We all love to travel and enjoy all the amazing places and food this world has to offer. It is very common for travellers/nomads to “relax” a little too much and soon they start gaining weight, lose muscle strength and become pretty unhealthy in the process. The idea behind this post is to share some tips and tricks that have been very useful in my journey into fitness.
I will not bore you with my life story; all you need to know is that I was once overweight and that, today at the age of 32, I find myself in the best shape I have ever been in my life. It is my belief that, no matter what your age and circumstances, it’s never too late to make a few changes that can have a great impact on your overall fitness and wellbeing. Although my Psychedelic experiences had a lot to do with the changes that followed in my lifestyle, I will not be talking about it here; instead I will focus on the changes so you can replicate them. In the following photos you can see how these lifestyle changes worked out for me…
Note: this post is not about getting totally “ripped” (still working on that one). This post is about introducing you to a few strategies that will help you stay lean and strong while traveling, and throughout life in general.
The Basics: Calories In, Calories Out
It is important to understand some basic ideas in order to be in control of your fitness. Your body needs a certain number of calories in order to function normally in a rested state; this is called your basal metabolic rate.
Your basal metabolic rate + your activity level = maintenance calorie rate.
If you eat less than your maintenance calorie rate your body will have to use fat or muscle as fuel. So basically, if you are looking to maintain your current weight, all you have to do is to eat in the range of your maintenance calorie rate. If you want to lose weight you need to eat below it and if you want to gain weight (or muscle) you need to eat over it. In order not to gain any weight while traveling you have to eat between this range.
You can use this tool in order to estimate what your daily calorie needs are. Once you know this number you can use an app like MyfitnessPal to track your calories. I used this app for a few months until I had an idea of the amount of calories my favorite foods are made up of and now I calculate myself and keep tabs mentally.
Note: I took the liberty to scratch “extreme fat loss” as this is not sound advice in my opinion. Keep it healthy and sustainable.
Eating foreign dishes is not only very pleasurable but it’s also one of the best ways to get to know a new culture. The problem starts when you overeat. Here are few things you can do to avoid overeating while traveling.
First of all is important to state I am not promoting starvation diets. If you are eating less than the standardized recommended amount of calories for you (do your homework and check what this number is), you are starving yourself and are putting your life at risk.
What I mean with “calorie restriction” is that, on days you chose to eat calorie dense foods or big meals during the day, you can take it easy at night and have a plain dinner like some veggies or fruits. As long as you are between the range of your Basal Metabolic Rate + activity, you will not starve yourself nor will you gain weight.
Following the preview example (man 32, 1.69m and 2252 calories per day) such a day may look like this:
- 1 Waffle 375 calories
- 1 Coffee (1 sugar + whole milk) 60 calories
- 1 Orange juice (1cup ) 110 calories
- 1 Pastry (medialunas) 250 calories
- 1 Falafel with Humus and Tahini 890 calories
- 1 Soft drink 140 calories
- Local chocolate cake: 350 calories
- 1 Coffee (1 sugar = whole milk): 60 calories
Total: 2235 calories
This is just an exaggerated example to help you understand the math. It is not a dietary recommendation by any means. If you eat this way every day for a month, you may not gain any fat but you will feel pretty terrible and probably damage your health too. Usually the calorie counting game is much more subtle, especially once you are aware of the caloric weight of every food.
On a catastrophic day like this, you are going to be hungry for dinner because you’ve been spiking your blood sugar up and down all day. Instead of overloading yourself with more calories, just drink plenty of water and go to bed early. Hopefully you will make better dietary choices the next day.
If you are traveling with your better half or with a friend that shares your fitness goals, it is always a good idea to share a plate when eating out. In places like South America and the USA, portion sizes are so abundant that two people can usually get satisfied with one portion. If you feel like it is not enough you can always share a starter or a dessert afterwards.
Eating calorie dense foods (usually unhealthy) during the day and restricting at night, is not a sustainable approach to a healthy lifestyle. It is just a way not to gain weight when there are no other healthy choices, or you are unable to cook for yourself. Still, it is strongly recommended to stay at AIRBNBs or hostels with open kitchens, so you can cook for yourself. On these occasions you should eat as much veggies as possible, reduce animal products, fried foods and pastries, to compensate for the days you indulge in these foods.
While traveling by bus or plane we seem to lose control completely because sometimes there are no healthy options. It is always a good idea to pack some cooked veggies, fruits, nuts or any other health foods you prefer. It can be annoying to prepare beforehand, but you will feel better and it will make the trip easier on you.
It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, a strong and lean (muscular) body burns more calories, which will subsequently allow you to eat more on a daily basis. I am certainly not a buff, muscular dude but in the last 8 months, I’ve been working hard to build lean muscle and increase strength. While living a nomadic lifestyle you don’t always have the luxury of a gym to work out in a sustainable way (at least 3 times a week).
Calisthenics are body weight exercises you can perform everywhere. They can build muscle or keep you lean depending on the number of repetitions and the intensity of the workouts. These functional (practical?) exercises are safer than the gym machines and can spare you from problems like muscle imbalances and injuries.
I personally use the “homemade muscle” program which has been a life saver for me. Anthony Arvanitakis (the author) is not only a super cool guy with an amazing motivational story, but he is also a top notch trainer who knows what he is talking about. You can get his book on kindle for $5.99. The book includes some good dietary advice, the workouts, reps and progressions.
* Note: I am not affiliated with Anthony in any way, I refrained from using my amazon associate link here so you know the recommendation is genuine.
In an industry as corrupt as the fitness industry, where typical trainers use steroids to achieve superhuman results sell their “secrets workouts” and sketchy supplements for $69.99, Anthony is a voice of reason, urging us to go back to the basics. For women looking to increase fitness, I recommend Ashtanga yoga at least 3 times a week. You can use this video to get started if you don’t have a yoga studio at your disposal.
Tracking Your Steps is a Great Way to Become Aware of Your Activity Levels
Get a fitness tracker to track your workouts and steps; a 10.000 step daily goal goes a long way in helping you increase calorie expenditure. It is also widely accepted as a way to stay in good health and avoid chronic diseases and the cognitive decline that comes with age. You can buy a cheap tracker like this one or a mid-range tracker like this one. I am currently using Vivoactive with good results. Trackers will help you get a handle on your activity levels and also motivate you to improve your fitness.
Finding the time to do some cardio can be hard while traveling, but the good news is, you don’t need to do hours of jogging in order keep your weight stable or even lose some weight. High interval training has proven to be much better for these goals than regular jogging. It also takes much less time. The way I do it is, I just take every opportunity I have to sprint or do intensive exercise throughout my day. For instance, if we are in the city and I come across a big flight of stairs,I just climb them as hard and fast as I can, instead of taking the elevator or escalator. Or if I am at the beach, I will do some fast swimming intervals for around 15 minutes before going on with my day. One of these intervals a day also contributes to a caloric deficit and has an after burn effect as well. If you happen to have flatfoot make sure you use proper footwear, intervals, especially sprinting on the pavement can cause plantar fasciitis on people with flatfoot.
Stress has a detrimental effect on your general health and wellness, but it also has been shown to affect how we store fat in our bodies. Not knowing where you are going to wake up tomorrow, the possibility of dangers along the road, and days of being stuck in buses can make traveling quite stressful. A great way to keep the stress at bay is to start meditation practice. We plan to write about these spiritual matters in our new sections IndieSpirit, but to get started you can read this book or watch these videos. For me the best way to keep stress levels at a low, is to do yoga at least one time per week. My yoga practise usually includes meditation at the beginning and the end and the physical part of it improves my focus. You can always find a yoga studio in almost any city, or like me use the Darma Mitra beginners class.
This post is aimed at people who are looking to improve their general fitness and is based on my own personal experience. It is important to understand that we are all different and you may need to test several approaches to find what works best for you. It may be that you prefer to jog (I personally hate jogging) instead of doing intervals. At the end of the day the important thing is to keep active and clean up your diet as much as you can. Find your own way and leave a comment to tell us how you stay in shape while traveling.