Staying in shape whilst traveling – Preparation
I’ve done a bit of traveling recently, leaving my home island of Guernsey (small island between England and France.. legit its really there!) in July of 2015, traveling all over China for 1 month, Asia for 2 months then flying onto New Zealand where I currently reside for another few months, more travels were planned before settling down in NZ but due to a significant injury I had to leave, this will be covered in a later blog.
This is the second blog in a series on staying in shape whilst traveling, check out (insert first blog) before you get started here.
I had a great plan when leaving home, get in the best shape of my life and then stay that way whilst traveling! Sounds too good to be true and it was! I read countless blogs and watched dozens of YouTube videos before leaving for ideas to stay in shape or knowledge from others who have actually done it, but these were all very unrealistic. You can see for yourself if you do a quick search, you have fitness models suggesting;
“Pack your backpack full of protein bars and healthy meals”
This could be a possibility for short-term holidays or trips but we are talking about travel, being in the same place for no more than a couple weeks, maybe days, possibly hours! before moving on.
It’s unrealistic and outright boring for long term travel, you travel to experience new cultures which evolves trying local delicacy’s, and some not so delightful local “treats” like eating scorpions, snakes and starfish in China, along with parts of animals which you don’t normally see for sale in your local butcher… for the record this in no way makes you less of a man…
I’ve experienced a lot of new dishes that I never would’ve had the pleasure of trying at home which Is part of the whole experience.
Or you get bloggers simply suggesting;
“Walk everywhere and eat sensibly”
Which you need not hear, you know this, move and eat well, nothing ground breaking or significant.
I spoke to friends who traveled before me that had mixed experiences with their body compositions, some having put on weight at quite a fast pace and others loosing weight. Those experiencing weight gain putting on body fat and those loosing weight noticeably from muscle along with body fat. It all comes down to energy balance.
You need to know that nothing changes physically when you travel, your body doesn’t know where you are, it only knows your how much energy (calories) you absorb and how much energy you exert. So if you simply hope for the best without taking this into account then you won’t get far, it’s a sad truth, which we all must remember.
Calories taken in > calories burnt = weight gain
Calories burnt > Calories taken in = weight loss
That’s science and its not going to change anytime soon!
How many calories you can consume without putting on weight will depend on your metabolism e.g.
If my TDEE, Total Daily Energy Expenditure = 3000 calories
And I consume 3500 calories (500 over my TDEE)
I will start to put on weight, if I’m not resistance training hard then this will appear on my body as fat rather than muscle.
On the other hand if I were to consume 2500 calories (500 under my TDEE)
I will start to loose weight, again weather or not I’m resistance training hard will factor in what happens to my body composition. A lack of muscle stimulation through training would see a loss in muscle and fat, if training hard the muscle loss could be spared and a higher amount of fat lost.
If you don’t use it you loose it
Hopefully this all makes sense and might be common knowledge to some of you, it cannot be forgotten or ignored, energy balance is rule number 1 when it comes to gaining / loosing weight.
Where I went wrong and others continue to go wrong
A couple months before I left home I was in the best shape of my life, or at least that is how it appeared on the outside. I had been on a strict 12 week cutting phase and had planned to stay this lean until leaving to travel, but it didn’t work out that way, after reaching my goal I slipped up and had a couple of days over consuming food and drink, a good friend was leaving to travel long term on the Saturday night then the following Sunday being my sisters birthday, both good causes for celebration.
I thought it wouldn’t affect my plans but after putting on 10lbs in 3 days it really did! Topping that off was a significant back injury a couple weeks later to really put a hold on any plans I had to leave in great shape. I was now appearing visibly softer and had put myself a few large steps back from my goal. I did leave in good shape even with this setback but it could of all been mostly avoided completely.
I blame alcohol with its ability to make light of situations and my grandmother’s cake for being so damn good… Dammit Gran!
Throughout dieting I had tracked my progress, decreasing calorie intake and increasing calorie expenditure as time went on to ensure consistent results:
Starting at around 3000 calories a day with 20 minutes cardio + weights 4 x per week
Finishing my cut at around 2000 calories a day with 45 minutes cardio + weights 4 x per week
This worked great but I had decreased my metabolic rate, the sudden influx of calories I consumed over the next couple of days showed up as fat gain real fast!
In hindsight I should have been more aware of my actions which could of prevented any weight gain, but after 12 weeks of dieting I thought a few days wouldn’t make a huge difference.
This is what I see before others travel, on possibly an even worse scale!
Lets have an example; we will call our potential traveler Jon.
Jon wants to leave home in great shape, traveling is coming up in a couple months so he cuts his food intake and start hitting the gym hard, really cutting weight fast and feeling good.
Jon isn’t tracking calories as feels it isn’t necessary, simply do more and eat less he says! And its working, confidence is up and he’s ready to go strut the beaches of Thailand. He jets off feeling good about the progress made.
Now what he doesn’t know is he’s managed to slow his metabolism to lower than the beginning of the diet phase, this is setting up a solid foundation for a quick weight gain to the same place he started or even heavier! Leaving him worse off…
JON! You had one job Jon! *Face palm
A few weeks pass of eating out, socializing with new friends at bars and the weight has creped back, not good for confidence and deeming the hard work he put in wasted.
A lot of us have seen this and experienced it, the term being
How to prepare for traveling: Reverse dieting
PPPPP (Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance)
The Key is to set your body up before traveling, not just by loosing body fat but by building your metabolism back up slowly to allow more calories to be consumed without the sudden appearance of a gut!
This is called REVERSE DIETING
Reverse diet example
When I was down to 2000 calories a day doing 45 minutes of cardio + weights 4 x per week, one example of how the next couple of months could of gone is this:
Add 200 calories and drop cardio slightly
Track weekly gains in weight and strength along with weekly pictures looking for no weight gain or under 1lb gain per week
Should there be less than 1lb gained add another 200-250 calories and continue the process, dropping cardio back to a comfortable time.
Continue this process looking to restore metabolism to the 3000 calorie level held before dieting, or even higher, while adding little to no body fat, leaving me with a strong metabolism and in a leaner state than before.
NOTE: This is much easier under the guidance of a coach, it can be very daunting to start eating more after achieving the body you spent so long dieting to achieve, fears of putting on fat may appear, having someone in your corner for accountability is game changing.
You can build your metabolism back to a good maintenance level through reverse dieting, giving you much more room to enjoy yourself whilst abroad, done correctly you should still be lean but now have the ability to eat more and enjoy yourself! As what else did you want to travel for??
I understand some people may travel with training as a number 1 goal, kick boxing in Thailand, Kung Fu in china, maybe going to muscle beach in Venice California. This still relates, for all individuals a period of reverse dieting to increase metabolism is highly advised.
Eat as much as possible while maintaining body composition
This is a good rule for living with as much energy as possible! Don’t cheat yourself by denying your body energy.
If you can eat more, eat more!
If you are planning to travel then take this in and make a plan for the upcoming months, set yourself up for a win before you even leave home, done correctly the next steps of keeping in shape whilst traveling should prove much easier.