your Health Game When You’re (Always) Traveling

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Photo: Courtesy of Tom Barrett

Whether you travel regularly for work or if you simply enjoy going on holiday a lot – the UAE is a spectacular hub for discovering the world – having that shift from your normal routine can be great for the soul. However, it does also tend to wreak havoc on our healthy lifestyles, whether because of changes to our sleep patterns and dietary choices, the distance from our regular workout locations, or a number of factors that will have a negative effect on our health and fitness progress. But that needn’t be the case. Goodness turned to Sam Woolacott, a Close Protection Officer and Personal Trainer for VIP clients, who typically spends three weeks out of each month traveling across different time zones – a time during which he needs to maintain his strength and energy in order to perform in his job – for his top tips.

Prioritize Sleep

One of the biggest things that can throw our healthy habits out of whack is the fact that travelling typically messes up our sleeping patterns. Whether you’re flying during the day or at night, it can be exhausting, and the lower oxygen levels, drier air, cabin pressure, ceaseless white noise, and extreme temperature changes are to thank for that. Don’t even get us started on the potential for noise interruptions from other passengers, being woken up every time a food, drink or Duty Free trolley is rolled down the aisle, the perpetual announcements, or needing to move so that others can stretch their legs and use the restroom. Is it any wonder we are always more mentally, emotionally, and physically spent after a flight?

That’s why getting in some quality rest is so important. Even if you’re on a night flight and one of the rare few people blessed with the ability to sleep well on planes, your body still won’t be as rested as it would be if you had slept properly on land. “When you travel, you’re typically missing the main portion of deep, quality sleep, which throws your circadian rhythms off balance,” Woolacott explains. “Many people who are trying to remain dedicated to their fitness regimes often try to hit the hotel gym as soon as they land, when in fact they’re probably better off getting some solid rest. Very often, when you’re that tired, quality sleep should come before training, otherwise you won’t put in the effort required to make the workout truly effective anyway. I always recommend getting in a solid nap first if it’s during the day, or sleeping as soundly as you can if you arrive at night, and then just committing yourself to working out hard the next day. I also tend to schedule in a very tough workout the day before a trip, as I’ll have adequate recovery and sleep time before my next workout.”

Earplugs, eye masks, comfy airplane slippers or socks, and making sure you’re warm enough are all ways to help ensure that you do get as much decent sleep as possible, even when cramped in a tiny airplane seat.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

One of the other things to consider when flying is your hydration level. Sure, we know that drinking enough water on a flight will help our skin look less dry so that we appear less tired upon arrival, but we forget that our body needs it to function properly. Woolacott also recommends drinking enough water in the days before your flight so you’re already boarding well hydrated, then taking a big bottle of water with you to sip on throughout the flight. “If you’re not allowed to take a full one, take an empty bottle on board with you then ask the cabin crew to fill it up with water. I’ve found that they’re usually happy to do so and friendly about it, and it works much better than trying to remember to ask them to provide you with a tiny airplane cup of water every few hours,” he says. Consider adding some hydration tablets to your water or drinking something that contains electrolytes to ensure more rapid rehydration, such as coconut water.

Find a Balance

Who doesn’t love a hotel breakfast buffet? Yes, they’re awesome, but they can also be a disaster for anyone trying to live a healthier life. The problem here, Woolacott explains, is that we have a tendency to overeat at buffets in general. There are so many delicious choices on offer that we will cross a line and continue eating way past full simply because of the reward signals our brain is receiving. “I often skip breakfast since that works for me personally, but if I am going to eat at a breakfast buffet, then I usually tend to have a one-plate policy. I try to get a little bit of everything so I’m not going overboard with any one item. Balance is key,” he shares.

While skipping breakfast and having an early, big lunch and a hearty dinner out with companions may work for some, it doesn’t for others. Personally, I like to have a big breakfast at the buffet – because I tend to wake up later in the morning when I’m on holiday and either don’t get hungry for lunch or don’t have time to stop during afternoon sightseeing activities – and then a great dinner later on at night.

The departure from your normal eating habits and routine means that you need to pay extra close attention to your macronutrients. Are you getting in enough protein, good fats, and carbohydrates? What is “enough” will differ from person to person, but try to stick to what you normally have at home.

That being said, part of a healthy lifestyle is a healthy attitude, and enjoying the foods that we like on holiday is important as well. Give yourself the permission to be more flexible and look at your intake across the whole week as opposed to on a day-to-day basis. “If you feel that you’ve over-indulged one day, that’s okay. It’s only one day and, if you truly enjoyed it, then allow yourself that,” Woolacott advises. Instead of kicking yourself, make it a point to pick a few lighter choices the next day to balance this out. If you’re starting from scratch and aren’t sure what eating habits work best for you, it’s recommended to get in touch with an expert, who would then be able to guide you.

Just Keep Moving

When traveling, don’t stress out about following the same workout schedule you would at home. What matters it to keep moving. “Even if you only have 20 minutes to exercise, you can make use of this. Just make sure you’ve ramped up the intensity if it’s a super-fast workout,” Woolacott says. And don’t be afraid to get creative; even if your hotel doesn’t have a gym, as long as you can find a space that fits an exercise mat, you can work out anywhere from your hotel room to a public park (no actual exercise mat required, either).

If you don’t have access to a gym or any equipment, there are four basic moves that Woolacott recommends as a baseline for any solid bodyweight workout: push-ups, burpees, squats, and sit-ups. “You can vary these in so many ways in terms of structure that you don’t have to get bored of doing them in the same order or sequence – and they can be done anywhere, anytime, using no equipment and will still hit all of your main muscle groups. You can also easily vary these combinations and their intensity to work for whatever fitness level you’re at,” he explains. You can build upon this with more body-weight moves. If you’ve got a bench at an ideal height, add in some tricep dips, for instance.

If you are able to travel with equipment, pack some compact tools to increase the effectiveness of your workouts. Woolacott personally always carries a skipping rope for simple yet effective cardio, lifting straps, resistance bands, and a myofascial release ball and travel-sized foam roller for more efficient recovery so that he can hit the ground running easily the next day. If hitting the gym while travelling still doesn’t appeal to you, remember that the key is to stay active, whatever form that may take, whether it’s touring a city by foot or adding a hike or watersports to your schedule.

Plan in Advance

If you’re travelling for work, you’ll have much more of a routine, which means it’s easier to plan in workouts and structure your days. However, you’ll also have less flexibility in terms of where you’ll be able to eat. In those cases, don’t be afraid to ask for modifications. “If I’m trying to keep things lighter in a restaurant, I’ll often ask to swap out French fries for a boiled or baked potato instead,” Woolacott shares.

If you’re on holiday, the lack of structure will make it harder to ensure a set workout routine each day, but you’ll also have the freedom to choose to incorporate more physical activities into your itinerary and to dine at restaurants that are better suited to your tastes and needs. Whatever the case, planning in advance always helps, whether that’s making sure that your hotel offers exercise facilities (or if there’s a handy park nearby), knowing what dining options are available near you, scheduling sightseeing or other enjoyable activities that will require physical effort, or even being strategic about your transport options and various routes so that you can maximize your daily movement as you get around town. Bonus: If you’ve spent just a little bit of time researching these things before a trip, you’ll be jetting off with greater peace of mind when it comes to sticking to your health and fitness goals while you’re away, which will also make it easier for you to relax and enjoy your trip. Which is, of course, just as important as the rest. Bon voyage!

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