Stay Fit and Avoid Weight Gain While Traveling

PHOTO: Drinking plenty of water is one way to keep the weight off when traveling.
Getty Images

We hear a lot of pleas for help at this magazine, and not all of them come from the interns we occasionally dangle out the window by their ankles. In fact, the most common cry we hear goes something like this: Hey, Men's Health! I have no problem eating right and working out when I'm home. But whenever I travel, I turn into Camryn Manheim. Anything I can do?

To which we'd like to answer: Heck, yeah.

There's a boatload of reasons traveling sabotages even the most disciplined man's eating and fitness habits. Your schedule is disrupted. You're surrounded by gobs of unhealthy food. Your barbells are replaced by a dorky suitcase on wheels. But here's the thing: If you learn to recognize these potholes—and avoid them—you can actually return from your next trip leaner and healthier than when you left. So grab your bags. It's time to learn the new rules of the road.

8 Ways to Cut Fat Without Realizing It

Avoid Weight Gain While Traveling

The Airport Expands Your Gut

Today, traveling means waiting. And waiting? That means eating. Not only are you within striking distance of the airport food court, but also the normal aggravation you endure when traveling fires up your body's stress hormones—actually making you crave those sugary, high-calorie foods you find at the airport.

The result: A couple of hours in an airport terminal can easily turn into a couple of thousand extra calories in your diet. For instance, munch a Classic Cinnabon while you're waiting at the gate and you've ingested 700 calories. A Starbucks blueberry crumb cake? Another 800 calories. Worst of all, those high-sugar, high-carbohydrate foods are the least satisfying when it comes to reducing your hunger—and the best at spiking blood levels of insulin, a hormone that stimulates fat storage.

Solve the problem: Pack more than your clothes "These days, the food you put in your carry-on bag is every bit as vital as the clothes you put in your suitcase," says Pamela Peeke, M.D., Ph.D., author of Fight Fat after Forty.

So pack travel-friendly foods like snack packs of StarKist Tuna Salad and Crackers, beef jerky, and low-calorie meal-replacement bars, powders, and ready-to-drink shakes like Meso-Tech (muscletech.com). But don't buy just any energy bar. "Instead of your typical carbohydrate-heavy endurance bar or snack, look for one that provides a minimum of 20 grams (g) of protein. It'll be more satisfying," says Dr. Peeke.

Avoid Weight Gain While Traveling

The Flight Makes You a Blimp

It's no secret that airplane air is drier than George Hamilton's skin. (With a relative humidity of less than 10 percent, the cabin is twice as arid as the Sahara Desert.) But most travelers don't realize that breathing dry air can turn you into a blimp. "Dehydration due to airline air is a major cause of fatigue, and fatigue gives you a reason to eat," says Dr. Peeke.

Solve the problem: Start drinking and flying Keep your appetite in check with a solid liquidation plan. Drink 8 ounces of water before your flight. More important, bring one 16-ounce bottle of water for every 2 hours you'll be in the air, and down it all before you land.

As for airline food, follow this three-step process when you can: Pass on any food with "pas" in its name—pasta and pastries, for instance; make sure a protein dish (chicken, beef, or fish) is your main entree; and request seconds of any fresh vegetables they serve.

Snacks? Ask for nuts or fruit instead of pretzels and chips. And choose 1 percent milk as your beverage of choice (other than water). Its perfect combination of protein (8 g), carbohydrates (11 g), and fat (2 g) will fill you up and keep you that way better than nearly any other snack.

Avoid Weight Gain While Traveling

Working Out is Hard Work

At home, fitting in your workout is simple—it's a regular part of that monotonous, my-soul-is-dying rut you call a life. But things are less predictable on the road, and missing a workout can make your belt feel tighter. A review board for the American College of Sports and Medicine found that, on average, men need to exercise at least 200 minutes a week just to maintain their weight.

Solve the problem: Schedule your workout times in advance. That way, the time slot will already be filled when you're invited to an impromptu dinner. Just politely decline, guilt-free, citing a prior engagement. Or try this strategy: "Hire a personal trainer," suggests Ron Rosell, owner of Fit for Business, an online firm specializing in athletic services for business travelers. Not only will you be less likely to blow off the workout, but chances are you'll learn a new workout technique, training philosophy, or cool abs exercise.

If you're staying in an upscale hotel, call the concierge and ask him to contact a trainer for you. Or you can use Sweatime, a service provided by Fit for Business (fitforbusiness.com) that takes care of the scheduling and billing arrangements for you.

Avoid Weight Gain While Traveling

The Hotel "Gym" Is a Joke

Many business travelers say it's nearly impossible to find a hotel with a decent gym. Too often, the "state-of-the-art exercise facility" the brochure crows about is a supply closet with a 15-year-old NordicTrack.

Solve the problem: Make reservations without reservation Lack of decent workout space might be the most common travel problem, but it's one of the easiest to solve. Try these tips:

Book the right hotel. Visit fitforbusiness.com. The site rates the top hotel workout facilities in 280 cities around the world and provides a list of hotels that offer free access to local health clubs.

Try this Hotel Room Workout you can do with your carry-on luggage!

Find a gym nearby. Use the Men's Health Gym Finder to locate fitness clubs, health centers, gyms, and sports groups wherever you are traveling.

If all else fails, swim. Even if the hotel pool isn't big enough for laps, just tread water for 14 minutes. Research shows that's enough activity for a 180-pound man to burn 200 calories.

Avoid Weight Gain While Traveling

Booze? You Lose

Frequent business travel can drive a man to drink—especially if he's on an expense account. That's okay occasionally, but if you make heavy drinking a nightly habit, you'll max out your pants faster than you do the company credit card. "Besides being packed with extra calories, alcohol compromises your willpower. So you're less likely to stick to your eating plan," says Althea Zancosky, R.D., an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman in Philadelphia.

Indeed, toss down four or five drinks and you're logging the caloric equivalent of a slice of cheesecake and an 8-ounce sirloin. Worse, you'll be more likely to order the cheesecake.

Solve the problem: Put a governor on your alcohol intake—and your appetite Remember, you're on business, not vacation, so drink as you would at home. When you're out with clients or business associates, make friends with Tom Collins and Bloody Mary. Each has fewer than 130 calories.

Take control of your food intake by ordering lean meats—chicken, fish, steaks with "loin" in the name. They're rich in protein, which makes you feel full while you're eating. And they're not easily upsized. Round out your meal with a house salad and a side of vegetables.

Avoid Weight Gain While Traveling

Minibars Create a Mega-You

Hotels may be the worst diet trap since Thomas Jefferson introduced french fries to the American colonies in the late 1700s. Room service offers high-calorie, restaurant-quality food delivered straight to your door and charged to your room, no cash needed. And the minibar isn't an amenity, or a "bar" at all.

It's an evil little fat-making refrigerator with prices that make the $1.25-per-local-call charge seem cheap. Solve the problem: Sabotage the system. Make room service and that damnable fridge work for you, instead of against you.

Don't open the room-service menu. "You're more likely to eat what you should if you're not sidetracked by a slew of exotic choices," says Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of Food and Mood. Instead, simply order a grilled chicken breast, salmon steak, or sirloin with a side of steamed vegetables. "They'll be happy to make it for you."

Make a preemptive order. Once you've settled in, place an order for a plain turkey sandwich, no chips, with the mayonnaise on the side. Then tuck it away in the refrigerator in case you feel the need to feed later that night (or don't have time to stop for breakfast the next morning).

Create your own minibar. Ask the concierge for directions to the nearest convenience store and pick up easy-to-eat-foods like yogurt, fruit, and lunchmeat. When you shop for your own snacks, you'll be more likely to choose them over the ones supplied by the hotel.

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