Friday, August 19, 2011

ABCs of preventing fitness and dietary backslide while on vacation

Would I be able to exercise with any regularity?  Would I gain weight eating nothing, but restaurant and dorm food?  Would I be able to maintain my sanity?  These were questions that went through my mind as I flew 2,200 miles from my home on the west coast all the way to the east coast.  We had ten days of vacation planned in three different cities of three different states.  Following that whirlwind would be another of a different sort.  We would live and work in another city, in yet another state, for 2-1/2 weeks.  As if that wasn't enough excitement for two endurance athletes training for their respective events, we brought along our six-year-old twin daughters!  Our working vacation would end with four days and two nights relaxing along the Connecticut coast.

I have been home now for a week.  I have nearly recovered from my grand adventure.  The challenging times are fading from my memory allowing for the good times to resurface.  Countless lessons were learned a long the way about how to juggle a healthy and active lifestyle while on vacation.  I managed to gain only a couple pounds and maintain my level of fitness by following these ABC's:

Ab work can be done anywhere!  No access to a gym?  No time?  Lay a towel on the floor and get down there for some sets of planks, crunches and/or air bicycling.  Super quick, easy and effective.

Bike! One of my hotels had a fleet of bicycles for guests.  I was able to get my cycling fix.  Some cities offer bike rentals and even family friendly bike tours.

Clothes:  Save some space in your suitcase for workout clothes!  A couple pairs of full outfits and your swimming stuff should do the trick.  Sweaty tech clothes can be washed in the sink, wrung out, rolled up a towel to soak up excess water and hung to dry over night.  Tide has travel sized packets of detergent that's meant for washing garments in the sink.

Diet:  Make smart food choices.  Eat when you are hungry.   Order food that will help you feel good and healthy.  Exercise portion control.  Many restaurant meals have enough food for two people.  I often order from the appetizer, soup or salad menu section.  Snack wisely.  I brought things from home and went to the grocery store or fruit stand so we'd have things to munch on and wouldn't have to dine at restaurants any more than necessary.  Baby carrots, cold cereal, milk, mini yogurts, applesauce, instant oatmeal (hot water from mini coffee pot in our hotel room), string cheese, crackers, granola bars, and fruit were some of our favorites.

Energy:  You will have more of it and be in a better mood if you get out there and move.

Flexibility!  My partner and I tried to have a workout schedules.  They didn't work!  We each had a rough idea of what we needed but the question was when/where we could get it in.  Some days this was early in the morning before the rest of the family awoke.  Other times it was in the heat of the afternoon while the rest of the family had lunch or rested after a morning of sightseeing.  Some times it was in the evening after the kids went to bed.  We had to be open and seize workout opportunities when they presented themselves.

Gym:  Find one! We look for hotels with on-site gyms.  They don't have to be fancy.  A treadmill, stationary bike, stair stepper and weights is plenty.  Your local gym might have gyms elsewhere that you can access with your membership.  One hotel we stayed in allowed us complementary membership to a nearby off-site gym.  Since I was in the same city for 2-1/2 weeks, I joined the college gym for a very reasonable price.

Hydrate!  Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.  Having your own water to fill from the tap is not only convenient but is also cost effective and environmentally friendly.  Often times you think your hungry but what you really need is water.  Drink, drink, drink!

Ice: I just love how all hotels have ice machines and ice buckets.  Bring along a foldable ice chest in which to keep drinks and perishable snacks.

Just do it!  Do what you can when you can.  If you have five to fifteen minutes to spare, do some push ups, dips, squats, leg raises or things that don't require special equipment and can be done anywhere.  There were a couple times that I got desperate and climbed flights of stairs a few times.  If you have twenty or more minutes, try to get in some sort of sustained workout.  Allow yourself time off too!  Recovery weeks are great for allowing your body to absorb all the demands you've placed on it.  They may be just what you need to prevent burn out and overtraining.

Kayak and canoe!  Our hotel in Mystic, CT had these available for guests to use.  Our hotel in Boston had a kayak rental agency within walking distance.  What a great upper body workout and a beautiful way to see a new place.  Best of all, it's an activity the whole family can enjoy.

Log:  Keep a training log.  Set a goal for how many and which kinds of activities you will do on vacation.  If you struggle with making good food choices, keep a food log so you see your choices in black and white.  Some folks prefer a photo log of their meals/snacks and use their camera phone to snap pictures of what they eat.  Be aware, but don't forget to indulge from time to time!  How often can you have an authentic bowl of New England clam chowder, a slice of New York pizza, a Boston Cream Pie or all those other regional culinary delights?  

Minutes rather than miles.  You are on vacation in a new, unfamiliar setting.  You don't have your standby running/cycling route or your workout buddies.  You may be dealing with jet lag, a different altitude, type of weather or countless other variables that will impact your performance.  Strive for a certain number of minutes/hours of physical activity rather than a set number of miles.  After noting how much slower I ran on vacation than I did at home, I ditched the demoralizing Garmin and opted for a watch instead.  I was able to enjoy the sights rather than glare at the Garmin's report on my pace.

Never leave without your ID, a little cash and your cell phone!  Safety first!  At one point I got so lost that I was ready to hail a cab to take me back to my hotel.  I had the cash to pay for such a trip but opted to call my partner for directions back instead.

Organize! Come up with a plan for squeezing in your exercise time. What time works for you and your family?

Pool: Find hotels with pools so you can swim laps, do aqua jogging and splash around with the family.  Swimming is super refreshing and the non-impact nature feels just right after being on your feet sightseeing all day.

Quality:  Since you likely won't be able to get the same amount of exercise time in, make sure that you are beefing up the intensity of your workouts.  Rather than trying to get in my LSD runs during my limited vacation time, I hopped on the treadmill.  Each workout had a specific purpose of either building strength or speed.  These tempo runs or hill repeats took no longer than 45 minutes.

Run! Wake up before the rest of the family and sneak out for a run!  It's a great way to sight see and get around.  Our hotel room had maps of nearby running paths and even provided orange slices and towels for guests returning from their jogs!  Look for fitness friendly hotels. They are out there!

Stretch:  You can do this anytime, anywhere.  Not only does it feel good, it's good for you.

Treadmills are not the enemy.  You'll know exactly how far and how fast you've run.  You will be safe and won't get lost.

USA:  How many different states or cities can you log workouts in?!  I ran in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut when I was out gallivanting around New England.  Running in Central Park was a dream come true.  I spotted all sorts of interesting and historic sights on my run through Cambridge and Boston along the Charles River.  A brutal heat wave forced me to run on a treadmill in my Rhode Island hotel.  I ran the most in Connecticut.  There I explored the campus of Yale, trails in New Haven and the charming town of Mystic while running.

Variety! Mix it up by alternating strength training, improving flexibility and maintaining aerobic fitness.

Walk whenever and wherever you can.  It's a great way to explore a new place. Saves money and is good for the earth too!  Time on your feel accounts for a lot.

eXcuses:  I am not a good vacation worker-outer.  I have/will use every excuse in the book to avoid a workout.  Who does this hurt?  Me!  This time I had a couple events on my race calendar that I needed to be prepared for once I got home.  This prevented me from skimping on too many workouts.

You time! Give this gift to yourself.  Your body will thank you for it, as will your family when they see how much more relaxed and happy you are after having a little time to be active by yourself.

Zzzzzs:  Get enough sleep each night.  I find that I need more of it while on vacation.  I want to have enough energy to do my touristy stuff, have fun with my family and to maintain a certain level of fitness.

In closing, I will leave you with a little photographic diary of my fitness adventures.

Central Park!  Need I say more?

Hotel bikes in Boston

Promenade around Charles River provided miles and miles of gorgeous, paved bike, walking and running paths.

Swimming in hotel pool

Kickin' it by hotel pool.

Biking in Boston


Trail Smitten found the trails in New Haven, CT

Foot bridge on my riverside trail run

Swans and water lilies on my trail run

Mill River in New Haven, CT
Yale University pool where I swam laps

Open water swim practice in Long Island Sound

Ran from hotel to Mystic Pizza then back.  Returned later with whole family for several "slices of heaven"

Family canoe ride in river in Mystic, CT