I haven't avoided vacations just because I'm a workaholic, which I freely admit I am. There are other motives. When an opportunity to travel presents itself, the first thing that pops into my head is; "Where am I going to train???? How am I going to stay on my diet?
I then brainstorm some sneaky way to weasel out of the trip, regardless of whether it was business OR pleasure. It's worked pretty well all these years, because I've only had to get on an airplane twice in my entire life.
But this time, there was no escaping it - I had to go. Our health clubs are getting new software designed to manage multiple locations. The software is amazing - in fact, it was written by a former NASA engineer who designed the mechanical arm for the space shuttle. Unfortunately, the software is so complicated that someone on our staff had to go get on-site training in Houston. Guess who got the job?
So, off I flew to Houston, Texas, which coincidentally, just got voted "The fattest city in the USA" by Men's Fitness Magazine ...AGAIN!
I used to poke fun at my clients for whining so much about how hard it is to stay in shape when they were traveling. "Quit being such a wimp," I'd say. "Just pack your food with you and find a gym when you get there." But I said that without having the experience to back it up.
After last week's trip, I have to admit, I realized it's not easy to stay on your program when you've got airports, airline food, hotels, business meetings, day long training classes, and restaurants to contend with.
Nevertheless, IT CAN BE DONE! I know, because I did it (and I'm an amateur at this traveling stuff). No, I wasn't perfect. There was a cheat meal or two, but all in all I not only stayed on my diet, I came back in better shape than when I left.
In this article, you'll learn how I did it - and how you can do it too next time you travel.
1. SET A GOAL THAT YOU'RE GOING TO STAY ON YOUR PROGRAM...AND EVEN IMPROVE!
First of all, I made a decision before I left that I was going to train hard every day and eat the best I could while I was away. That may seem like an obvious thing to do, but most people do the opposite - they throw in the towel and EXPECT to eat junk, miss meals and slip backwards. It never occurs to them that training hard and eating healthy while traveling is a possibility, so no attempt is made.
The minute I found out I was making the trip (a full week before my departure day) I made a COMMITMENT that I would stay on my program and not only "stay" in shape, but actually get in better shape. And that's exactly what I did.
All because of a simple decision that was made in advance.
Decision power is pretty amazing. When you set your mind to something, you can achieve just about anything.
2. PACK AS MUCH FOOD AS POSSIBLE AND TAKE IT WITH YOU
My flight was leaving LaGuardia early in the afternoon, so I had plenty of time to cook all the usual fare: chicken, yams, potatoes, brown rice, and lotsa veggies. I also cooked up a batch of my "world famous oatmeal pancakes," which is the perfect travel food (I'll reveal the "secret" recipe later).
Finally, I tossed in some fruit, several cans of water packed tuna fish and a handful of Myoplex packets for meal replacements.
I packed everything up in plastic throwaway containers, tossed it in my portable mini cooler with some plastic forks, and my meals were ready to go.
Things worked out well: I ate my chicken, yams and veggies out of plastic containers at the airport, on the plane and at the hotel Sunday night (yes, cold... I couldn't carry a microwave with me). On Monday it was oatmeal pancakes, Myoplex and two meals out at restaurants. Tuesday... ran out of those yummy oatmeal pancakes, so it was two restaurants, tuna out of the can and myoplex shakes in between. Wednesday included breakfast at a diner, myoplex, tuna, fruit, more myoplex, and I arrived home late Wednesday night for my usual dinner at home.
3. THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF HOTEL GYMS
The very FIRST thing I did when I checked into my hotel was to pick up the phone and ask the front desk if they had a gym in the building. They said yes, down on the Marina level. "YAHOO," I thought, (with pictures of a fully-decked out Venice beach-style Gold's Gym dancing through my head).
When I woke up at 6 am for my morning session, psyched to hit "THE GYM," I rushed down to the marina level and there received my initiation into the wonderful world of HOTEL exercise rooms: 1 pec deck, 4 sets of dumbbells (up to 30 lbs), 2 treadmills one broken life stepper and one archaic lifecycle.
I could have bitched and moaned about this Spartan training facility - and a weight training workout was out of the question. However, being a guy that always looks at the glass as half full, I was happy to have any equipment, so I hopped on the stairclimber... which wouldn't turn on.
"Oh well, no problem - I'll just do the bike today"... Jumped on the 1979 model lifecycle and started pedaling. The seat wouldn't stay in place, (kept tipping upwards into a rather precarious position), but hey, no problem, at least I was getting a workout.
On my last day, I happened to pass a motel called "Extended Stay America." Wish I would have known about that sooner. These places actually have kitchens complete with refrigerators, stoves and microwaves - and it was cheaper than where I stayed!
The next time you take a trip, if you're REAL serious about your training program, check out these "efficiency" places - they're everywhere. All you have to do is throw some pots, pans and utensils into your luggage, take a trip to the local supermarket and with your own kitchen, you can cook and eat everything you normally would at home!
4. FIND A "REAL" GYM!!!!!
So maybe you luck out and your hotel has a decent facility, but if not - no worries. Pick up the phone book and look up "health clubs." Most gyms have daily visitor rates around $10, maybe $15-$20 in urban areas. And that's what I did Monday and Tuesday night.
The big chain down there in Texas seems to be 24 hour fitness. They're popping up everywhere in the Southwest and west coast (the "Starbucks of health clubs?")
It wasn't bad - they had everything I needed - barbells, dumbbells, free weights, hammer strength, Icarian, Cybex, some cute Texas girls... perfect! By the way, if you do find a 24 hour fitness you TOTALLY have no excuse, because most of them really ARE open 24 hours.
You could also look for a World or Gold's Gym - these are nationwide franchises and they're serious workout gyms.
Also, if you belong to a club now, find out if your club is a member of a traveler's network. When you join some clubs, it entitles you to use other clubs all over the country.
5. WHERE THERE'S A MALL, THERE'S A GNC
Suppose you find yourself in a strange town and you have absolutely no food with you and no time for sit down meals. You have options. There's the local supermarket, of course. There's also the mall. Ninety nine percent of malls have a health food store like General Nutrition Center (GNC).
When you're in a pinch, you can always find healthy meal replacements and snack foods in a health food store. If it's a real emergency, you can grab a protein bar. These were once only found in health food stores, but are now available almost everywhere, even convenience stores.
Generally, I'm not a fan of protein bars. I call them "candy bars in disguise." (think Snickers bar with protein powder mixed in). However, these bars ARE better than most traditional snack foods and you can't beat them for convenience.
6. A BAG FULL OF MYOPLEX and PLASTIC CUPS...JUST ADD WATER
I am always, when given a choice, in favor of whole foods over supplements.
I have to admit though, when you're traveling, meal replacements and protein supplements can be a Godsend. Six meals a day from whole foods is hard enough when you're home. When you're traveling, you have to be as motivated as Mr. Olympia to stay on the all- food program. That's where Meal Replacement Products (MRP's) come in.
The powdered meal replacements are better than the bars. You see, to make the bars stick together and not taste like a brick, they have to put all kinds of refined sugars, corn syrups, glycerol, hydrogenated oils and other gunk in there (not to mention, that's pure chocolate on the outside - duh!)
Go with the powdered packets as your first choice and save the bars as last resort. Yes, that means mixing. All you need is some large plastic cups, a fork or spoon and add water. Yes, it makes a mess and tastes like cake batter. So what - It's not like you can carry a blender and ice cubes around with you. At least you'll get your protein every 3 hours.
Here's a simple and easy way to stay on your 5 - 6 meals a day regimen, even when you're traveling: Eat a healthy, sensible breakfast, lunch and dinner from real food, and between meals, have a protein shake or a meal replacement. Easy!
7. RESTAURANT EATING... THE TOM VENUTO WAY
Let's see...One Mexican, one Italian, one seafood, one steakhouse, and one diner. That's where I got five of my meals: two lunches, two dinners and one breakfast.
Did pretty good too, except for that pasta dish (I said yes to "The Special"). It was a huge plate of spaghetti, lasagna, manicotti and something else that was awfully cheesy. Damn good too, but I know THAT wasn't on the "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" program. Oh well. Can you say, "Cheat Meal?" Nothing a little extra cardio wont fix.
If you want to make the best choice when eating Italian, have a pasta dish with a red tomato sauce. Avoid Alfredo sauce and anything really creamy or cheesy. Keep the portion size small - pasta is very calorie dense.
When we hit the Mexican place for lunch, I thought for sure I was doomed. Mexican menus are notorious for having NO healthy dishes whatsoever. It's like a fried grease-fest! I even thought about ditching my hosts to find some place healthier, but I figured that wouldn't be too polite, so I just grinned and beared it. Besides... they were buying.
My strategy: simple; First, when they brought out those two gigantic baskets of nachos, I pushed them over to the other side of the table. Then I was quite happy to see that there was a grilled chicken and rice plate on the menu. It tasted a little too good, so I'm pretty sure there was some "forbidden stuff" in that rice mixture, but it wasn't a total disaster. The guac and sour cream got the boot and I said no to the football-sized burritos they offered me. I also took a pass on the corona and margaritas my group indulged in. Just water, thank you.
Monday night for dinner, it was the steak house, Texas style. I passed on the bread, passed on the onion rings, nope, no fries - not even the baked potato this time. Just sirloin steak and steamed veggies. I know I broke the rule on serving sizes; 12 ounces. But hey- give me a break, I could have ordered the 22 ouncer (and finished it). I heard there's a steak house somewhere in Texas where they have a 72 ounce steak and if you finish it, your meal is free. Could that be true? Do the math on the fat and calories there. Any way, I digress......
Then there was the seafood meal at the Kemah boardwalk...When you're at a seafood restaurant, eating lean and healthy is EASY. Take your pick: grilled, baked, broiled, blackened or steamed fish. If you pig out at a seafood place, admit it, you're not even making an effort. Salmon, swordfish, mahi mahi, tuna steak, the list goes on and on. No fried stuff. No tartar sauce. No butter. And be careful of those "mystery" sauces. Ask your waiter if there's anything fatty messing up your "lean aquatic protein!" Dry baked potato or steamed veggies as a side dish. Shrimp (not the fried ones) is perfect for an appetizer. Have a salad too, but skip the croutons and creamy dressings.
My last day in Houston, I had breakfast at a local diner. Got strange stares when I asked for 6 egg whites with only 1 yolk, and no butter on my whole wheat toast, but I got it no problem. They had my usual daily breakfast, old fashioned oatmeal on the menu too, but I opted for the toast for a change. There's a lot of tempting junk on those diner menus, but you can eat healthy at any diner if you make the effort.
That reminds me; I didn't set foot into any fast food restaurants, but these days you can even eat healthy at McDonalds, Wendy's or Burger King if you have no other options. Just get a grilled chicken salad or grilled chicken (not fried; ditch the white bread buns).
All in all eating out was a piece of cake. OK, bad figure of speech, I meant eating out at restaurants was easy... a "piece of steak."
8. BRING PORTABLE FOOD... INCLUDING TUNA OUT OF THE CAN AND THE WORLD FAMOUS OATMEAL PANCAKE
We fitness freaks and muscle heads know that 5-6 small meals is the way to go; it keeps appetite in check, builds lean mass, cranks up the metabolism and so on. But how do you keep up with the meal frequency rule when you're on the road? Well, this is easy. You have two choices: one, break out the MRP'S, or two, use portable foods.
What are portable foods? Here are a few ideas:
Sandwiches. Whole grain bread or pitas (wheat or rye), tuna or turkey, lettuce, tomato, and presto! Portable meal - just like the good old brown bag school days.
Then there's tuna out of the can. Ok, I admit the water packed tuna straight out of the can is a little hard to swallow, no pun intended, but it IS portable. Ask any bodybuilder - I guarantee they've done the tuna out of the can thing at one time or another. Hey, no one said this was easy. Just have a BIG jug of water handy.
Fruits and raw vegetables - By the standards of "bodybuilding-style" nutrition, fruit or raw veggies don't make up a "full meal," (no protein), but these are some of the healthiest snacks you could ever eat. So fill up a baggie or plastic container and munch away.
Yogurt. A "true" portable food is not only "portable" it also doesn't need refrigeration. Yogurt needs refrigeration, but it's portable and easy to throw into your bag or cooler for one day on the road. Cottage cheese (non fat or 1% low fat) works too. Watch out for the yogurts that say "no fat" that are full of sugar. If you can find them, get low/non fat, sugar free yogurt.
Oatmeal pancakes are my favorite travel food of all time. Just take 2/3 to 1 cup of old fashioned oatmeal, 3-5 egg whites, 1 whole egg, 1/2 a chopped apple, a scoop of vanilla protein powder, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and (if you use it) a packet or two of equal if its not sweet enough for you. Mix it up into a pancake-batter-like consistency and pour into a pan coated with nonstick spray. When one side is lightly browned, flip it over and just like that - you have the ultimate portable food.
Oatmeal pancakes are great because they stay fresh without refrigeration for an entire day and you can pick at them and nibble anywhere; on a plane, in a car, sitting at your desk, in an auditorium or in a classroom.
I've heard of some other people who make yam or potato "pancakes/patties" too, but I haven't quite figured those out yet (I'm sort of an idiot in the kitchen). If you have any portable food ideas, I'd love to hear them - e-mail me.
9. WATCH THOSE PORTIONS
Wednesday was my last day in Houston. I woke up, flipped open USA Today and what did I see on the cover of the lifestyle section?
"LARGER PORTIONS BRING LARGER APPETITES."
You know how they say everything is bigger in Texas? Well, they ain't kiddin! The burrito one of my fellow software trainees had for lunch was the size of a football! I KID YOU NOT! And he ate the whole thing!
These days, big food portions aren't just confined to Texas, however. I've discussed this topic many times before in this newsletter, but it bears repeating because simple overeating at a single sitting is one of the biggest and most common - fat loss mistakes you could ever make.
Too much of anything gets stored as fat - even "healthy" foods. On the flip side, small amounts of bad foods won't get stored as fat if you keep your portions in check and stay in a calorie deficit.
Based on 63,000 surveys collected since 1977, here's what USA Today reports that the research has found: salty snack portions (chips, pretzels, crackers) increased from 1.0 oz to 1.6 oz - up 93 calories. Mexican fare went from 6.7 oz to 8.0 oz - up 133 calories. The average amount of beer consumed increased from 23 to 32 oz - up 100 calories. Soft drinks increased from 13.1 oz to 19.9 oz. Hamburgers jumped from 5.7 to 7.0 oz.
In this day and age of "super size" everything, always remember the rule of portion sizes, and don't ever feel like you have to eat everything that's put on your plate.
10. AIRPORT EATING
Airports can be traumatic places - especially in this day and age. Between heightened security measures and coping with the fear of flying, it's no wonder many people resort to stress eating. It doesn't help that you have to pass Au Bon Pain, The Pretzel Place, Franco's pizza and THE BAR just to get to your gate, either.
Then, to add insult to injury, have you seen the airline food lately? I won't mention the airline, but let's just say I'd have to be pretty hungry to eat what they offered me...like "Castaway" hungry.
So what's a health nut, bodybuilder or fitness fanatic to do up while up in the air? Well, this is a no - brainer. Take your own food on board with you and don't eat the airline food. If you forget to bring your food, you'll be hungry and when that cart comes rolling down the aisle, you won't be able to say no.
Plan ahead and bring your own food. Which is what I did on the flight to Houston. You should have seen the envious stares as I devoured my delicious, "world famous" oatmeal, high protein pancake. The guy sitting next to me couldn't resist asking what I was eating. (And no... I didn't share).
The way home was tougher because I ran out of food. But, when I was at GNC, I was thinking ahead and I grabbed a couple of those MET-RX ready to drink (RTD) protein shakes for the flight home. I realize those things aren't very high quality (they "cook" the protein quality right out of those suckers), but it was better than the alternative (airline food or nothing at all).
Then, when I finally got home, The FIRST thing I did was to start cooking. I had a great meal and went to the gym. NO crashing on the couch moaning about what a long "tiring" trip it was. Heck, how could it be tiring? I was sitting in a plane reading for almost 5 hours and then took car service home. It was actually pretty relaxing.
So there you have it. My little adventure in staying on the wagon. I hope it was helpful and I wish you the best luck with your next trip.