One question I'm constantly asked on social media is, "What can I do to stay on track when I'm on the road?"
I know how it is. I'm on the road almost as many days as I'm home due to public appearances, lectures, business meetings, R&D, and the occasional vacation with my family.
It can be difficult to stick to workouts and a diet if you're frequently travelling. But for me, getting in my workouts and eating well is a lifestyle, whether I'm at home or on the road. The latter simply means being more resourceful, planning ahead, and taking every opportunity I can to stay active—even when it would be very easy to sit around in my hotel room or in an airport terminal.
Here are four rules to follow while on the road, so you return from your next trip in the same shape or better than when you left.
Rule 1: Keep Off Bad Weight With Intermittent Fasting
Hey, I get it: Your eating schedule is thrown off when you're traveling, making it all too easy to go off the rails, eat crappy food, and pack on bad weight—i.e., fat—on your trip.
What I found works best for me is intermittent fasting (IF). While serving as a postdoctoral research scientist at Yale School of Medicine, my lab investigated how intermittent fasting works to burn more fat. We discovered that the cycle of fasting and feeding speeds your metabolism and makes you burn more fat and carbs to fuel daily activities.
What I love best about IF is that it allows you to be a lot looser in your food choices, which is great when you're traveling. Because fasting speeds up your metabolic rate so well, you can enjoy almost any food you like—in moderation, of course.
I often enjoy burgers, ice cream, and alcohol, despite having to stay in photo-shoot shape year-round. Being less strict with what I eat makes it much easier to find food in restaurants on the road.
I recommend easing into IF. Since we sleep somewhere around 6-8 hours every day, we already fast for that period of time. Most people typically follow a 12/12 fasting/feeding day, meaning they eat within a 12-hour window most days. For example, if someone wakes up at 7 a.m. and goes to sleep around 11 p.m., they likely eat from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Start by ensuring that you're doing a 12/12 fasting/feeding schedule at the very least. Once you see how easy IF is, gradually increase the fasting hours while decreasing the feeding hours, starting with fasting for 13 hours and eating for 11 hours.
Ideally, you want to get to a 16/8 fasting/feeding schedule—fasting 16 hours, then eating in an 8-hour window. The time of day doesn't matter much. Choose your feeding window based off of when you crave food the most, when you work out (because it's ideal to exercise in a fed state), or when you typically eat with a group (like your family).
An added benefit of IF for the traveler is that research shows it can help fight jet lag. All you have to do is eat at the same time you normally eat in your new time zone. If you live in New York and eat from 4 p.m. to midnight, you would eat at those same times (between 4 p.m. and midnight West Coast time) in LA despite it being 3 hours later. This cues your body to adjust to your new time zone faster.
Rule 2: Go for Jerky, But Choose Wisely
When you're traveling, running from one meeting to another, or rushing to catch your next flight, your food choices are mostly limited to junk food and sugary drinks. To stay on track, choose high-protein snacks like beef jerky.
Protein not only provides building blocks for your muscles and other tissues in the body, it also provides a longer-lasting energy source than those high-carb energy bars you may be eyeing as a grab-and-go snack or meal.
But choose wisely: My biggest warning when it comes to buying beef jerky is to read the nutrition facts before you buy. With the well-known benefits of a higher-protein diet influencing consumer food choices, the beef jerky market is booming.
In an effort to outdo each other and create the softest jerky, food companies are adding a lot of carbs, namely sugar, to soften the texture and enhance flavor. Many jerkies on the market today have more carbs per serving than protein!
As a rule, your jerky of choice should have at least twice as much protein as carbohydrates per serving. So read labels carefully, and always opt for a high-protein snack whenever possible.
Rule 3: Keep Up With Your Training Using Bodyweight Workouts
If you can't get to a gym, either because meetings ran late or you're in a rural area that doesn't even have a gym, you can always use your body as your workout equipment.
To get the most out of bodyweight workouts, break your body down into three basic areas: legs (e.g., squats, lunges), upper-body pushing (e.g., push-ups), and upper-body pulling (e.g., doorway rows). If you do at least one exercise for each of these areas, you'll activate the genes in the muscles for the majority of muscle fibers in your body.
Activating the metabolic genes ensures the majority of your muscles are burning fuel in the form of fat and carbs. Bodyweight exercises will also activate genes in the muscle cells that instigate muscle growth. Doing reverse lunges (legs), push-ups (push), and doorway rows (pull) hits all three areas of the body.
To do the doorway row, stand with your left shoulder and foot adjacent to the right side of a door jam. Hold the inside of the door jam with your left arm, and slide both feet up tight to the bottom of the jam where it meets the floor. Extend your left arm so your body leans to the right at about a 45-degree angle. Use your lats to pull your body up so that your left shoulder comes close to the door jam. Contract the lats for a count or two before you slowly lower your body back to the 45-degree angle. Repeat for as many reps as you can.
Rule 4: Find Opportunities to Exercise Whenever Possible
When you're traveling and on the road all day, without a single chance to hit the gym or even do a bodyweight workout in a hotel room, use the road as your workout. Opportunities to move your body are everywhere—you just have to be vigilant and take advantage of these opportunities when you see them.
Always take the stairs, even if you're carrying luggage. Don't use the escalator, elevator, or any of those "moving sidewalks" you see at airports. These take zero effort and your goal is to move as much as possible.
When you're struggling to find time to work out, be glad that you have a bag or two to lug around. The extra weight comes in handy when you're exercising on the fly. Carry your luggage up and down the stairs. Do multiple "sets" on the same staircase if you have time to kill—time to kill a workout, that is! There's actually a gym exercise called "suitcase carries." It's basically just a farmer's walk with only one dumbbell or kettlebell instead of two to create an imbalanced load. At the airport, you can literally do suitcase carries for your workout!
When sitting in the plane, train, car, etc., follow my 30/60 rule. For every 30 consecutive minutes you're sitting, get up and do some kind of exercise for at least 60 seconds. This could be simply stretching or walking to the bathroom.
This 30/60 advice is based on research showing that after 30 minutes of consecutive sitting, metabolic genes that help regulate body fat, energy, and health outcomes are turned off.
If you're up for it, you can get more intense and do push-ups or jumping jacks, or even take out resistance bands and do a few sets. If you're afraid people will think you're weird for doing calisthenics in an airport, remind yourself that what you're doing is staying on track with your fitness—way better than spending that time at the airport bar or eating a Cinnabon at your gate!
Visit JimStoppani.com for more workouts, training tips, and articles on nutrition and supplementation.
- Fuller, P. M., Lu, J., & Saper, C. B. (2008). Differential rescue of light-and food-entrainable circadian rhythms. Science, 320(5879), 1074-1077.