How to maintain a healthy lifestyle while traveling for business

Tips to stay on your healthy habits while travelling.

I’ve been traveling for business since 1985.  I’ve been almost everywhere in the USA that there is a business opportunity.  I’ve traveled for business in Asia and Europe.  It is always a challenge to stay on your healthy routines throughout your travel.

The food choices have gotten much better over the years and the attitude of the executive suite towards a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and healthy eating has improved.  Typically you are no longer the exercise or nutrition pariah if you choose to manage your lifestyle on the road.

Attitudes have changed.  You are in a much better position to plan and design your healthy habits on the go.  Here are a few thoughts to consider when designing your healthy travel lifestyle routine.

Check your own attitude.

Is it really the travel that is impacting your exercise schedule and healthy eating or is it your own assumptions?  Are you assuming you won’t be able to squeeze in a workout?  Are you assuming there are no healthy options?

Or is there some switch in your brain that flips when you step on the airplane?  Are you using travel as an excuse to make poor decisions?  Are you using those business dinners as a smoke screen to forget about your lifestyle goals?

Check your own attitude before you do anything else because if you’re not bought into the necessity of fighting for your healthy lifestyle then you have no chance.  If you’re going to accept every free drink and savory appetizer that gets waved under your nose without thinking about it you are in trouble to start with.

Fix your attitude before you get on the plane.  Have your goals ready.  Know what’s really important to you and why.  That will help you pass on the blueberry martini and short ribs.

I know a gentleman who has a sales consulting role that is a full-time travel role and his engagements are intense.  When he’s on he’s in front of customers presenting.  He’s very good at what he does and is one of the highest paid people in his company.

However, he never goes out to eat with the team, or any other extracurricular activity. And you know what?  It’s perfectly ok.  No one bothers him and he gets his job done better than most.  When he’s on, he’s on and when he’s off that’s his time and he has designed a lifestyle around that.

My point is you can control your life whether on the road or not and no one is going to give you a hard time.  If they do, screw ‘em, it’s your life.  Don’t abdicate responsibility for your healthy lifestyle just because you’re traveling.

Have a plan

You can’t just go into a travel session without a plan.  If you do then you are allowing for circumstance to take care of you and your goals.  Circumstance is a poor decision maker.  One of the most dangerous things about business travel is that you are constantly being forced to make decisions when you are tired.

From the intensity of the travel and the intensity of the work you develop decision fatigue.  When it comes time to workout you can’t make the decision to put your shoes on.  When it comes time to make healthy food or drink choices you just can’t.  You are too tired.

Planning helps by taking those decisions away and making them ahead of time.  For example I will look at my travel and meeting schedule for the week and see where my workouts are, what clothes I’ll need and schedule in how to get them done.  If I don’t have time to get a workout in, I’ll schedule that in as a rest day and work around it.

I don’t have to think about what I’m going to do or what I’m going to wear I just have to do it as it is scheduled.  This takes the decision making out of the process.

In the same way I’ll try to do meal planning.  I’ll schedule into the trip how I’m going to get to a grocery store or what I need to bring in my suitcase.  Essentially you do a meal plan before you go.  This way you take the decisions out of the equation. If you know you have a business lunch or dinner you can meal plan ahead to have the dinner-salad type option.

The point of this is that if you try to ‘wing it’ you are more likely to make bad decisions.  If you have a plan you may miss on a few days or meals or workouts but it won’t be a total failure.  Many times when it comes to travel a tie is as good as a win.

Be prepared to say ‘no’

As I write this I’m sitting in first class on a morning flight to Atlanta.  I could have as much of any alcoholic drink or soda that I wanted, if I wanted to.  But that’s not my lifestyle choice.  I wouldn’t be drinking wine at 8:00 AM at home why would I do it here?  You’d be surprised at the number of road warriors I see getting that Bloody Mary for breakfast.  Why?  Because it’s free and the flight attendant will get them whatever they want.

The flight attendant also asked me if I wanted the ‘egg sandwich’ breakfast.  Why would I eat something like that?  It’s guaranteed to be calorie dense and nutrition poor.  I’m sure it’s yummy. It looks great and smells great but it’s not what I designed into my life for breakfast today. It doesn’t not align with my goals.  I asked for a cup of coffee and a banana.  Of course they tried again “That’s all you want is a banana?”  Yes that is all I want.

The hard part is that everything is free, everyone else is saying ‘yes’ and it’s being waved under your nose all day long.  It’s easy to make bad decisions.  You have to get good at saying ‘no’

It is not only ok to say ‘no’ it is necessary and you should set the expectation that you are going to say ‘no’.  Plan for it.  Practice it. Make it ok in your mind.

Logistical leverage

Many times the nutritional choices you will have at a conference or at a client site are just not what you need.  You will be forced to make a choice.  You can eat the pizza and sandwiches or you can starve.  Not eating is almost as bad a choice as eating the bad food.  Not eating throws your body into starvation mode and makes it hard for you to be effective.

When I’m doing my travel planning I’ll try to get as much logistical leverage as I can.  What this means is I try not to be trapped at the mercy of what circumstance provides.  I’ll try to be the guy who rents a car and I’ll try to get a hotel choice that has at least a refrigerator, (and maybe a kitchenette).

If I have a car I can get to the supermarket and stock up on healthy stuff.  I’ll buy enough fruit, vegetables, nuts, nut milk, salad fixings, smoothie drinks, good nutrition bars and even healthy salad dressing.

Many times the site you are working at will have an employee break room with a fridge.  You can set up your own little nutritional storage depot.  Your company won’t care if you expense $100 worth of groceries for the week.

Another trick I use is I buy enough so that I can offer it up to the team I’m working with.  I’ll get a big container of raw almonds or a bunch of fruit and I’ll put it out on the table for everyone to nosh on during the meeting.  Now instead of being that weird guy who brings his own food, I’m the weird guy who brings food for everyone.

The people you are working with don’t care about your diet either way.  When they roll out the pepperoni pizza for lunch you just announce that you’re on a special diet because you’re training for a race and eat your Cliff bar and apple instead.  Frankly it’s becomes a social value positive because you’re that guy who has goals and does hard things and takes control of his life.  That’s the kind of person people want to trust with their business.  Own it.  Live it.  Don’t be ashamed of it.

Expect the jetlag effect.

You are going to have to schedule your workouts in the morning or even late at night.  You may have to miss some sleep.  When you build your plan you’ll figure out when the workouts are going to get done and when they are not.  If I’m coming in on a midnight flight and have a 7:00 AM meeting I’m not going to try to squeeze in a 1:30 work out.  If I schedule that I’m setting myself up to fail.

For that day maybe instead I’ll just throw in 10 minutes of stretching or core work in the morning before jumping into the shower.  You have to plan, schedule and set yourself up for success.  Sometimes this means being flexible in your training schedule.  Sometimes this means doing less or skipping a day.

If you’re crossing time zones you will have to expect your performance to suffer.  You’re not going to be fresh for your workouts.  Try to schedule less rigorous work for when you know you’re going to be fatigued and jet lagged.  I like to work with the venue I’ll be at and schedule some less intense ‘exploration’ runs.  If I’m in Phoenix for example I’ll run up Camelback Mountain to watch the sun rise.

It’s a balance that you will have to find.  Schedule enough rigor in your workouts to stay on plan but not so much that you set yourself up to fail.

Careful with the alcohol

One of the perils of business travel is that every time you turn around there is someone offering you a free drink.  We travel on expenses and the company pays for everything so why not treat yourself to a few micro-brews?  The hotel is having a manager’s reception for their special clients, won’t you come and have a glass of wine from the local vineyard?  It’s been a long day, you’re finally on the plane, won’t you have a nice relaxing single malt?

I’ve known people whose sole reason for having a travel job was for the free booze!

I’m not begrudging you your imbibing when appropriate but when you’re traveling you have to be very careful because the alcohol can derail your nutrition and exercise.

First of all if you drink at night you are going to be far less likely to hop out of bed at 5:00AM to run that interval workout you had scheduled.  Second, all those drinks are chock full of empty calories, (especially the craft IPAs that I love dearly). Third, when you’re already tired, jet-lagged and decision fatigued one drink can obliterate your decision control when it comes to nutritional choices. You’ll find that all of a sudden the deep fried Krispy Kreme donut sandwich sounds like a really good idea for a midnight snack.

Again, try to plan ahead and know what your priorities are.  Before you order that second beer drink a glass of water and see if maybe your decision process clears up a bit.  When it comes to travel you don’t have to be perfect.  Moderation is a win when you’re on the road.

Wrapping it up.

I’ve been traveling for business for 30 years and I love it.  I love the adventure of new places and new projects and new people every week.  I can remember in my 20’s seeing a man, probably around my current age, drag himself onto the airport tram, weighed down by his bags and demo kit.  He looked so weary, so unhealthy, and so unhappy. I thought to myself I hope I’m not that guy when I’m that age.

Well, it turns out I am that guy, but by choice.  I’m not weary and disheveled, I’m healthy and fit and happy to be living the lifestyle that I have designed and tuned over the years.  That life style involves a lot of travel and I dig that, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Part of my value in the modern workplace is my ability to travel well and my love of it.

The travel only impinges on my life and goals when I let it.  There are always tradeoffs but that is the nature of life and these tradeoffs, like any others, are under your control to manage if you choose to do so.

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