How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat While Traveling

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on October 23, 2019
Last updated on May 23, 2021

Fit and healthy, these are two things people generally want to be but does travel, which is supposed to help you de-stress and relax, help you get fitter, or is the opposite true? It’s really a great challenge to maintain healthy eating and living when you are on the road or somewhere else far from home, but it is possible. The key lies in maintaining intention. Lapses in dedication to the cause, restaurant foods, overindulgence, and lack of access to your routines can lead to travel bloat and backsliding fitness if you do not stay mindful.

yellow Volkswagen on the road

Let’s look at general tips on how you can handle health, diet, nutrition, fitness, and staying well while traveling.

1. Stay Active

Inactivity may cause weight gain, especially when accompanied by overeating (1, 2). Doing some type of physical activity while traveling may be beneficial for weight control. Dedicating at least 5-10 minutes to morning stretches can be very helpful. Stretch your neck, arms, shoulders, back, and legs to feel refreshed. You can do this in the bathroom, while waiting for food, and even while in the car or bus.

You may also join walking tours! Aside from it’s a good form of exercise, it will help you get your mind off food and allow you to bond with family and friends or meet new acquaintances. Most hotels offer comprehensive leisure and recreation facilities including a gym and a swimming pool. Simple knee raises or leg lifts in your bedroom can help too!

2. Snack Wisely

When traveling, unhealthy snacks are available for you to take as you please. When treats are easy to access, you are more likely to eat unnecessarily. At home, this can be avoided by keeping treats out of sight. However, that strategy is hard to accomplish in situations that you can’t control, such as on trips.

Be mindful of your eating habits. If you find yourself munching just because you see food and not because you are hungry, it is best to stop snacking altogether. However, if you are starving, choose real foods. Fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts are free from extra sugars and unhealthy fats but can be very filling.

3. Be Mindful

People are often in a rush during trips, especially when joined in group tours. Studies show that people who have distractions while eating are more likely to overeat. They are not able to recognize the feeling of fullness easily (3, 4). You can prevent this, you must eat mindfully and minimize distractions including gadgets, cameras, etc.

Chew slowly and thoroughly. This will help you feel full easily and consume fewer calories (5). It will also be helpful to take some deep breaths before you start eating. This can help make you feel relaxed and keep you focused on what you are eating, instead of other to-do lists. Experiments show that those who stay mindful of their eating practices are more likely to prevent weight gain (6, 7).

4. Check Your Portion Sizes

While on a vacation, it can be easy to overload your plate. People who take bigger portions tend to gain weight more easily (8). The best way to resolve this is to control portion sizes by using smaller plates. How do you know if you are taking the right portion size? Check the recommended serving sizes listed on the label. If this information is not available, just fill your plate with a reasonable amount of food.

5. Balance Your Meals with Protein

Travel meals can be high in carbs but low in protein. However, it is very important to include some protein with every meal because it promotes fullness, which is helpful for weight maintenance (9, 10, 11). In fact, taking protein with meals can help decrease your calorie intake by reducing appetite and hunger (12).

Protein is also good for weight control because it boosts your metabolism and lowers the levels of appetite-reducing hormones. A single ounce, approximately 25-30 grams of protein, is good for weight management (11). Look for more fish, meat, poultry, beans, quinoa, etc.

6. Focus on Fiber

Aside from protein, fiber is also important to induce a feeling of fullness. Studies show that increased dietary fiber can help decrease calorie intake, which may help prevent weight gain (13, 14). Unfortunately, many common foods lack adequate amounts of fiber. Do your best to munch on fiber-rich foods like legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

7. Don’t Overdo Taste-Testing

Most tours will get you to restaurants or buffets offering a free taste. Even small bites of dishes, when done consistently, can add up in calories and cause weight gain. Make sure you do not go overboard on taste-testing, especially when your stomach is growling. Grab a decent, healthy meal instead.

8. Skip Seconds

As mentioned above, travel meals are often served buffet-style, with too many options to choose from in unlimited amounts. This leads people to serve themselves seconds and even more. As the calories from several servings can easily cause weight gain, limit yourself to just a single plate.

9. Bring A Healthy Snack

It can be easy to indulge in fattening, high-calorie foods when traveling. However, you can have some control over what you eat by bringing your own healthy snack to share. This way, you can be sure that you’ll have something that aligns with your weight loss goals.

Instant oatmeal is a good go-to meal. It’s easy to ask for a cup of hot water anyway. Individually portioned bags of dried fruits and nuts are also a lifesaver. They are rich in protein and good fat.

You can also stock up your hotel fridge with frozen water and yogurt. Pack them in a water-resistant bag so you can eat and drink them once thawed. Yogurts are good for your gut.

10. Control Your Dessert Intake

Desserts and sweets are just everywhere! This often leads to excessive sugar intake, which commonly causes weight gain (15). Instead of grabbing every treat in sight, just take one or two of your favorites and ditch the rest.

Another effective trick is to savor the dessert you really like by simply taking the time to eat them slowly. This may make you feel satisfied and less likely to overdo it.

11. Avoid Liquid Calories

Alcohol, soda, and other calorie-rich drinks are very much available during travel. These beverages can contribute a significant amount of sugar and empty calories to your diet, which may cause you to gain extra pounds (16). Also, alcohol consumption is often associated with increased appetite, thus a risk factor for weight gain (17). If you are avoiding weight gain, it is best to avoid liquids with high calories.

12. Say No to Processed Foods

Processed foods such as boxed mashed potatoes and stuffing are more available than ever. While quick and easy foods are convenient, especially if you are in a hurry and do not have time to cook. However, these foods often contain high amounts of sugar and unhealthy fats, which can take a toll on your weight and overall health.

Opt for whole foods! If you don’t have a very strict schedule to follow and you have a kitchen in your hotel room or rented house, cook your meals from scratch. This will help you monitor your diet and stay on top of your weight.

13. Stay Hydrated

Keeping yourself hydrated can help curb holiday bloat. Sip on water throughout the day! It will help you cool down and ease hunger pangs. Water will also boost digestion and help your organs function better. Drink more water when on a plane to avoid dehydration.

14. Step on the Scale

Stepping on the scale can remind you of your weight loss goals even when on a vacation. This will allow you to take action before significant gain sets in. Studies show that those who weigh themselves regularly lose or maintain weight better (18, 19). Check a routine that will work best for you. Others step on the scale daily, while some prefer to do it once or twice weekly. For sure, the hotel gym attending can offer you help.

15. De-stress

Keeping up with the demands, expenses, and tight schedules of group tours may be stressful. Stressed people often have increased levels of cortisol, which may cause weight gain by increasing food intake (20, 21). Also, a stressful lifestyle can cause you to crave for more junk foods (21). For these reasons, you have to keep your stress levels under control. Enjoy great sceneries on your trip and take a pause to do meditation or deep breathing whenever possible. Exercising at your hotel gym can be helpful too!

16. Get Enough Rest and Sleep

Lack of sleep is quite common during vacation and this may cause weight gain. When you lack sleep, you tend to be hungrier. You take in more calories and exercise less (22, 23, 24, 25). Sleep deprivation may increase your hunger hormone levels too. Additionally, lack of rest and sleep has been associated with a lower metabolism, which may cause alterations in your body clock that regulates most of your bodily functions (24, 26).

17. Adopt A Go-To Travel Exercise Routine

If you are always traveling, taking time to find a workout routine that is easy and adaptable for you to perform in a hotel room, hotel gym, or even on the beach is a game-changer. Commit to it every time you travel! Choose something that you really like doing.

Walkers and joggers use travel as an opportunity to change up their routine. What is cooler than a walking path that takes you by the Great Wall of China? If you are more of a yoga person, save your favorite workout videos on your phone so you can access them at your hotel room. Easy and painless!

18. Plan Ahead

Planning carefully can go a long way towards avoiding travel weight gain. Decide on what and how much food you’ll eat ahead of time. You can gather a list of healthy meal recipes, which you can look for when dining in a restaurant.

Try to squeeze in some form of exercises on your travel schedule. A few minutes run on a treadmill or swim can help keep your weight in check.

19. Stick to Your Routines

Staying healthy while on a vacation is not just about performing occasional workouts and eating healthily. Little things like vitamin regimen, skincare routine, and mental health should all be taken into consideration too. While most of us consider traveling as off-time from our daily routine, practicing total health will make your trip all the more enjoyable.

Take your vitamins and other medications regularly. Pack them in small containers so you can bring them with you easily. Repack your skin and hair products in leak-proof, TSA-friendly bottles. Keeping up with these routines will never add undue restrictions to your vacation. In fact, they will make you feel better while traveling.

Key Takeaway

While staying on top of your weight loss goals can feel daunting when on a vacation, several tips and tricks can help you stay healthy, happy, and weight-conscious during this much-deserved off-time.

Beyond general exercise tips, it is best to make sure you are limiting your intake of treats and getting plenty of rest and sleep. If you are diligent, you can even lose extra pounds during these relaxing days.


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