Believe it or not, our main goal here at Stronger U is not solely to help you lose fat or build muscle. No, our main goal here is to help teach you what you need to know about nutrition in order to live your life how you want it, as lean as you want it, forever. Not 12 weeks, 6 months, a year, or however long you’re working with a coach for. Fat loss, building muscle, and looking better is just a byproduct of that.
In my time here at Stronger U over the last year, one thing has become even clearer to me: The fitness industry is still very broken when it comes to getting people good, quality, and in most cases, correct info when it comes to nutrition.
One of the largest problems with diets and nutrition plans out there is they’re only about as good for as long as the “program” is – sometimes not even that long if they make you so miserable you can’t stick to them.
This is why the coaches here are not just focused on getting you the best results possible for the next 12 weeks. That is one focus, but what good is that once you go out on your own, you undo all your progress in less than half the time it took you to make that progress in the first place?
We’re focused on getting you results for the rest of your life; to teach you what you need to know to be successful through all of what life throws at you. This is also one of the chief reasons why we don’t provide meal plans – they don’t teach you anything about how to eat for the results you want AND live your life.
And living your life is key. A good nutrition or training plan should complement your life; not control it. It should allow you to enjoy the fun and exciting things that life throws at you. And I know for me – hopefully you too – one of those fun and exciting things is vacations and traveling.
In my opinion, traveling – be it with friends or family or just by yourself – can be one of the most memorable, rewarding, and exciting experiences of your life. But if you’re stressing out because you’re worried you’re not going to hit your protein goal, or how much oil is being used to cook your veggies, well, you’re probably not going to enjoy the experience as much as you could or would like.
This is why I put together this guide; because many people struggle and stress out about traveling and vacations; while also being able to stick to their plan and hit their goals.
So, if you want to learn how to blend your travels and nutrition as best as possible, while still keeping yourself as on track as possible, read on to learn how to – as I like to say – not eat like an A-hole on vacation.
Set Expectations Up Front
This one is important. Too often I see people’s unrealistic expectations about what progress they think they should see set them up for stress and frustration.
Know that if you’re traveling for an extended period of time, continuing to make the same progress that you’ve been making at home is going to be tough. Not impossible, but tough. And the reason being that there are so many things working against you.
You may not have complete control over how your food is cooked, or even what’s being served. You may not have complete control over your schedule. You’ll likely drink less water. We tend to get more dehydrated and inflamed when we travel, leading to an increase in water retention and a jump on the scale.
There are likely foods you don’t get at home that you may want to enjoy.
Now, I’m not listing these as reasons why you should throw in the towel and just write a vacation off as an automatic 5-10 pound gain on the scale. You can absolutely come back at the same weight or even lower (and I’ll talk more about that below). I’ve had clients do it.
Nope. I’m sharing this with you so you know what to expect upfront; so you can program your mind to know that a bump in the road may be coming.
Control the things you can control
The biggest reason we struggle on vacation comes down to the lack of control. When we’re at home, we can pretty much control everything about our nutrition most of the time: meal prep, plan our days because we know what we’re going to have or where we’re going, have our snacks and veggies readily accessible, cook things how we want them cooked…the list goes on and on. Once we get into the groove with our plan, we set ourselves up for success.
However, when traveling, a lot of that control goes out the window. We’re thrust into situations where we can’t control what or how things are cooked, where we’re eating, or what’s available to us.
This is where the difference maker becomes not trying to control the things that are out of our control, but rather, focusing on controlling things that are within our control. And this will be different depending on the situation you find yourself in.
- It could be packing high-protein snacks to help make sure you’re getting enough.
- It could be looking at restaurant menus ahead of time, and planning the rest of your day around that.
- It could be making special requests when eating out, or packing your own food for events.
- Or sometimes, depending on where you’re at with your goals, and what you want to achieve it could mean taking your scale or measuring tools to restaurants, abstaining from eating until you get back to your hotel, or ordering off-menu.
The point is, there are always things you can control. It may not be everything you want, but worrying about things outside your control does not make you able to control them any better. Focus on what you can.
And remember, if all else fails, you can always control what food you put in your mouth.
To quote the best quarterback in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers, “R-E-L-A-X. Relax.”
Look, I get it. You want to nail your nutrition. You want to stay on plan 100% of the time. That’s great. I love the enthusiasm. But the reality is, it’s not going to happen. Life is going to get in the way. Things are going to come up. And when you’re traveling or on vacation, there are simply too many unknowns to be to control them all.
And guess what? Worrying or freaking out about them, is not going to make you be able to control them any more than you already can.
Whether your trip is one day, three days, or a week…it certainly isn’t long enough for you to undo your progress. You did not get out of shape in a day or weekend or week. You’re not going to undo all your progress in that time either. And, if you follow the tips outlined below, I guarantee everything will be fine. Or your money back. From Mike, not from me.
8 Tips For Nutritional Domination While on Vacation and Traveling
1. Plan Ahead.
Did you really think anything else would be first on the list? Seriously, us coaches stress this over and over…and over again for a reason. It works. Taking the time to plan ahead greatly reduces the likelihood of going off plan because you don’t have to make choices on the fly, which causes decision fatigue and drains your willpower.
Now, this may mean if you’re with other people, you have to take charge and make some decisions. Or at least be the one to initiate the decision-making process. But trust me, your future self will thank you when you’re able to stay on plan and come home on track.
2. Look at menus ahead of time.
In today’s world, there are very few restaurants that don’t have their menu on their website or Facebook page. Decide what you’re going to have, log it (if they don’t list serving size amounts, go with standard portion sizes: 4o z for protein, 2 oz for carbs, 1 oz for fat), and plan the rest of your day around that.
3. Bank Calories.
If for some reason a restaurant doesn’t have its menu listed, or you don’t know where you’re going or what’s being served, your best option is to bank as many calories – specifically carbs and fat – for the meal as you can.
Most meals out aren’t going to be high in protein, so you want to fill up on that and veggies during the day, and at the meal, make the best choices you can based on what’s being served, and what you have left to eat for the day. It may not be ideal, but by banking calories, you’re greatly reducing the risk of any real damage being done. And it’s just one meal, after all.
Now, some people worry about not being able to track accurately when out to eat. And here, you really have two options:
You can bring your scale. And I can hear a few of you already: “Won’t people think I’m weird.” Maybe. I don’t know. But let me ask: What does that matter? Seriously, who cares? You are doing it for you, not them. That is the attitude you need to adopt.
If you don’t want to, or can’t, bring your scale for some reason, the next best thing is to estimate portion sizes using your hands:
- Protein: 1 fist-sized portion = ~4 oz
- Carbs: 1 palm-sized portion = ~2 oz
- Fat: 1 thumb-sized portion = ~1 oz
Are these exact? No. But they’re close enough to help keep you on track.
4. Order What You Want.
This is another one people have a hard time with that honesty, you just have to get past. It’s the same as bringing your scale. Just order the protein you want, with a side of veggies, or starch if you’re training, request it not be cooked in oil, and you’re golden.
Or, customize what you want. Want a salad? Get dressing on the side. Burger? Maybe hold the cheese or bun. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, how you want it.
5. Intermittent Fasting (IF).
IF is a great tool to use while traveling because it restricts the time you spend eating, which will allow you to bank more calories for later in the day when bigger meals or get-togethers tend to occur. Simply don’t eat upon waking until at least lunchtime. Have a small meal or snack of protein and veggies, and then save the rest of your calories for later.
Using IF will greatly reduce the chance of going way over your calorie limit for the day by giving you the maximum amount of calories to work with when you need them.
6. Pack/Buy Snacks.
Protein is pretty hard to come by on the road because most restaurants/hotels/wherever you are don’t have protein readily available. So the best thing you can do is either pack your own high-protein snacks, like protein powder, bars, beef jerky, canned/packaged tuna, or chicken or go to the store once you get where you’re going (hint: this is also cheaper than eating out every meal).
Along these same lines, when booking your place to stay, try and request a room with a fridge or microwave. This will give you a lot more options for having food on hand in your room, and most places will accommodate; especially if you tell them it’s for dietary purposes.
7. Follow the 80/20 rule.
At the end of the day, if you’re on vacation, I still want you to enjoy yourself, try foods you may not be able to get back home, experience world-class cuisine, and relax. And the best way to do this is to follow the 80/20 rule where 80% of your food should come from lean proteins, veggies, and maybe a starch, and the other 20% can come from foods that, well, aren’t those.
Essentially, this works out to an indulgent meal, one out of every five. And especially if you’re utilizing all the other tips above, this one meal will barely register as a blip on your nutritional radar.
8. Don’t be an A-hole.
I don’t really need to explain this one because I think everyone knows what this looks like; we’ve all been one before. Whether you’re downing red velvet pancakes and omelets at an Austin iHop at three in the morning, decided it was okay to be the drunkest person at your company retreat, or think the all-you-can-eat cruise buffet is a challenge, not a suggestion; each of us has had our moment in the nutritional A-hole sun.
Is it fun at the time? Sure. Does anyone ever wake up the next day, proud of themselves that they ordered every dessert on the menu? No.
Enjoy yourself; within reason. Eat like an adult. Not an out-of-control child.
If you’re looking for a way to eat all the food you want while traveling, not have to worry about nutrition, and still come back having lost weight, sorry, that guide doesn’t exist. You can certainly do that. I won’t fault you for it. I have. But there is a tradeoff or you’re probably going to come back 3, 4, 10 pounds heavier.
However, if you have travel or vacation on the horizon, and want to keep progress moving in the right direction – or just survive with your progress intact, the tips and methods above are essential for doing just that. And like anything, it takes a bit of practice. But also like anything, the more often you practice it, and the more diligent you are, the better you will be in the long run; both in terms of your results, and in making a sound nutrition plan a part of your lifestyle.