The Foolproof Guide to Staying in Shape on Business Trips
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”
The wise words of American physicist Richard Feynman. We all set off on business trips with good intentions. We tell ourselves that we’re going to drink one glass of wine with dinner, get to bed at a sensible time and hit the gym before that first meeting of the day, but reality is often different. Very different.
- I’m going to use the hotel gym every morning
- I’m going to drink lots of water all day
- I’m going to eat the healthy option at dinner
- I’m going to bed after one soda and lime at the bar
- I skipped dinner, went out drinking, came back to the hotel and ordered pizza then hit snooze until breakfast. Now I need coffee.
It doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion. For this article we asked top health and fitness experts as well as the AirHelp Community (join here – it’s free) about the habits, self-talk and routines you can use to guard against the business trip version of yourself.
It turns out that what you need are some systems. We like systems at AirHelp. We’ve built a very big, very clever system that gets you and your friends your money back when your flight is delayed, cancelled or overbooked. It uses some very clever AI, so gets better over time. It can also reach into the past and get back any unclaimed compensation from the last three years.
It’s a similar story with staying in shape. Compound interest with money makes you rich and compound interest with exercise makes you fit. But you have to be consistent. Which means…
Business trips aren’t holidays
The business trip is a paradise for your lesser self. You know, the part of you that likes muffins. And gin and tonics. And powering through the afternoon with a double espresso and a Snickers. But this isn’t a special occasion and there’s no prize for caffeine consumption.
Too much coffee ruins your sleep and people who don’t sleep enough are about as useful as drunk people. Sooner or later, drunk people get fired. To stay in shape on a business trip, remind yourself you’re not in Vegas.
Poor facilities are no excuse
According to a survey on US hotel amenities by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, less than half of people who intend to use a hotel gym actually end up doing so. This is partly to do with the willpower of guests, but mostly to do with the fact that fitness centres don’t offer a good rate of return for hotels compared to, say, bottled water or in-room Wi-Fi. The result is that hotel gyms generally suck.
But that might be about to change, with a growing sector of health-conscious road warriors driving demand. Luxury gym chain Equinox recently announced plans to open up its first hotel in New York in 2018. The tagline? ‘Where the science of fitness meets the art of travel.’
Schedule your gym time
If you keep some stability in your schedule, your body will thank you. Our bodies love routine, and research shows that they like nothing more than waking up at the same time every day. If you’re a morning person who likes exercising or going to the gym at home, then stick to this when on a business trip. If you prefer to sweat out the day’s stress after hours, try and keep this in your schedule too, but that’s not always so easy.
“A safer approach is to just ‘eat the frog’ and get your workout done in the morning,” says body positivity advocate Melinda Parrish. “Delays, late meetings, and unexpected happy hour or dinner invitations can all easily derail your best intentions. Set your alarm, get it done first thing, and then you’re less likely to have the variables of travel interfere. As Mark Twain says, ‘If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.’”
Basically, if you don’t make a business travel plan someone else will make it for you. And it will probably involve booze.
Work out on the way
Airports are waking up to the fact that there’s an unmet demand for exercise options in their terminals. Cynthia Sandall launched ROAM Fitness, a 1,175-square-foot gym in Baltimore-Washington International Airport that offers day passes for $25, monthly passes for $100 and a year for $350. They’re looking to expand to twenty locations within five years. “Our current strategy is to expand to the international airports that have US Customs and Border Patrol pre-clearance facilities first, due to the longer airside dwell time,” Cynthia told AirHelp. “When people come in they tell us, ‘I had this idea years ago, I’m so glad someone is finally doing it.’”
But really, you don’t even need a gym
Gyms are familiar comfort zones, but they may be standing in the way of true fitness. “Be brave and abandon the familiarity and stability which most weights machines offer,” says GQ fitness writer Ross Edgley. “Instead, hit the floor and perform your press ups unilaterally, on one leg or with one arm. You’ll find the added degree of difficulty recruits more muscle fibres, engages the core and gets the different muscles in the body working cohesively.”
If you know you’re in a hotel with no gym you can also travel with suspension training equipment like the TRX. “My execs who travel for work ALWAYS bring their TRX, you can place it over any hotel room door and get a full body workout in,” says personal trainer Ramsey Bergeron.
And NONE of this matters if you don’t eat properly
As we highlighted in our article on conquering jet lag, all airplane food should be off-limits for anyone serious about staying in shape. Travel with snacks instead. Corporate biohacker Kristen Battistelli recommends “fruit, plantain chips, raisins, protein bars, organic dark chocolate. These snacks will also carry you through if you are tempted by the horrible hotel mini-bars as well.”
There’s no need to travel with an arsenal of supplements and sleeping pills. “The best supplement you can do is change the way you approach sleep,” says the world’s leading elite sleep coach, Nick Littlehales. In his book, Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps… and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind, Littlehales explains the science of becoming an efficient sleeper. I can personally testify that the book contains the key techniques that can transform your wellbeing. I read Nick’s book after the pain from a knee surgery was keeping me up at night. The top-level advice boils down to:
• Sleep in 90-minute cycles rather than hours, including scheduling a 90-minute wind-down window before your head hits the pillow
• Pick your most consistent regular wake up time and stick to it every day (including weekends)
• Sleep on your side in the foetal position in a cool, dark room. TIP: Travel with tape to cover standby lights from hotel room appliances
• Schedule a 90-minute post-wake routine including exposure to daylight essential to kick start your day
• Get to know your chronotype personal sleep characteristic. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Knowing this means you’ll understand when to step up and when to take a back seat. Use the Munich questionnaire if you’re not sure
One more thing…
Our final tip comes from fitness app founder Laura Arndt: “Have healthy food in the freezer ready to be cooked as soon as you arrive home. Getting to the grocery store immediately after travel won’t be high on your list, but prepare ahead of time and you can cook a healthy meal upon arrival.”
Miscellaneous travel fitness tips From the AirHelp community (join here)
The way to make sure you workout while travelling is to consciously note and choose what ‘fitness’ means to you. If you attach fitness to a particular gym, you can’t workout without it. If you attach fitness to a trainer, you can’t workout when he’s not around. If you attach fitness the ab-blaster-x37-0 you saw on TV at 2am… you get where this is going. The only way to stay consistent with your workout routine is to attach it to yourself. In other words, find your why. Ask yourself – and genuinely explore the question – why do I care about working out?
- Dani Singer, fitness director, Fit2Go Personal Training
Make sure you always book a hotel which has a swimming pool or a gym. If the business trip requires you to have dinner with the clients, exercise first thing in the morning before breakfast. If the hotel doesn’t have a gym or pool, try and book something close to a park.
- Cory Varga, founder, You Could Travel
The key is not to break your day-to-day routine but to maintain it the best way you can. When I arrive somewhere, I ask a couple of locals to recommend a nice place to buy fresh and organic vegetables. There’s usually somewhere close by with a great local seller who you can talk to.
- Andre Arriaza, co-founder of Barcelona Eat Local Food Tours
Popular boutique fitness studios of every kind exist in almost every market now, and a simple google search can help you find the very best near where you’re staying. If you’re really particular you can even call the studio and ask who the most popular 2 or 3 instructors are, but never hurts to try something new!
- Greg Ux, trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp, Boston
Try this carry-on suitcase workout video!
- Julia Buckley, fitness professional, juliabuckleyfitness.com
If you’re at a client dinner or vacation meal, plan ahead and set a budget for yourself. I’m going to have the pasta, but not the wine or bread. I’m going to have dessert, but opt for a salad with lean protein for an entrée. If you go in prepared and structured, you’ll be able to indulge wisely and in control.
- Monica Auslander, dietician, essencenutritionmiami.com
You can’t beat resistance bands for fitness travel. They’re light, inexpensive, take up almost no room, and provide an effective workout for every part of your body. They pack easily, which beats lugging around bulky weights or body balls. A hotel room provides enough space for dozens of exercises with the bands.
- Grace Albin, pilates instructor
If you don’t have fitness equipment, use your hotel room as a gym. Your bed can function as a step-up or box jump, a chair can be used for decline and incline push-ups, the staircase can be used for stair sprints, your suitcase can be a weight, and a wall can be used for wall sits.
- Collete Stohler, creative director, roamaroo.com
Flight delays happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. You may be entitled to as much as €600 in compensation if your flight was delayed, cancelled or overbooked within the last five years.