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Monday, March 25, 2013

Road call: don't lose your bearings

One of the most important things my personal trainer, A, has taught me, is that a healthy lifestyle doesn't go on vacation.

But I do!, I protested. We had this conversation a few days before I left for my annual Quebec peregrination.

A said something along the lines of "Your body doesn't care if you're home or traveling. Your body doesn't care if you're on holidays or not. Your body will react to what you put it in and to what you do with it no matter the environment and the circumstances. Remind me of your goals again, J?" (I hired A for a year with a short list of objectives.)

"A, I said, you know what my goals are."

"J, she said, I want you to look at me and say them out loud."

I sighed.

"A painless half-marathon and 15% body fat..."

"Well, my dear, you'll have to keep that in mind while you're travelling, okay?"

She was right of course.

But how could I stay on track when there would be so many temptations? At home it's easy enough, but on the road? And in the most gastronomically tempting place on earth, namely, my mom's house?!?

Mama's dining room

A and I sat together to devise a plan.

First we talked about the food.

- J, how long are you gonna be in Quebec?
- 2 weeks
- Okay. You'll keep your usual 2 treats a week, which makes a total of 4. What are you gonna have?
- What do you mean?
- You're gonna decide in advance what your 4 treats are gonna be.
- Right now? But I don't know!
- If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. What is it that you just cannot go to Quebec/your mom's and not have? Pick 4 of them.
- Okay, I said, incredulous. Let's see. Well, I can't go to Quebec and not have a real poutine with the real "squeek squeek" cheese.
- Good. Poutine is your number one. While in Quebec you will have one poutine. What else?

I quickly came up with my 3 other treats: my mom's homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie, some chocolate ice cream (it was summer, after all), and some good wine (mom has an extensive cellar in which I always make wonderful discoveries!)

"Oh, and before I forget, J, you're gonna have to watch your protein intake to make sure you get enough (at the time I was in a "build" phase), and you will control your portion sizes, added A."

I was already exhausted by the program, and we hadn't even talked about exercise yet!

- Now let's talk about your workouts. How often are you planning to work out?
- Hmmm... maybe twice a week?
- I don't think that's gonna be enough, J. Do you think you can do 4?
- I guess I can...
- Perfect. I'm gonna put together a nice training plan for you that includes running for cardio and body weight exercises for strength training, this way you won't need any specific equipment. Just don't forget to pack your sneakers and work out clothes.

As much as I didn't think it was possible, I did what A and I had agreed on. When I came back I had maintained my weight and body fat, and my running was still going strong, which was an accomplishment in itself! I admit I ate more than 4 treats, but I also exercised more than 4 times a week (sometimes under my grandmother's tutelary eye), which evens it out I guess. I ran in the countryside around my mom's house among a beautiful scenery, smiling at the cows and horses (at home I mostly run in the woods among the deer and the bunnies!) I did most of my strength training outdoors in my mom's garden: I even used rocks from her pond as dumbells - but don't tell her that!

Mama's garden - I put the rocks back where I took them I promise!

A was right about something else, as I was soon going to discover: you don't need much equipment to stay in shape; there are so many great things you can do with your body (hey, I heard you have a lewd thought here!) After series of burpees, lunge jumps, squat jumps, push-ups with a side planks and the like, I almost started missing the gym! One sure thing: I was fit as ever!

I've learned a lot about keeping fit on the road, and today I want to share some of my tricks.

1) Always keep healthy snacks on hand.

If you don't, guess what will happen when you drive by Tim's? I've learned to carry snacks and a water bottle wherever I go. You just never know when hunger's gonna hit. What if you're in front of DQ when it happens?

2) If you're gonna stay longer, stock up! 

Most hotel rooms have a mini-fridge that can accommodate a little extra food. Most people have a fridge in their house, too! Don't be shy: put healthy food in it (and be willing to share of course). When I arrive in a new city, especially when abroad (you're not allowed to take fresh foods on planes), one of my first stops is usually the grocery store (or the market! Even funner!) I get fresh produce, Greek yogurt, cheese, nuts/seeds, etc. In NY last summer I even bought those individually wrapped hard boiled eggs (not super for the environment, but it was just for the time of the trip). If you're on a high-protein diet, bring your powder/bars. If you're watching your fiber, take Bran Buds with you. And carry camping utensils with you so it's not an excuse for not buying yogurt or the like.

3) Don't eat all your meals in restaurants.

(And if you do, chose healthy options and ask for a take out box; pour half the contents of your plate in it before you even start eating!) Restaurants make healthy eating a huge challenge. Especially those all-you-can-eat buffets. They spell the word DANGER in capital letters! (When I find myself in one of those buffets I use the smaller dessert plates for my main meal, and I cover such plate with green leafy stuff before I put anything in it - usually a fish fillet or a chicken breast. In Greece last year I focused on lean meats and grilled vegetables... can't say I felt deprived!)

That being said, eating outside restaurants not only will be healthier and cheaper, it's also a lot of fun! I've had the best tomato sandwiches on the beach in Croatia; we purchased all the goodies at the market in the morning and washed our fruit and vegetables in the sea! I kept dipping the cucumber in salt water as it gave it a yummy taste! Bench parks are another nice place to sit and have your little healthy picnic while you get your fix of people watching!

4) Enjoy local food... especially when it's healthy and fresh!

During my trip to China I was amazed to discover how different Beijing's food courts are from their North American counterparts. Many a place you fill a small basket with your choice of a dozen different green leafy vegetables and as many types of mushroom. The employee adds your choice of noodles and meat/seafood and dunks the basket in some hot broth for a minute or so. There, you have a quick, healthy meal!

5) Make sure physical activity is an integral part of your trip.

First, walk a lot. While travelling I avoid public transportation like the plague. Half of the fun is in the walking! In Rome I saw as many beautiful sculptures (fountains) on the way to the museum as in the museum itself! If you're vacationing in the great outdoors, easier still: hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking... the sky is the limit! Many hotels have gyms, some have pools: take advantage! Nothing beats a little sweat after a long day on the road! If you go down south the big resorts usually offer aerobic classes of some sort. Even when there are no amenities, you can always run or do body weight exercises (see above for examples). I've run up reps of staircases just for the sake of it. But of course the most fun is to run outside as you discover your new surroundings. I have fond memories of running along Lake Zurich, along the Mediterranean, and, closer to home, along Bras D'or lake. Don't forget the stretching, especially on planes (blood clot prevention). While waiting to depart for Beijing I did yoga poses in the airport terminal. One of the other passengers teased me: "You look top shape! Are you training for the Great Wall marathon?" (Nah, walking on the Great Wall is plenty for me, thank you!)

The only thing I need to warn you about is running in airports: I still have a big scar on my knee from a spectacular fall I took at CDG (Paris) while running to catch a plane (never got there in time - but that's okay... there are worst things in life than getting stuck in Paris!)

Yep, things really have changed since the time I used to spend my Christmas holidays on a "chocolate diet" (which mostly involves eating chocolate 24/7 and not much else!) I have loads of fun eating well and being active, and my vacation never gets in the way of feeling awesome, during and after!


  1. Hi J! I think your trainer is definitely one of the better ones. Very intelligent thought process up there in the post. I also plan the specific treat I want for a holiday (i.e. a cannoli), and then I don't feel victimized when I don't eat all of the numerous lesser treats. I'm a little worse for planning workouts, but generally just do a lot of walking/sightseeing wherever I end up at.

    :-) Marion

  2. You are right Marion, she's an awesome trainer! "Lesser treats": well said! In the end are we really THAT deprived when we avoid them? Especially considering the consequence is a strong, fit (and beautiful, teehee) body? ;-)

  3. Great advice for fitness when traveling!

    I've gotten some long walks in at airports, but never did the running thing at one although I believe some airports have added tracks for that now!

    Going to local markets rather than fast food places is also something that has been helpful when traveling.

    I also cooked one meal on a visit to my parents, but I realize going into someone else's kitchen territory can be risky business :-)

  4. Other people's kitchens ARE dangerous! I've downed liquid egg yolk thinking it was orange juice! Bwarrrrk...