Whether you're gearing up for a family vacation or your season is just starting, chances are there's some travel in your future. And if you, like me, are not used to traveling on a regular basis, chances are good that this traveling may take a serious toll on your body, both in terms of your fitness/training goals and your general well-being. But there are always steps you can take to ensure your body stays healthy and happy—and game-ready—wherever your travels take you. Here are my top 3 tips on how to travel fit.
1. PLAN AHEAD
The key to success in most aspects of fitness and athletic training is planning. Whether it’s prepping your meals for the upcoming week on Sunday night, opting for water instead of a beer or soda the night before a practice, or even just keeping up with the laundry so your lucky underpants are fresh and clean on game day, planning ahead helps keep you stress-free and on-track for meeting your goals. The same reasoning applies to travel. Eating whole, fresh foods and staying well hydrated are two ways planning ahead can help you stay game-fresh on the road.
Eating Right on the Road
Eating well for your goals might be the most difficult aspect of travel and vacation. Part of the problem is what I like to call the "When in Rome" travel mentality. Fried chicken and biscuits? When in Charlotte, NC! Bagels and schmear? When in Montauk, NY! Aunt Katherine’s famous French toast breakfast casserole? Who knows when I’ll get to eat this again? I’d better have seconds...and thirds... This type of reasoning is all-or-none, and is not necessarily helpful for athletes: if I can’t have a salad with grilled chicken on it, then get me two Big Macs and a McFlurry because screw it.
This is why we gain weight over the winter holidays, and then make resolutions to lose it after New Year’s Eve. A little overindulgence is fine on occasion, but vacations are not a carte blanche excuse to eat whatever you want for every meal, if you are an athlete. Staying focused on your training goals is difficult when you’re traveling, especially if your only meal options are fried or processed. A little planning ahead can go a long way if you’re committed to staying fit and healthy on the road. Packing fresh produce for a long plane or bus ride, pre-portioning protein powder to mix with water or milk for a portable snack, or even opting for nuts instead of a Snickers at a gas station are all decisions you can choose to make before you travel, in order to keep your body functioning at its highest level when your routine is disrupted.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Nothing is worse than having to pee a million times during a cross-country flight…except having dehydrated muscles when you land. Don’t let your soft tissues turn to beef jerky when you travel: pack a water bottle and USE IT. If you know you’re going to be traveling by car or plane for a long period of time, consider packing an electrolyte supplement to add to your water (my personal favorite is Lemon-Lime Nuun). Keeping your body well-hydrated is Health 101, and there is no excuse for not drinking enough water when you’re traveling.
Another easy way to feel crappy when you travel is to drink too much alcohol. This usually happens during vacations and holidays—and the drinks are usually full of added sugar, which the body then metabolizes even more quickly, making it easier for one Rum and Coke to turn into two…or three. But seriously—and especially for college athletes traveling to away-games, who have to be game-ready immediately after stepping off the bus—dehydration from lack of water or excess of alcohol is a quick way to handicap your athletic performance. Keep your machine clean, and save the PBRs for after the season.
2. UNGLUE YOUR STICKY BITS
As anyone who’s taken the red-eye from New York to Seattle can attest, traveling wrecks your body. Travel—by plane, especially—is a perfect storm of detrimental body conditions: sitting in one position for hours; lack of moisture in the cabin air; dehydration like whoa; and the overall stress of lacing up your Nikes after going through security to sprint to your departure gate before the plane leaves without you. (Or maybe that last one is just me.) Whether you’re going by train, plane, or automobile, your traveling plans probably involve a lot of sitting down, which, as you probably know, is the “new smoking” in terms of damage to the temple of your body. As an athlete, you’ve got to keep your engines running, even when conditions are less than optimal—and this means undoing the yuckiness that travel can wreak on your body.
Open Those Hips
Try this experiment: sit down in a chair. Now grab the fold of fabric created by your pants/jeans/shorts/jorts in the crease of your hip when you sit down. Still holding that fabric, try to stand up. You’ll find that it’s hard to straighten your hips fully with that fold of fabric all bunched up. This is what happens to your hip flexors whenever you sit.
Your body, the amazing machine that it is, will adapt to whatever positions it finds itself in most often. So when we sit for hours at a time, our hip flexors say, “Hey! Seems like we hang out in this shortened position a lot. Let’s just stay shortened all the time for efficiency!” Now, your hip flexors are short and tight and awful 24/7, and not just when you’re seated. It’s a Catch-22 of Yuckiness. So you’ve GOT to take care of those hips!
Spend some time post-travel ungluing your hip flexors. Try the Couch Stretch, which you can do anywhere from an uncomfortable airport chair between flights to your Grandma’s ugly futon. Breathe into each stretch for 2 minutes per side. Your hip flexors will thank you.
Stretch Those Pecs
During a recent road trip for a friend’s wedding on the East Coast, we rented an SUV with bucket seats. I thought this was pretty cool, until about an hour into our drive, when I realized that my upper body had slunk (slinked?) into an ugly, internally rotated mess. My shoulders were pushed forward by the car’s seat back, and my chest muscles were tightened as my scapulae were pulled further away from each other, overstretching my upper back. It's the same position we fall into when seated at a desk for too long, and it is a killer. Try to do anything remotely athletic in this position and you will find yourself crying in a heap of despair. I know I did.
Anecdotes aside, it’s important to stretch your pectoral muscles after you’ve been traveling. Tight, short pecs make for overstretched, trigger-pointy traps, rhomboids, and lats. Try the Doorway Stretch—which, if you’re sneaky, you can even get away with doing one arm at a time, in the back of the plane or bus by the bathrooms. Be sure to stretch with your arms below, above, and parallel to your shoulder: this will target both the pec major and pec minor, in a more effective chest stretch.
Roll All Your Worries Away
I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll say it again: foam rolling makes you a better athlete. It will improve your test scores, give you perfect pitch, and make you just a better person all-around—it’s THAT good! But really, if you get the chance to pack your foam roller with you on your travels, it will be your best friend at unsticking the sticky bits of your muscle fibers and fascia that can form during long travel days. If you’re limited to a carry-on, or have nineteen pairs of shoes in your suitcase, you can substitute a lacrosse ball for your myofascial releasing needs. Or, if you don’t mind spending a few bucks, invest in a Mobot foam-roller water bottle.
3. STAY ACTIVE
This one sounds like an absolute no-brainer, particularly for athletes on the road, but it is actually quite easy to forget. Your body was designed to move: that’s how your joints get lubricated, how your tissues stay healthy, how your body utilizes the energy you consume via calories. And when you travel, your capacity for movement is limited. Which is why it is crucial to keep moving, even when you’ve just reached your hotel after bussing for eleven straight hours to your next away game.
Stay Active En Route
Getting up and moving as often as possible during travel will help keep your muscles supple and your metabolism chugging away. If you can, try to stand up and move around at least once an hour while traveling. On busses and planes, there is usually a small area near the bathrooms where you can do some prisoner squats, lunges, and stretches. You may feel a bit silly (especially if this stretching takes place at the front of the plane, where literally every passenger can see you and think you’re a weirdo), but you’ll feel a whole lot more silly if you reach your destination moaning and groaning from lack of movement. If you hit a rest stop or layover, be That Guy or Girl doing dynamic drills or burpees while everyone else hits the bathrooms and vending machines. You may lose out on some Funyuns, but the gains for your body are much more tasty.
Stay Active During Break
Non-sport-related vacation? Be sure to talk with your coach to see if there are workouts you need to be getting in for your sport over break. Sport-specific training should always take precedence over random strength sessions. If you’re just trying to keep your fitness up, running—especially hill sprints—is fabulous for both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. Bonus: hills are free, and pretty easy to find.
Travel is tough on the body, but by making smart choices before, during, and after your travel, you can keep your body functioning well on the road. You have the power to keep vacations from derailing your fitness. The key is to strike a healthy balance between discipline and fun.
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Learn more about Christye and read her other posts | @CoachChristye