Can you possibly lose fat or even gain muscle while on vacation? Absolutely. It's not easy of course. You are on vacation after all, so you probably want to indulge and eat and relax. Here are some tips to actually lose fat and/or gain muscle and STILL have a fun indulgent vacation.
Let's say you are taking a one week or two week holiday. You can do a lot of damage to your body in 14 days of eating junk, drinking, and laying around the beach. Don't let that be you! You can be the person who comes back from vacation not just well rested and rejuvenated but also in better shape! An important step is to plan ahead – waiting until you are on vacation is too late. So good for you for reading this article now.
These are notes partially to myself (I'm on vacation as I write this). And as with many of the approaches I take, I need to thank Tom Venuto and his Burn The Fat ebook.
1. Find A Gym – Chances are, there is a gym near your vacation spot. Search before you leave, find out if they have a power rack or squat rack. (Yes, you'll still do the Big Seven as your primary lifts). Find one with day passes.
2. Time Your Workouts around the "indulgent" meal. You've heard me (and countless others) talk about how important it is to feed your muscle within that 1 to 2 hour block around your workout. You need protein and carbs to start the repair process. Many people advocate eating most of your calories for the day around this window (shake before, shake during, big meal afterwards). Well, if you are on vacation and you love big, crazy breakfasts, then workout in the morning before you indulge. If instead you are going to go hog-wild over dinner, then workout beforehand.
3. Count Calories – Calories do still count. There's no magic here – if you eat more than your body uses then you will gain fat. I believe it's more complicated than just counting calories (hormones play a huge role) but for some people, the logical process of counting calories let's them eat crazy for a meal, then dial it back the rest of the day. Which brings me to…
4. Intermittent Fasting – I've written about intermittent fasting before, and I'm a lot more experienced and knowledgeable about it now, two years later. Also see this article. It's gaining popularity, so there is more evidence than ever about it. I won't repeat everything I wrote previously, but this isn't for everyone. That said, it can certainly help ensure you are in a caloric deficit for the week. If I.F. is too intense for you, you could also try book-ending your meals – enjoy breakfast and dinner, but for your other meals use low-calorie shakes [whey and greens] or just BCAA drinks. I'm using this approach, plus I.F. for these two weeks.
5. Relax, Avoid Stress – Seems obvious right? Well some people just substitute different stresses when on vacation. Stress about lines, stress about bad waitresses, stress about traffic, stress about waiting around, etc. But stress is proven to produce a hormonal profile that promotes fat retention and muscle loss. What this means is that you could be following a great eating plan and great workout routine, and yet make no progress. Don't be that guy.
6. Avoid Fats + Starches Simultaneously – This is a small point, and a controversial one, but strongly supported by Dr. John Berardi. The basic concept here is that starches (sugars) are so easily digested that they spike insulin. Insulin then promotes a "storage" signal to the body. [This is one reason why starches are added to post-workout protein shakes.] But if you also have fats in your bloodstream, then it is more likely to be fat that gets stored. Note: fats are not bad for you! Just try to avoid them with simple carbs (starches, sugars, white bread).
7. Increase Intensity – Often on vacation you don't want to take the time for a long workout. Fair enough. You can get in a really great workout in a short time – even 30 minutes of intense, focused lifting or fast-running or Tabata sprints. Don't use one of the cliche routines from a muscle mag that has all these body-part splits focused on small muscles. You need a lifting routine focused on compound lifts, like The 6x6x6 Routine, which also has options for different areas of focus.
8. Walk – Don't take cabs, don't take public transit, don't drive. Walk. Those miles will add up, burn calories, won't inhibit muscle growth, and will actually provide a lot of fun to talk, sightsee, etc.
9. Sleep – Sleep is one of the most important recovery mechanisms from a workout. If you find your schedule such that you are up late and awake early, then take naps. Studies have shown that with all other variables controlled (even calories), groups of people who get <6 hrs of sleep gain more fat and lose more muscle than groups of people who get approximately 8 hrs of sleep. Plus, when you sleep less, you eat more and your willpower to get to the gym is lower. AND – your workouts are less intense. It's a horrible cycle – get your sleep!
10. Keep Alcohol In Check – For many people, drinking and vacations go hand in hand. But do you really need to get drunk? Wouldn't it be better to just have 1 or 2 really nice drinks than 4 or 5 cheap "specials"? Drinking reduces your quality of sleep (see previous point), might make you hung over (meaning that you are less likely to workout the next day), and appears to produce cortisol (remember, cortisol is a "bad" hormone for body composition – it increases fat retention and reduces muscle retention).
11. Buddy Up – Sometimes it's really hard to eat clean when you're out with friends/family and everyone else is ordering the double-cheese-nachos-with-side-of-fried-twinkies. "Uh, I'd like the spinach salad with grilled chicken and balsamic vinegar; no, not balsamic vinaigrette, just the vinegar itself. Yeah, I know it's weird. Thanks." I know I get funny looks when I order out, but here's a tip to make it easier: buddy up. Hopefully you already have a friend or family member who is equally committed to a healthy life and fitness. If not, maybe this is a good time to get someone started. Tell your significant others/friends/whomever you are vacationing with that you want to have fun but also want to eat healthy. I bet you'll get a few takers. They might not be as committed as you, but at least you won't seem like a total freak.
12. Get A Room With A Fridge and Go To Grocery Store – If you are vacationing and renting a house, you'll have a fridge but if you are staying at a hotel, ask for a small fridge in the room. Then find a nearby grocery store to get some fresh snack veggies, some fruit, etc. That way, at night when others are snacking on chips, you have something to snack on. PLUS, you can now save leftovers from dining out. Neat tip: get some extra hard-boiled eggs at breakfast and store them in your fridge for a protein snack later.
13. Vitamins and Supplements – Cameron wrote a good article a while back on different supplements and the difference between nutritional supplements and performance supplements. For vacation, we're talking about nutritional supplements like vitamins, whey protein, greens plus, etc. I get mine from AllStarHealth. But regardless, you need to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need while on vacation. Now is not the time to skip these. Unless you follow all my other recommendations perfectly, you're likely going to have some deficiencies in your diet while on vacation and the convenience of supplements can't be beat.
14. Intervals – On vacation you might love the idea of a few long runs. It depends on where you are vacationing. But if you are pressed for time, do intervals instead. Intervals, especially Tabata intervals, have been shown to actually be much more effective for fat burning and take a fraction of the time it takes to burn the same amount of calories from long, steady-state cardio.
You'll notice that most of the tips are around your eating plans. As I've said repeatedly (and it's not just me saying this), what/how/when you eat is far more important to your health, fitness, and appearance than your workouts. You need both of course, but when on vacation it's the eating plan that suffers the most. With these tips, you can actually lose fat on vacation, and maybe gain some muscle too.
What other tips can you share?
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