How to Build Muscle and Strength While Traveling


BY Robert Schinetsky

Table of Contents

Holidays, business trips, vacations, and weekend getaways.

Each of these represent a disruption in our normal daily routines. While enjoyable and even necessary at times, anytime you’re not in the comfort of your own surroundings, it’s incredibly easy to get off track with your diet and training.

To help you stay on track with your goals, and maybe even make some gains while away from home, we’ve assembled a list of tips, tricks, and pointers to help you next time you’re on the road. 

Tips for Making Gains Away from Home

Plan Ahead

You likely already know when you’re going to be out of town and away from the comforts of your regular gym. Rather than use being away as an excuse to miss workouts, use this knowledge to your advantage.

When packing your bags for the trip, pack several sets of gym clothes as well as shoes so you have your typical gym gear to wear when you train. Additionally, with the stark increase in popularity of all things health and fitness in recent years, finding a gym to train has never been easier or more accessible. In fact, you’ll likely find a pretty decent gym within 10-15 minutes of wherever you’ll be staying. 

Before heading to the airport or hopping in the car for your trip, call local gyms and see which ones, if any, offer guest memberships or single day passes for visitors. Chances are pretty good, most places are willing to accomodate the gains-seeking traveler.

If all else fails, and there’s no commercial gym around, you can always use the hotel gym. Most of the time, hotel gyms have a rack of dumbbells up to 50 lbs, and while that’s not a tremendous amount of weight, you can still get in an effective workout by using things such as supersets, giant sets, drop sets, or unilateral training.

And, if faced with the worst of circumstances, and the hotel “gym” consists of nothing but a treadmill or elliptical, you can perform bodyweight workouts consisting of chin ups, pull ups, push up variation, pike presses, bodyweight rows, bodyweight squats, lunges, bulgarian split squats, and jumping lunges.

In fact, here’s a full body circuit that can be performed 3x per week in your hotel room, or at the park, to help keep your gains intact while traveling:

  • Bulgarian Split Squats: 10-15 / leg
  • Push Ups: Max Reps
  • Pull Ups (using the bathroom door in the hotel room if necessary): Max Reps
  • Plank: 60 seconds

     Rest: 60-120 seconds. Repeat 4-5x.

Note: scale each exercise variation to your strength levels. If push ups are too easy, perform decline push ups, or push ups with 3 second negatives, followed by a 3 second hold in the bottom position before returning to the top. On the flip side, if Bulgarian split squats are too hard, regress them to stationary lunges, or even bodyweight squats.

Prioritize Protein at Meal Time

The key to maintaining and building muscle is protein. As such, if there’s one thing you need to make sure you consume adequate amounts of each day, it’s protein. A good rule of thumb is to eat roughly 1 gram per pound of body weight every day. 

The simplest way to track your daily intake of protein is with a food logging app such as MyFitnessPal. It includes thousands and thousands of foods, including just about every major restaurant chain you’re likely to encounter during your travels. Using diet tracking apps helps eliminate the guesswork involved with nutrition tracking and also helps you make better dining choices when you’re beyond the safety and comfort of your home kitchen.

Train Before Eating (if possible)

Training before you sit down to a meal with family and friends can do wonders to help keep you on track with your fitness goals and avoid unwanted fat gain. The reason working out before eating helps is that it depletes glycogen stores.[1]

Glycogen is your body’s stored form of carbohydrate, and when depleted, your body will use the carbohydrates you eat to replenish the expended muscle glycogen.[2,3] Here’s the best part -- your body won’t store any carbohydrate as fat until after it’s filled up glycogen in your muscles and liver. 

So, by getting in a really intense workout right before you eat, you’ll help drain your glycogen stores, creating a bit of a “carb sink” that can be filled up with an epic carb-heavy post workout meal, yet still avoid fat gain! 

Eat for Your Goals

Just because you’re traveling doesn’t give you carte blanche to go completely off of the rails with your diet. If you’re actively trying to lose fat, going to all-you-can-eat buffets or always getting dessert when dining out are surefire ways to wreck your diet and not only not lose fat, but gain a substantial amount of it.

If dining out is struggle for you to stay on track with your goals, consider stocking up your hotel room mini-fridge with healthy snacks and meals comprised of simple foods, such as greek yogurt, cottage cheese, rotisserie chicken, salad, fresh fruit, and/or nut butter. Having these foods on hand provides a quick, easy, and affordable way to get in your calories, while staying in line with your fitness goals.

If you’re trying to gain mass, you can be a little more liberal with your calorie intake, having a few indulgences along the way. But, only moderately so.

While a surplus of calories is needed to gain mass, the amount you need to eat above maintenance isn’t as large as you think. 250-300 above maintenance should be more than enough for most people to build muscle while limiting unwanted fat gain.

Consider Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a form of dieting where you restrict your eating to only a small window during the day. The rest of the time, you are fasting, drinking only low or no calorie fluids such as water, tea, or black coffee. For example, your eating window could be from 2PM - 10PM each day, the rest of the day, you fast.

If you’re someone who struggles to control how much they eat when on vacation, intermittent fasting can help eliminate some of the “mindless” grazing that can occur, thereby keeping you on track with your fitness goals and limiting fat gain.

Enjoy Yourself!

Traveling can be stressful at times, all the more when you’re overly concerned that you’ll lose tremendous amounts of muscle and strength. But, unless you’re traveling for months on end, eating terribly, and not training in any way, shape, or form, you won’t have any significant declines in size or performance.

In fact, one thing you can do prior to traveling is a bit of structured overreaching where the week before your trip you really go ham on the weights, approaching the point where you might feel overtrained. Then, the next week (when you’re traveling), use it as a deload/recovery week, so that when you return, you’re ready and raring to go at the gym.

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References

  1. Gollnick PD, Piehl K, Saltin B. Selective glycogen depletion pattern in human muscle fibres after exercise of varying intensity and at varying pedalling rates. J Physiol. 1974;241(1):45-57.
  2. https://www.jssm.org/vol3/n3/3/v3n3-3pdf.pdf
  3. Ivy, J. L. (1998). Glycogen resynthesis after exercise: effect of carbohydrate intake. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 19 Suppl 2, S142-5. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2007-971981



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