Last Updated on February 12, 2022 by Maggie McKneely
Ever been afraid that taking time off from fitness to travel could affect your progress? Check out these tips on how to stay fit on vacation!
How to Stay Fit on Vacation
Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought “I can’t go on a week-long vacation without exercising because I’ll gain weight, or lose muscle!” Keep your hand up if you have then tried to squeeze in a run each morning of your vacation, or tried to get a good workout in the sad hotel gym, or turned down foods you secretly really wanted to try out of fear that they’d suddenly make you gain 20 pounds. You are not alone.
Now I know not all of my blog readers care about fitness. Period. Going on vacation doesn’t disrupt your routine because, well, it doesn’t exist. And that’s totally fine! In fact, give yourself a pat on the back: you get to go on vacation without stressing out about your workouts or staying in shape. But, this article isn’t really for you.
Actually, this is the article that I wish I had had several years ago. When I first entered the fitness world, it was with very little understanding of what being “healthy” means. I exercised religiously, ate only vegetables and lean meats, and stressed out whenever something like a vacation disrupted my normal training regimen. But because I love traveling just as much as I love being a gym rat, that kind of lifestyle simply wasn’t sustainable, and certainly wasn’t “healthy.”
Fortunately, I’ve come a long way since then, and have finally found that “#balance” in my life regarding traveling and keeping up with my training. But I know too many other people who love working out have a hard time fully enjoying their time off because they, like I once did, fear losing all of their hard-earned progress. So here is some advice that I have learned through research and trial and error on how to stay fit on vacation (and still enjoy yourself).
First, let’s bust some common myths people have about taking time off from their fitness routines.
1. You will lose all of your progress in one week
Let’s do some quick math, shall we? Let’s say that you typically push yourself hard in the gym 5 days a week. There are 52 weeks in a year. Two of those weeks you take off for vacation. And let’s subtract one more week because life happens – you get sick, you have other things going on, for whatever reason you can’t make it to the gym. So that leaves 5 days for 49 weeks = 245 days of exercising in a year. That’s 245 days of hard work putting stress on your body and stretching your limits.
It’s not possible to erase 245 days of work in one week. In fact, the body is usually grateful to take some time off from the gym. After all, muscles are built while resting and recovering. If you never take time off, you risk burning yourself out or even injuring yourself. Don’t believe me? Then take the word of a professional bodybuilder. Or listen to the scientists: according to research in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, for athletes, “strength performance, in general, is maintained for up to 4 weeks of inactivity.” So don’t worry about your one-week vacation.
2. You’ll gain tons of weight in one week
Unless you eat WAYYYY over your maintenance calories every day for your entire trip, no, you won’t. If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’re already committed to eating healthy a majority of the time and you have a gym routine. That’s your lifestyle. You aren’t going to completely throw that lifestyle overboard just because you go on vacation for a week. And that means that it’ll actually be pretty difficult for you to overeat enough food to gain some drastic amount of weight.
A couple of pounds gained from eating unusual foods, sleeping less, and not keeping up your gym routine is to be expected, but once your back home and back into your routine, those will go away.
3. Fitness goals > travel experiences
Nope. Unless fitness is actually your job (like an Olympic athlete in training, a competitive bodybuilder, etc.), your fitness goals should never take priority over actually enjoying your vacation. When you turn 90 years old, will you look back and say “gosh, I’m so glad I never ate any of that gelato in Rome because that would have been so unhealthy!”? Chances are that, no, you won’t say that. Because life is meant to be lived, and that means eating the dang gelato.
Now that we’ve debunked those common myths, on to the actual tips on how to maintain your progress and stay fit on vacation.
6 Ways to Stay Fit on Vacation:
1. Eat (and drink) whatever you want
Yeah, you probably won’t see this tip on other “how to stay fit on vacation ” lists….but I mean it! If you deny yourself the foods you want, you’re setting yourself up for failure. By only eating foods you deem to be “healthy,” you risk overindulging on less nutrient-dense foods later.
For example, does this scenario sound familiar?
8 AM: Egg whites and fruit
12 PM: salad, no dressing
2 PM: Black coffee
6 PM: Chicken breast and brown rice
10 PM: Ice cream, a bag of Doritos, and a Snickers bar
We have cravings for a reason. If we ignore them for long enough, eventually we’ll crack and just eat All. The. Food. That’s why you should eat what you want when you want it. Everything in moderation is ok!
Besides, not eating fun foods is a guaranteed way to ruin your vacation. If you’re going on vacation to Italy, are you seriously going to avoid gelato and pasta because *gasp* they’re not healthy?!? No!! (Plus, if you’ve ever been to Italy, you may have noticed that many Italians are slim and fit looking – I don’t think pasta is the enemy!)
2. Eat local
I went to Greece when I was in college with a group of other students, and do you know where a number of them ate dinner several nights in a row? McDonald’s!! In Greece, the land of feta cheese, lamb gyros, and spanikopita! Don’t be like them; don’t eat McDonald’s in a foreign country. (When I say “eat what you want,” I don’t mean eat McDonald’s when you’re in Greece. That crosses a line).
And not just because you can eat at McDonald’s almost anywhere in the world. But because, if you’re trying to stay fit on vacation, a local restaurant is the better option because it is more likely to use fresh and unprocessed ingredients. You can try foods native to whatever country you’re in without sacrificing your fitness goals for a fast-food hamburger.
2. Listen to hunger cues
The body is a lot smarter than we often give it credit for. Did you know it actually tells us when we’re hungry and when we’re full?! In a world full of calorie-counting and macro-tracking, that’s kind of a novel concept. But listening to your body’s hunger cues is a crucial way to help preserve your progress and stay fit on vacation.
Eat whatever you want when you’re hungry, but then stop eating when you’re full. There’s no rule that says you have to finish that entire bowl of Spaghetti Alla Carbonara. Eat what you want, and stop when you’re full. That way, you’ll eat the number of calories your body actually wants and needs without overindulging.
Staying active on your travels is a great way to stay fit on vacation and a great wellness habit to have in general. I never maintain my weightlifting split when I’m traveling, but I don’t lay around on the beach or stay in my hotel room either (but no judgment if that’s the type of vacation you like!)
My family likes to hike or spend the day on foot exploring new towns or cities. There’s kayaking, scuba-diving, and any number of activities that you can do that involve getting up and moving! Even just plain ‘ol walking does far more towards maintaining your progress than many people think. You can also do a quick at-home-type workout in your hotel room.
4. Pack snacks
When you’re out exploring all day, hunger can strike at times when it’s not convenient to go find food. So instead of starving yourself until it’s time for dinner, bring along snacks! Protein bars (I love Clif Builder bars and Dive bars!), fruit, nuts, and chocolate are all easy-to-pack options that will keep you satisfied until you can get a real meal. That way, you won’t feel the need to order every item on the menu at dinner-time.
5. Vitamins and Supplements
When you’re on vacation, it’s not always as easy to eat the types of foods you do at home. Different countries have different types of cuisine and they use different ingredients, and trying all of those new things is part of the travel experience! But eating different foods that you’re not used to can wreak havoc on your digestive system. And not feeling well or ending up sick can really hamper your attempts to stay fit on vacation.
That’s where vitamins and supplements come in. A daily multivitamin is a cheap and easy way to ensure that you’re still getting the nutrients your body needs, even when all you’re doing is eating gyros and baklava.
Greens supplements are also great for traveling. They don’t replace actual fruits and vegetables, but they are a convenient way to get a hefty dose of antioxidants and nutrients when you’re on vacation. I personally use Juice Plus and 1st Phorm Opti-Greens, but there are a wide variety of options out there. (Just make sure to do your research because not all supplements are created equal!)
6. Have fun, do all the things, but try to get some sleep!
When you’re on vacation, it’s important to take advantage of all the opportunities you have and do all of the things you want to do. But it’s also important to try and get at least some sleep! You don’t want to come back from vacation feeling like you need another vacation. And getting enough sleep will ensure you have enough energy to live each vacation day to the fullest, without needing to take a midday nap. Plus, sleep plays a huge role in keeping your body healthy; getting sleep is one of the best ways to stay fit on vacation.
At the end of the day, a vacation is meant to be enjoyed – so enjoy it! The gym will still be there when you get home, and so will your refrigerator full of fruits and vegetables.
Did you find these tips helpful? Think I left something off the list? Let me know in the comments!
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