How To Stay Fit While Traveling For Work – The Complete Guide

How To Stay Fit While Traveling For Work

This is an article from Karen Broda, Bikini Pro Athlete, aerial arts enthusiast, avid world traveler, and member of the Travel Strong team.

I remember my first business trip, staying in a hotel for 12 days complete with catered lunches, breakfasts and restaurants for supper. Eating-out for a day or 2 can be fun, but 12 days of it? That can be a recipe for weight gain and just feeling, well, crappy.

This business trip was effectively the first day of my new corporate career, so wanting to fit in, I followed suit eating the ‘not-so-healthy’ catered meals. Even though I was able to keep up with my workouts (thanks to a great on-site gym), I couldn’t out-exercise the combination of unhealthy eating, sitting in business meetings all day, and evenings out.

By day 3 I couldn’t do it anymore! I was tired, bloated, and grumpy.

On my quest to feel good again, I began buying my own lunch at nearby salad bars and bought groceries for my breakfasts and suppers. I left early from the evening dinners and drinks and made sure I slept well each night.

Just these small changes did wonders for mood and energy.

And so I vowed from then on to always make my health a priority. Since then, no matter how hectic a trip has been, I’ve always found a way to stay fit while traveling for work.

Below are my best tips and strategies to help you do the same, so grab your phone, tablet, or laptop, and relax back into that airplane seat…

Before Your Trip

Staying Fit While Traveling for Business
If you want to come home feeling like you didn’t gain 5lbs or need to go on a green tea detox, you’ll need to do a few minutes of planning before you head out.

I know you’re busy but, trust me, these few minutes are worth it.

Leave with a plan! (The most important tip of this entire post)

Write down (or at the very least consider) how you can make healthy choices on your trip. Think about things like:

  • when you’ll have chance to fit in exercise,
  • what types of workouts you could do,
  • what dishes you could order at restaurants, etc.

It doesn’t need to be too specific but by spending 10 minutes writing this down you’re setting an intention for your trip. Don’t believe me? Ever enter a grocery store hungry and without a shopping list, and end up walking out with a frozen pizza and some overly-sweet ‘bakery item’? Exactly.

So write your business trip ‘shopping list’, if you will.

Optimize your accommodation choice

Nowadays you can stay at house-like accommodations like AirBnb. And staying at a fully furnished house or suite is going to make staying fit and healthy that much easier. Here are some of the main things you’ll want to consider for your accommodation:

Amenities:

If you can find a place that has a great on-site gym, an in-room microwave and fridge, and a really comfortable bed you’re off to a strong start!

But if not then…

Location, location, location!

  • Gym: Very rarely have I seen decent hotel gyms, so try to choose a hotel that is walking distance to a gym. A 30-second Google map search will reveal what’s nearby.
  • Park: If there are no gyms my ‘plan B’ is to look for the nearest park. After sitting inside all day in meetings all I want to do is get outside for fresh air and to stretch my legs (yes, even in winter an outdoor workout is possible and can be wonderful!) So open Google maps and look for a nearby ‘chunk of green’. The larger green space the more likely it will be a decent park to work-out in (bonus points if there’s a playground).
  • Grocery store: While you have Google Maps open, check how far the nearest grocery store is. A grocery store gives you countless healthy food options to quickly ‘grab and go’ (fresh fruits and veggies anyone?).

“But I have no control over where I stay!”

I figured you might say that.

If that’s the case find out where you’ll be staying and prepare your fitness plan of attack. Spend 10 mins researching the above items; closest gym or park, nearby running routes, health-focused amenities at the hotel, nearby grocery store. So when you arrive you’ll already have a good idea of how you’re going to stay fit and feel great during you trip.

Packing

Stay Fit While Traveling
Business trips usually mean limited room in your suitcase, so filling it with workout gear may be at the bottom of your packing list. But there are a few essentials that take up just a tiny bit of room while providing countless uses to keep you on your fitness game:

Workout gear

This may be an obvious item but surprisingly most people don’t (or ‘forget’) to pack this. Keep it simple, t-shirt and shorts.

Running shoes (or some type of shoe you can exercise in)

For me, if I’m doing hotel room workouts I’m barefooted. But for a gym you may want something for your feet.

Resistance band

Notice this says ‘band’ and not ‘bands’. Resistance bands can take up space so just bring 1 band that can serve you multiple purposes. My absolute favourite that I always pack is a looped monster band. You can use it like any resistance band, but since it’s looped and stronger it can be used for assisted pull-ups or pull-downs (loop it over a piece of playground equipment, a tree branch, or even the top of a door). These types of bands are also perfect for mobility work.

Mobility Tools

If you’re new to mobility, think of it as quick, effective stretching that allows you to move properly again. In addition to the resistance band, another must-pack for me are 1-2 lacrosse (or tennis) balls. Again these are multi-purpose and take up little room (yes, you may just catch me with them in my purse!).

Long day of sitting on a plane? Roll out your hips and glutes on a lacrosse ball. Walked a lot? Roll out the bottoms of your feet. Better yet, put 2 into a sock together and you have a mini ‘foam’ roller (great for getting the knots out of your back).

Snacks

You may be at the mercy of someone else’s schedule while travelling so I always pack a few non-perishable snacks that act as my ‘healthy food insurance policy’. Muesli/oats, nuts, fruit, carrots, protein bars, can of tuna, Epic Bars, or whatever else you like, as long as it can easily be tossed into your bag.

Tupperware

If I have room, I usually bring a Tupperware container. Often I’ll buy food from a grocery store and wish I had a container to use as a ‘bowl’ or to tote food with me. It also makes a great ‘shaker cup’ if you’re a protein-shake drinker.

Leave it with the hotel concierge

If you stay at the same hotel often they’ll let you store a bag with the concierge. So pack all your exercise gear once and just leave it at the hotel (but don’t forget to use it!).

Traveling

jet lag
The actual traveling part of any trip can wreak havoc on your body, whether you’re cramped into a vehicle for multiple hours or breathing in recycled air as you’re sitting in an (also cramped) airplane seat. Luckily there are some simple tricks you can incorporate into your trip so you don’t arrive feeling like a knotted pretzel.

Air Travel

Workout: Save the actual ‘flying time’ to do work and squeeze in some exercise as you wait in the terminal. Airports are huge so you can easily find a quiet corner to do a quick bodyweight workout. Airport chairs are great for incline/decline pushups, Bulgarian split squats and seated leg raises. Plus you’re not limited to just a bodyweight workout, if you packed a resistance band, make use of it!

Wear workout gear: I always travel in workout gear and running shoes and change into business clothes when I arrive. If that isn’t possible just bring a change of workout clothes and shoes in your carry-on. Either way you’re ready for a quick workout. Easy!

If working-out at the airport isn’t possible, you can still use the downtime to:

  • Walk (bonus points for carrying your bags as you walk!)
  • Stretch and mobility work (remember those lacrosse balls you packed? Roll out your tight glutes and hips from all the sitting)
  • Stand (you’ll be sitting on the plane and in meetings, take the opportunity now to stretch your legs. FYI: Most flights will allow you to stand the entire time after take-off/landing)

Vehicle Travel

Mobility: You’re stuck seated in a car for a few hours, might as well take the chance to do mobility work with that lacrosse ball you packed. You can easily roll out your shoulders, back, and glutes by putting the ball against the vehicle seat and pressing your back against it.

Stretch your Legs: Try to take as many quick stops as you can to stretch your legs. It’s great to keep your blood flowing, especially if you’ll be stuck sitting in meetings once you arrive.

Leave Early: I try to leave 30-60 minutes early on a road trip so I can fit in a quick run upon arrival. Nothing beats fresh air, stretching your legs, and getting your heart rate up after a long car ride.

Food

fit travel
I’m sure you know what healthy choices are for food and drink (i.e. veggies, fruit, lean protein, avoid excess sugars and fried foods, drink water, tea, or coffee) — the hard part is actually making those choices when you’re on the road.

Here are some tips to help make it a reality:

Keep it simple

Focus your meals around lean proteins, leaving the carbs and fats to take care of themselves. For example, if you order a grilled chicken breast at a restaurant I can guarantee you it will be served with a big helping of carbs (potatoes, rice, etc.) and fat (sauces, oils, butter, etc.). So skip the dish that’s centred around carbs (i.e. pasta) and choose the protein instead.

At the hotel

Get a mini fridge (bonus points for a microwave): A fridge in your hotel room gives you so many more options for eating and preparing quick healthy food and snacks. Ever sit in your hotel at night starving and end up eating something terrible because it was, convenient? Exactly. With a fridge you can store snacks, leftover food from a meal, prepare healthy breakfasts, you get the idea!

Some of my go-tos include:

  • Yogurt
  • Fruit
  • Overnight oats
  • Egg whites (cook for 1 minute in a microwave)

(*Just ask the hotel concierge for dishes and cutlery to use!)

Meal Delivery: Nowadays food delivery services are everywhere (think: Uber Eats, SkiptheDishes). There may not be a healthy restaurant nearby but I bet there’s at least one place in the city that has some delicious, healthy options! A quick Google search, a browse of a menu, and a SkiptheDishes delivery later, and you’re eating great healthy food in the comfort of your room.

Get Groceries: This is one of my go-to solutions for healthy eating especially when I’m limited in what I can pack. It’s a simple solution for picking up fresh fruits and veggies, healthy breakfast options (think oatmeal in a cup or a bag of oats for overnight oats!), pre-made deli salads, yogurt, etc.

You can also make some great meals that don’t require cooking. My favourite is buying a cooked rotisserie chicken, a bagged salad, and some type of quinoa or grain salad from the deli. A balanced, healthy meal perfect for when you’re stuck at the hotel with too much work to do.

At the office or venue

Meals during the day are often a one-option catered meal. If you’re lucky you may have a buffet or at least a few options to choose from. So when choices are limited here are my strategies for keeping it healthy.

Unpack yo’ snacks: Remember when we packed a few healthy snacks as our ‘insurance’? Pull ’em out! Choose the healthiest options from the meal, such as the veggies and lean meats and supplement it with your snacks.

Deconstruct your meal: Just because the meal is served ‘one way’ doesn’t mean you have to eat it that way. For example, you have sandwiches for lunch. These can be healthy but a lot of extra bread may not help your waistline. Try one of these options instead:

  • Often there’s a side salad served, so pull out the fillings from your sandwich, add them to your side salad and enjoy a meal-sized, delicious healthy salad!
  • Take the top off the sandwich and now you have an open-faced sandwich that’s lighter on the calories.

*In general, take out the healthy bits of the meal and combine them together to make a tasty and filling healthy meal.

At Restaurants

Go for the ‘basic’ meals: Think salads (dressing on the side), grilled lean meats and veggies, rice/grain bowls, soup (not cream broth). And if you know very little about ‘healthy food’ options, choose dishes that are loaded with veggies and that have lean meats or seafood.

Order ‘off’ the menu: As in, order food that is NOT on the menu. Every restaurant has a full kitchen and people who know how to cook, so why not order something you’ll love without the extra oils, sauces, and other items that make the dish high in calories? My go-to is baked salmon with a ton of steamed veggies. I haven’t yet had a restaurant that couldn’t throw together a basic dish like this for me.

Alcohol

We all know that it’s a wise move to skip the alcohol, but of course that’s much easier said than done when out for a business dinner, especially if you’re entertaining clients.

Here are some strategies I use to make it easier:

Order a mock-tail: I often just pretend I’m drinking by ordering a bubbly drink such as soda water with lime.

Tell others, “I’m NOT drinking”: You may be able to stick to 1-2 drinks, but how often has peer pressure resulted in you having 3 or 5 drinks? Try this strategy instead, say either you ‘don’t drink’ or you’re ‘not drinking tonight’.  As soon as I use one of these lines, no one in my group will try to persuade me to drink and my decision is always respected. (That doesn’t mean you still can’t have your drink or 2, but now you don’t need to worry about extra pressure to drink more!)

Use the ‘bathroom’ excuse: Dinner’s done, the drinks are flowing, and you’re starting to feel ‘left out’ because you’re about 3-5 drinks behind everyone. It may be time to make your exit, get a good night’s sleep, and heck, even set yourself up for a morning workout! Use my favourite line, ‘Excuse me, I need to use the washroom’… and then make your exit for the night (trust me, no one will notice once after a few drinks in!)

Exercise

stay fit on the road
Now we get to the ‘obvious’ part of how to stay fit while on a business trip; exercise!

Keeping up with your regular workout routine may be tough on a trip but that doesn’t mean you have to give it up entirely! Here are some tips and tricks that will work for any style of business trip.

Use the tools you packed

Remember the items you packed? Time to put them to use; resistance band, workout clothes, running shoes. Don’t forget your suitcase makes a GREAT ‘weight’ (and can be adjusted depending on how many items you stuff into it). Use it for bent-over rows, press it overhead for shoulder presses, hold it as you squat, you get the idea!

Use the weight of your body

Bodyweight workouts may seem ‘too easy’ but in reality be just as challenging as any gym workout. The basics: squat, push-up, shoulder or pike-pushup, burpees, 1-leg deadlift, sit-ups, planks.

If those are too easy, try these: pistol squats (1-leg), jump squats, hand-stand push-ups, pull-ups (if you can find somewhere to hang from), hollow-body holds.

Here’s a quick bodyweight workout to get you started:

  • Squats: 12-15 reps
  • Push-up: 10-12 reps (modify to incline pushups to make it easier and decline to make it harder)
  • Reverse Lunge-: 10-12 per side
  • Plank with side-rotation: 6-8 per side

Complete 4-6 rounds depending on the time you have available.

Every bit counts

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need 30 minutes to an hour for an effective workout. As Bodyweight365 proves, even just 15 minutes of exercise done regularly is enough to transform your body.

Hotel Gym

Use it if you have it. Enough said.

Sleep

hotel room sleep
I’m a huge sleep advocate.

A poor night’s sleep can derail your entire day and can even set you back for the entire week. Although exercise and healthy eating are important to feeling good on your trip, I believe your first priority should be getting adequate sleep. Sleeping well each night can have a greater positive effect on your well-being than good nutrition and exercise can.

Prioritizing sleep is rather simple:

Stick to your regular bedtime routine (as best you can): Wake-up and head to bed at the same time

Skip the evening drinks (and caffeine): They can wreak havoc on the quality of your sleep

A cooler room leads to a better sleep: Since hotel rooms are notoriously warm, just ask to have a fan in your room.

Poor nights sleep? Catch a few extra zzzs by skipping your morning workout or by speeding up your ‘getting ready’ routine in the morning.

How To Stay Fit While Traveling For Work

I know you want to feel great when you return home from a business trip and hopefully I’ve convinced you that it is absolutely is possible!

These strategies and tips have worked for me whether traveling for business or pleasure, so I’m sure there will be a few strategies that will work for you! Whether you pulled 1 or 5 new tips from this article, I now want you to actually implement at least 1 of them. And remember, business travel is part of your lifestyle and there is absolutely no reason why healthy habits can’t be a part of it!

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