Frequent flyer fitness | Precision Nutrition

Frequent flyer fitness

By John Berardi, Ph.D.


It’s hard to stay fit when working out in hotel gyms and eating at chain restaurants. Or so you’d think. Here are some useful, time-efficient strategies for working out and eating well while traveling. If there’s a will — and just a few spare minutes — there’s definitely a way.

Every week, the Globe and Mail — Canada’s largest national newspaper — runs a fitness column where they detail the eating and exercise program of a well-known Canadian, then ask a fitness expert to suggest two short, simple, and specific improvements.

A few weeks back, I got the call to critique the program of a guy named Brett Wilson.

Brett is a Canadian philanthropist, the chairman of Canoe Financial, and the host of a TV show called Risky Business. However, he may be best known for being one of the “dragons” on another hit TV show, Dragon’s Den.

While Brett has a home gym and tries to work out daily, he admits that his travel schedule often gets in the way of his fitness goals.

Flying an average of 2-3 times per week, he often sleeps in hotels and pops in and out of business meetings. This schedule makes it hard from him to eat and exercise like he does at home, where he generally works out for 2 hours each morning doing some running, some weights, and some stretching.

With these long workouts and his travel demands, it’s no surprise that Brett claims his biggest fitness challenge is working out and eating well on the road.

Of course, Brett’s not alone here. In fact, I suspect that we’ll all face this challenge as some point in our lives.

  • Maybe the hotel gym sucks.  So we skip our workout instead of improvising.
  • Maybe we’re in meetings all day (or sightseeing) and don’t have time for 2-hour exercise sessions.  So we do nothing at all.
  • Maybe we eat a few extra desserts because we’re off the training plan.  So we might as well be off the diet plan too.

Two travel strategies for success

As a bona fide frequent flyer myself, I know the challenges associated with maintaining a fitness program on the road.  So, in the Globe and Mail piece, I shared my two favorite strategies with Brett, which I’ll outline below.

These tips are useful, time-efficient, and allow me to stick to my program — and even maintain 5% body fat — while traveling. Truly, I use these strategies during every trip I take, whether for business or pleasure.

Strategy #1: High-intensity treadmill sprints

Regardless of how bad the gym is, almost every hotel has a treadmill. That’s why I recommend my frequent flyer clients build their travel workouts around treadmill sprints and perform them every other morning while traveling. Here’s an example of my morning travel workout, incorporating treadmill sprints.

7:00 am: Wake up, do my bathroom business, drink 500 mL of water.

7:15 am: Head down to hotel gym and do 5 minutes of stretching and dynamic warm-up.

7:20 am: Start the treadmill and walk slowly for 2 minutes. Next, increase the treadmill speed to 8.5 mph and the incline to 12% while standing on the sides of the treadmill belt. As soon as it’s up to speed, sprint for 20 seconds. At the end of the 20 seconds, jump back on the side of the belt (be careful and grab the handrails securely!) and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this cycle 10 times, for a total of 5 minutes of intervals. At the end of the 10 sprints, walk slowly for 2 minutes to cool down.

7:30 am: head back up to room for shower, drink 1 L of water mixed with greens+, take multi-vitamin, and consume 10 BCAA (branched chain amino acid) capsules. Then I start my day.

This workout is only 15 minutes long — including stretching, warm-up, and cool-down. That may not sound like much, but it’s one of the most intense workouts you’ll ever do.

(In fact, if you haven’t tried this type of workout before, I strongly encourage you to start much easier than this. Maybe begin with the treadmill speed at 8 mph, the incline at 10%, and do only 6 total sprints.)

Although high-intensity treadmill sprints are a staple of mine when traveling, I’ll usually throw in some bodyweight or resistance training on the days I’m not doing sprints, if I have time.

Additional resistance training, by the way, is completely optional. In other words, I don’t put too much pressure on myself to do more than the treadmill sprints. Anything else is a bonus. (Notice how I focus on small, concrete, realistic accomplishments rather than making big plans that are likely to fail?)

If you decide to follow this approach, here’s another tip: to keep the progress coming, make one small improvement each time you do the workout. For example, increase the speed by 0.1 mph, the incline by 0.1%, or the number of sprints by 1. By continuing to improve in small increments like this, you’ll keep getting fitter, faster, and leaner.

Strategy #2: Skip breakfast

I know, I know. Most of the fitness world tells us that breakfast is the “most important meal of the day”. But there’s nothing necessarily magic about breakfast. Generally, breakfast is only important because it can help people control their eating later in the day.

Yet some people achieve their very best fitness and body composition while skipping breakfast regularly. These folks are are usually what we call Level 2 or Level 3 eaters. This means that they have a higher level of food awareness or dietary discipline. They don’t overeat in the evening to compensate for a missed morning meal.

(So if you know you’re struggling with evening overeating, try the opposite strategy — have a substantial breakfast and try missing dinner instead.)

It’s for these reasons that I often recommend skipping breakfast as a calorie control and fat loss strategy for my road warrior clients (again, provided they won’t be ordering all-you-can-eat room service at 11 pm).

And I practice what I preach.  When I’m on the road, I typically skip breakfast, saving my first meal for around 1 pm and eating my last meal by around 9 pm. This means my “eating window” is about 8 hours and my “fasting period” is 16 hours.

Some people call this “intermittent fasting”, as I’m extending my typical overnight fast to 16 hours. Fancy names aside, the protocol is very simple and extremely useful. Here’s what it looks like.

Putting it into practice

I’ll typically start my day with the sprints outlined above. After my workout, I’ll shower, get dressed, drink my 1L of water mixed with greens+, take my multi-vitamin, and pop 10 BCAA (branched chain amino acid) capsules. That’s it. No stop for a food meal.

Between my workout and lunch time I’ll usually have one or two cups of green tea or coffee. Then, around 1 pm, I’ll have my first food meal of the day, typically a high-protein meal with a full plate of veggies.

My go-to meal in most restaurants for this lunch-time meal is a large Cobb salad with an extra hamburger patty or 6 oz steak on the side. No extra sides. No extra carbs. Just the big salad (which usually has avocado, eggs, bacon, and chicken on it) and the burger or steak on the side.

Between this lunch and dinner, I’ll usually drink another litre of water and maybe have another cup of green tea. Later in the day, usually closer to 8 or 9 pm, I’ll have another large protein and veggie meal. This time it’s usually a 16 oz steak, 2 large chicken breasts, or 2 large pieces of fish and another huge plate of veggies.

While this eating plan may seem weird to most fitness enthusiasts, it’s a huge time-saver for me when I’m traveling. I only have to stop for two meals during the day. And by sticking with protein and veggies – but eating LOTS of them, usually requiring a special conversation with my waiter or waitress and an extra “get lean” surcharge – I get enough calories while still maintaining a low body fat percentage… maybe even losing some fat.

In the end, my traveling, workout-time-pressed, restaurant-eating clients have found this breakfast skipping strategy – in conjunction with the high-intensity sprints – the best approach for maintaining, even improving fitness.

So, next time you’re on the road, whether it’s for work or for vacation, try these strategies. They’ll have a big impact on your health, performance, and your physique.

One final note on exercise duration

I didn’t get into this in the Globe and Mail piece, however, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one more thing.

Daily, 2-hour workouts are completely unnecessary — maybe even counterproductive — for busy professionals.  Indeed, for a guy like Brett, who has limited time and modest goals (including losing about 10 pounds and maintaining his physical, emotional, and intellectual health), much less time should be spent in the gym.

For anyone interested in exploring more time-efficient but supremely effective exercise programs, check out this article: Two Experiments in Exercise Minimalism.

And for anyone interested in some additional and creative ways to exercise with no equipment, and no time, check out this article: No Equipment? No Time?  No Excuses!

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