Getting in swimsuit shape for your next trip? Sadly, we have some bad news: a recent UK study found that 6 out of 10 travellers gain weight over two-week holidays, and they typically put on a frightening five to seven pounds (3kg) during their time away. Talk about excess baggage!
But here’s the good news: vacation bingeing doesn’t have to bring you down. Smarter Travel interviewed licensed nutritionist Monica Reinagel for her top tips on staying fit and eating right while away – whether you’re on an island, in a city, or on top of a mountain. Here’s the skinny on how to come home looking as svelte as the day you left.
Take a Walk
(Photo: Paul Lowry via flickr/CC Attribution)
Whenever possible, avoid hailing a taxi or hopping on the subway. As long as it’s safe, walking is the best way to take in your destination’s sights and sounds—all while squeezing in some exercise. For example, go on a guided walking tour or download an audio guide to your smartphone. While you’re in transit, avoid airport malaise by taking a walk through the terminal. According to Harvard University researchers, walking at a moderate pace for just a half hour can burn around 170 calories, so make sure your layover isn’t a lazy one.
And for the simplest tip of all: Skip the hotel or cruise-ship escalator and take the stairs. Just a few minutes of walking up a staircase will keep you reasonably active with limited investment. Do the same in museums, airports, train stations, and theme parks. All told, climbing five flights of stairs just three times per day will net you 75 calories.
(Photo: ruben i. via flickr/CC Attribution)
“The only bad alcohol is too much or what is mixed with it,” says Monica Reinagel. (These are words we love to hear!) So while that creamy pina colada may look like paradise in a glass, hidden inside are 500 or more nutrient-devoid calories, mostly from the corn-syrup-laden mix. Reinagel recommends that you forego bucket-sized tropical drinks brimming with fat and sugar. Instead, stick to a glass of wine or your favorite liquor and club soda. Rule of thumb: “Avoid anything with an umbrella in it.”
Also, keep in mind that at higher altitudes, your body will process alcohol less efficiently. In high-in-the-sky destinations like Denver, Colorado “You want to cut your normal consumption in half, at least for the first day or two,” says Reinagel, lest you end up with a horrible (and ski-prohibiting) hangover.
Adapt Your All-Inclusive
(Photo: Jacrews7 via flickr/CC Attribution)
Unlimited meals, drinks, and snacks can lead to a gluttonous getaway. Human nature dictates that the more options and flavors that are available to us, the more likely we are to overindulge, notes Reinagel. If possible, choose the a la carte, or “European,” plan during your stay. If the all-inclusive option is inevitable, eat smart. Limit yourself to the amount of meals you would normally eat at home, and balance your guilty pleasures with wise choices. For example, consider planning one or two indulgent meals at the resort’s flashiest restaurants while keeping the rest limited to plates of lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
And as Reinagel points out, “These resorts are all-you-can-exercise, too.” So any late-night French-fry binges are easily outweighed by that scuba lesson you signed up for.
(Photo: Marriott International, Inc.)
Rent a vacation home with a kitchen, or book a hotel room with cooking facilities. Preparing your own meals is a sure way to keep your eating in check. Upon arrival, visit a local farmers’ market for fresh produce, and stock your rental’s shelves with truly local, healthful treats. And even if you just have a cooler or a minifridge, “Keep string cheese on hand,” recommends Reinagel. “It’s a nice, high-protein snack, a way to get some calcium, and easy to grab.” Baby carrots, sugar snap peas, and hummus are also great items to buy.
If dining out is a must, Reinagel suggests the Stop & Go Fast Food Guide app will help when convenience is key and fast food is unavoidable.
(Photo: Betsssssy via flickr/CC Attribution)
Snacktime isn’t just for kids; travellers need a little mid-morning or afternoon pick-me-up, too. Stash protein-packed snacks in your bag before hitting the town. “Avoid PowerBars and other performance bars,” warns Reinagel. These are wonderful for athletes who need endurance, but being filled with sugar, they’re not the casual traveler’s best pick for a between-sights nibble. The same goes for packaged granola bars, which can be slathered in corn syrup, chocolate, and preservatives. Instead, “Stick to loose granola, nuts, and dried fruit.” These foods are portable and rich in fiber, which will help you feel full well until your next meal.
“Long drives can get boring, and one of the reasons that we snack is that we’re trying to entertain ourselves,” says Reinagel. So if you’re planning a road trip, bring a healthy, easy-to-eat meal and some automotive amusement—or prepare to endure several hours of “I Spy.”
(Photo: Steven Depolo via flickr/CC Attribution)
Carry a refillable water bottle wherever you go, especially in tropical locales. Moderate dehydration can make a traveller feel hungry, when what one really needs is just H2O. If the drinking water in your destination is unsafe, pack extra bottled water for your daytime excursions. Avoid sodas and fancy hydration drinks, which may be high in calories (and pricey at that).
When flying, “You do need extra water, because the air is extra dry,” says Reinagel. “You are losing excess water just through your skin and through respiration.” She advocates accepting water whenever the flight attendant offers it and carrying a water bottle onto the plane. If you can sit through a seven-hour flight without using the facilities, you’re under-hydrated.
Hit the Gym
(Photo: Jean Philippe Piter)
When choosing a hotel for your stay, make sure the facilities include a gym or pool. If not, find out if your hotel offers discount passes to a local fitness center. Or, just use your hotel room! Reinagel recommends Ben Greenfield’s How to Work Out in a Hotel (the most equipment you’ll need is the furniture your room comes with). Taking even 15 minutes to do some in-room squats or to hit the elliptical at the hotel gym won’t cut into your leisure time one bit.
Best of all, researchers have found that your body continues to burn calories up to 14 hours post-workout, which gives you a little more leeway when mealtime comes around (and makes that dessert much, much sweeter).
(Photo: Royal Caribbean International)
When stuck at sea, it’s hard not to go overboard, at least where eating is concerned. Reinagel recommends taking advantage of your cruise’s activity-inducing amenities. (Think jogging tracks, rock walls, volleyball courts, and ice-skating rinks.) Snack smart between meals and use your dining plan to eat well. According to our sister site Cruise Critic, several lines publish nutritional information for their dining room options, while others offer spa menus that include nutritious, never-fried choices for the health-conscious cruiser. “This doesn’t mean that ships are dispensing with 24-hour pizzerias or unlimited soft-serve ice cream, but healthy options abound,” says Cruise Critic’s Ben Lyons. Good; we like to have our cake and eat it, too … after a splash in the wave pool.
(Photo: Paris Tourist Office/Amelie Dupont)
Vacations are all about new experiences, so save up for what counts: the local specialties. Don’t blow your diet on foods easily found at home. Instead, indulge on the local fare.
“When you are travelling, you need to know what your priorities are,” says Reinagel. “Some vacations are legitimately a time to indulge and enjoy—consciously and mindfully. This isn’t about draining all the joy out of vacation.” So if you’re in Paris, by all means, enjoy that baguette … but skip the frites. You can always have fast food at home, and you don’t want to waste time, money, and calories on something you’ve had a hundred times before. In other words, be adventurous and expand your palate—not your belt.