I don’t know about you, but when I travel, my number one and two concerns are: 1) Where am I going to train, and 2) How am I going to not f*** up my diet? If you’re doing strength training and cutting weight in preparation for an upcoming meet, show, or competition, you’re probably nodding your head in agreement right now.
Strength athletes require a high level of certainty in their environment because of the discipline, equipment, and time commitment needed to be competitive. Travel is a big challenge for us because we have much less control in an unfamiliar environment than we do in our familiar home environments. For instance, if you’re a Strongman competitor, your gym at home probably has most if not all of the non-standard equipment you need for your program. When you travel, however, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be able to find things like Atlas stones or axle bars. What to do?
My mantra to stay on point with training & diet while traveling is simple, but not perfect: Control what you can control, but be prepared to adapt. Below, I dig into 7 tips that will help you embody this mantra and keep you on track while you’re away.
Tip 1: Bring non-perishable food with you.
Regardless of what diet you follow or whether you’re flying, driving, or unicycling to your destination, you should allocate some space in your travel bag for non-perishable food items. How much food you bring depends upon how many meals you want to supplement, whereas which food items you bring will depend upon the diet you’re following. Whether you follow RP, Keto, Vegan, Zone, Whole30, Paleo, Mediterranean, IIFYM, etc., you should have no problem finding compliant foods that travel well.
The picture I snapped below is a good example of non-perishable food prep I did for a 7-day trip. In this case, I wanted to have enough food to supplement my breakfast, lunch, & dinner for about 5 of the 7 days because I was volunteering at a seminar and knew that 1) food wasn’t provided, 2) the hours were long, & 3) there wouldn’t be many breaks. You’ll notice that I put a strong emphasis on bringing enough lean protein because I was (roughly) following the Renaissance Periodization nutrition protocol.
Pictured above, moving clockwise from top left:
- 1 x large bag of coconut flakes
- 4 x bags of turkey jerky
- 7 x packets of chicken-of-the-sea-salmon
- 7 x individual servings of casein protein powder (in plastic bags)
- 1 x bag of rice cakes
- 1 x container of instant coffee
- 1 x container of whey protein
- 1 x large bag of single serving raw almonds
- 8 x quest bars
- 12 x single packets of powdered wheat grass (Powdered greens are awesome if you’ll have limited access to fresh veggies)
Upon arrival, I also purchase fresh foods like:
- 5 x apples
- 1 x large container of cherry tomatoes
- 3 x avocados
Tip 2: Commit to NOT eating or buying anything in the airport or on the road.
This one is pretty black and white. With few exceptions (like water, gum, coffee), just don’t do it. It’s no surprise that there are sub-optimal food choices in places like airports, gas stations and hotels. If you’re hungry in transit, reach into your bag, pull out some jerky & almonds and call it a day!
Tip 3: Get in contact with local gyms before you get there.
If you are going to need specialized equipment, it may behoove you to do some research about the gyms that are located in the city you’re traveling to. If you do this early enough, you may be actually be able to select your accommodations based on the gym that best fits your needs.
For example, I traveled to Orlando on a week-long business trip back in 2014 when I was in the middle of a training cycle for a Weightlifting meet. A few weeks before I left, I did a Google search for “CrossFit Gyms Orlando” and CrossFit MouseTrap was one of the top results that came up. So, I reached out to the owner, explained my situation, and asked if I could swing by during open gym to do my Weightlifting workouts. He appreciated the heads up and was great about it. With this knowledge, I picked a hotel that was right across the street from CF MouseTrap. I had no trouble getting all of my workouts in during this trip, despite a packed schedule.
However you go about your local gym research is fine, but methods that have worked for me include: 1) the powerful, almighty search engine (e.g., Google search for “CrossFit Gyms Orlando”), 2) referrals from my Coach, and 3) referrals from a Facebook post. Get creative and go make a plan.
Tip 4: Bring basic gym equipment with you.
I never travel anywhere without my pink lacrosse ball, a skinny resistance band, a jump rope, and furniture sliders. They are small items that can just be shoved into my purse and carried with me at all times. I take comfort in knowing that I always have a workout in my bag. (By the way, if you’ve never used furniture sliders before, you’re missing out some pretty sadistic core and leg work.) If I have the space in another bag, I will pack my specialty shoes and gymnastics rings as well.
Tip 5: Stay active during long periods of airplane transit.
If you have trouble sitting still for more than 20 minutes, this tip will be a game-changer for you and is especially valuable when you’re in recovery mode from a hard workout. Even if you have a high threshold for long periods of inactivity, plane rides are tough because seating is cramped and there’s nowhere to go. As we know, healthy circulation facilitates muscular repair. Sitting for a long time limits blood flow and slows the recovery process. (Nothing Earth-shattering, I know.) With these challenges in mind, I put together a short, airplane-friendly circuit with the purpose of increasing blood flow:
- 10 x Jefferson curls (do these in the front where snacks are stored)
- 50 x air squats in the bathroom (face the toilet to get full depth)
- 30 second x seated core activation
- 1 min / side x seated hamstring & glute massage using lacrosse ball
During a recent flight, I got up 3 times over 6 hours to try it out and was very pleased with how much more comfortable I felt. I had almost no symptoms of restlessness, my hands and toes were warmer, and I am confident that these efforts minimized the impact of travel on my body.
Tip 6: Be resourceful.
Sometimes, no matter how much you prepare, you just won’t have access to the food or equipment you want. Learning how to be resourceful will help you succeed in spite of a lack of resources no matter where you are. Here are a few great examples:
Don’t have Atlas stones? Strongman competitor Brittany Diamond takes resourcefulness to the next level with some big pumpkins. I. LOVE. THIS.
No access to weights? Try rocks! I used this trick when I traveled to the island of Bonaire last year and didn’t have access to any equipment.
Can’t get to a gym? Be a total badass like Mattie Rogers and just lift outside on the cold, dark, pavement.
Tip 7: Master your mindset.
In order to be resourceful, it helps to be in the right state of mind. Why? Because your state of mind (what you focus on) has a direct impact on the actions you take, which determine your outcomes, which in turn, influence your perceptions and state of mind. Simply said: Your actions and outcomes will almost always mirror your mindset. If your mindset is negative, fearful, or rigid, you will not make the best decisions and you will struggle to adapt to unpredictable circumstances.
Let me give you a funny personal example of how a negative mindset can influence action and outcome. I traveled to Colorado a couple of years ago on a family vacation. Thinking back, my mindset on this trip was “If I can’t execute my plan for training & diet perfectly, I am a failure.” I made a horrible decision to venture outside during a big snowstorm to find a gym. Unfortunately, I got stuck in my rental car for over two hours and never made it there. I spent the rest of the trip feeling pissed off because I failed to complete my heavy squat day (outcome). Had I approached the same situation with a more flexible mindset, I probably would have found some way to get in a leg workout while avoiding the pain of getting stuck in the snow.
Example mindsets that will decrease your probability for success:
- My training and my diet are going to be completely ruined by this trip
- If I can’t execute my training & diet plan perfectly, I will have failed
- If I can’t control everything, there’s no point in trying
Example mindsets that will increase your probability for success:
- I accept that I can’t control everything, but I will execute my plan to the best of my ability
- I will remain flexible and be resourceful if I encounter a situation I can’t control
- I will view unexpected challenges as an opportunity to grow, even if I fail
Today, I approach my travel with the latter, more supportive example mindsets. This helps me embrace the mantra “control what you can control, but be prepared to adapt.” As a result, the integrity of my training & diet when I travel suffers very little, and I can enjoy myself much more. I wish the same for you, and while I realize that these tips are not all-inclusive, I hope you’ve picked up a thing or two here that you can try the next time you travel.