Vail Daily column: Avoid a health disaster on vacation
April 21, 2014
As the offseason in our valley is upon us, many locals spend this down time traveling to enjoy the fruits of their hard labor during the busy winter season. For the retired, offseason travel offers the best time to escape because of poor local weather and ski area closures. Regardless, offseason travel can shipwreck the health of active individuals and this article will guide you through common problems associated with travel and how to avoid them.
A few years ago, I took my family to Mexico for an extended week during the offseason. Toward the end of our stay, I injured my back during a workout. Like most resorts and hotel gyms, the resort we were staying at was limited in equipment selections. It is common for most resort gyms to be heavily equipped with machines and treadmills, but free weight selections are often minimal. Because of the equipment limitations, I had to significantly alter my workout from my normal routine at the time. The heaviest weight the gym had was a set of 50-pound dumbbells; I had to increase the repetitions significantly during a particular exercise I was performing and I ended up injuring myself as fatigue set in from the ultra-high rep set.
Back injuries can occur when you factor in long hours driving to the airport, sitting in the terminal, flight time, driving time to your destination, a different mattress, and greatly altering your routine because of equipment considerations at your destination. There are several lessons I have learned from this observation during travel.
Break Up Your Travel Day
First, if you are prone to sciatic nerve pain or have other low back problems, hip problems, or other joint issues that are exacerbated by long duration sitting, try breaking up the travel day. Flying out of Eagle or driving to Denver the night before the flight can help. Secondly, consider taking a break from hard workouts and avoid structured exercise altogether. After all, you are on vacation. This can reduce the risk of injury because you eliminate the opportunity to alter your program in the first place, and you will come back from travel more inclined to workout harder due to the mental and physical break you offered yourself.
Avoid A Wayward Diet
Another way to shipwreck your health during vacation is to eat and drink like a pig without considerations. Although it is necessary and beneficial to celebrate with good food and drink, I have seen clients who come back from vacation 10 pounds heavier from overindulgence.
There are several strategies to combat this. One tactic that works well is to drastically cut caloric intake back during travel days by employing intermittent fasting tactics to offset the overindulgence during your vacation. Even though fasting is controversial, it serves many benefits worth a separate article. Using this tactic on the two travel days eliminates the possibility of eating the expensive junk at the airport. During travel you're not burning many calories above your baseline because you aren't moving; you're sitting in a car, terminal, or on an airplane all day. You don't need that many calories to sustain you when you're sitting around. Food selections and associated hormonal effects such as insulin spikes notwithstanding, weight management is largely associated with caloric balance.
From this perspective, assuming the average American needs around 2,000 calories per day, fasting on the two travel days deposits 4,000 (saved) calories into the bank you can spend throughout the week on top of your 2,000 you already have each day. Assuming your vacation stay is six days, that's nearly 700 calories per day you can overindulge above your baseline and potentially not gain any weight at all. Weight management is a little more complicated than this, but this tactic does work. I have used it as well as many of my clients with success.
Also, popular travel destinations are commonly located in close proximity to the ocean. Fresh fish is abundant in these areas and offer great nutrition, taste, and are usually very low in calories. Anytime I frequent beach destinations, I always take advantage of seafood markets, fresh catch of the day at restaurants, etc. It is very easy to find light, healthy fare at ocean destinations and these culinary opportunities are worth experiencing as our typical mountain fare doesn't always include the freshest seafood.
This travel season I urge you to challenge your thinking on how to manage your health and wellness. Cautiously choosing exercises and mindful eating are reasonable approaches that work well for common problems that arise during travel. With a little attention to these suggested alterations, you should maintain your health status even during times indulgence and fun.
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards' passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.