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Staying fit and healthy on the road

Date

Performance Matters

Andrew May is a performance coach who has spent the past 15 years working with elite sportspeople.

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Try to find the time to look after yourself when you're travelling.

Try to find the time to look after yourself when you're travelling.

For many, corporate travel is part of the job description. Jumping onto planes, trains and automobiles, traversing around the state, country, and globe doing business. What often starts out as a fun and exciting adventure can quickly become tedious and draining, especially when not managed properly.

If you are a regular corporate traveller, it is imperative to have a travel strategy in place. Otherwise the end result can be poor health, fatigue and - at the very extreme - burnout.

Fit or fat?

I have regular conversations with clients who give me a fundamentally flawed "story": "With all of the business travel I do, putting on weight is just a normal part of my job."

I've never seen anyone in the Qantas Lounge forcing people to eat all of the cheese, party pies and pastries, standing over them saying, “now stick your snout back in the trough, fat boy, and suck down another five Crown Lagers!” Sure, have the odd drink or two, but corporate travel isn't an invitation to eat and drink everything offered to you.

I particularly notice corporate men that spend a lot of time in airport business lounges fall into one of two camps – fit or fat. There appears to be no in-between. For the latter, too much food and alcohol and not enough time getting off your backside and moving results in excessive weight gain over a period of time. It doesn't have to be this way with a little extra planning and discipline.

My experience with corporate travel

A number of years ago, I was running an international fitness consultancy, travelling to conferences and working around the world. In an average year, I would visit the UK/Europe four to five times, as well as regular travel throughout the rest of the globe. I started to feel tired and fatigued from the extensive travel, regularly jumping off a plane and walking through my front door feeling as if I had been slapped in the face with a wet fish. If you are a regular traveller, I'm sure you know the feeling.

Not long after, I worked as the physical performance manager for the Australian cricket team, ensuring team members were training and, just as importantly, recovering properly to ensure they sustained performance levels in the busy international cricketing calendar.

During my tenure with the Australian cricket team, I studied and researched the effects of travel, looking at best-practice techniques to minimise jet lag and reduce the likelihood of travel fatigue. I have stuck to this plan ever since, and find I bounce back a lot better after lengthy periods on the road when I stick to the basic principles, underpinned by the Science of High Performance.

Minimising travel fatigue

Sporting teams including the Australian cricket team, Wallabies, and the Super 14 rugby teams, have long understood how to minimise the effects of travel fatigue.

Considering the importance of meetings, presentations and relationship-building when you are on the road, doesn't it make absolute sense to keep yourself in the best possible condition so you can also perform at your peak? Send travel fatigue packing by adopting strategies used by high-performance athletes and stay fit and healthy on the road.

1. Travel light and automate

I love the movie Up in the Air starring George Clooney. The main character, Ryan Bingham, lives to get through airport security and check-ins in record time. For those of us that do spend weeks, if not months of our lives in airports and on planes, the simple tips really do add up to help save you a lot of time. Wherever possible, take carry-on bags to avoid waiting at luggage carousels. Buy the right type of travel luggage and check in online to avoid lengthy queues at the airport.

2. Work on the hop

With laptops, iPads, smart phones and mobile offices, make the most of working in airport lounges and travelling for hours and work on the hop. This will mean when you arrive at your destination you can spend any spare time you might have relaxing or squeezing in a fitness session or two.

3. Reduce ambient noise

Investing in a pair of noise-reducing headphones is one of the best travel investments you will ever make. A proper set of headphones helps to drown out the noise of the engines and other people talking. Quality headphones allow you to lose yourself and relax watching a movie or listening to your favourite music.

4. Healthy eating

Just because the business lounge or in-flight menu contains all of your favourite meals, doesn't mean you have to consume them in the space of five hours. Be disciplined and eat smaller, healthier meals. Remember, protein contains dopamine and tyropsine, which will promote alertness, and carbohydrates contain tryptophan, which is the precursor for serotonin, which increases drowsiness.

5. Stay hydrated

Dehydration is one of the biggest challenges for regular travellers. The effects of dehydration include fatigue and reduced concentration. Cabin pressure and airconditioning draws even more water out of your body than normal environments so as a general rule, try to drink 500ml of water every 60 to 90 minutes when flying.

6. Cut back on the alcohol

Reduce the amount of alcohol you consume when you fly. This goes hand in hand with healthy eating. More than one or two glasses of wine will interrupt your restorative sleep patterns (REM) and make you feel tired when you land.

7. Pack your fitness gear

And actually use it. Everywhere you go, get into the habit of packing your preferred exercise gear. This takes up minimal room in your travel luggage and helps eradicate the excuse of not doing fitness activities while away. Also get into the habit of training early in the morning before the day starts. You might have the best intentions to train at the end of a long day, but it's just not going to happen for most people.

8. Be grateful

I know this won't be on most people's priority list to stay healthy on the road, but keep perspective and remember how much of an opportunity you really do have to travel with your job. Would you prefer to be sitting at the same desk doing the same things every day? Remember all of the great places and wonderful people you have met as part of your job. Travel is an opportunity.

9. Personal mementos

Photos of your family and children are a great reminder when you're feeling tired and fatigued about why you're sometimes putting in the long hours and pushing yourself. Load personal photos onto your laptop and smartphone to give you a dose of home when you're away.

10. Relax before bed

Aim to get a good seven to eight hours sleep each night when you are on the road and avoid back-to-back late nights on the booze. Having a warm bath, listening to some music, reading non-fiction or even following a yoga routine (download a yoga video on your laptop or iPad) or stretching exercises before you go to bed are proven ways to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and help you switch off and go to sleep.

11. Rituals and routines

Staying fit and healthy on the road comes down to rituals and routines as much as anything. I find if I exercise on the first morning of a long trip away, I tend to exercise for the rest of the trip and I have set myself up in a good routine.

What are your stress-free travel tips? How do you stay fit and healthy on the road?

11 comments

  • For many years I have spent a lot of time travelling with a significant number of the international flights being long haul. I can still remember 20 years ago the turing point - sitting in Business Class on Qantas looking around me at the very overweight men tucking into "dinner" at midnight. I made my mind up then to create a routine that allowed me to travel , to enjoy that travel but to also be healthy and fit. I follow a very simple pattern - adjust my watch and my mind to the destination timezone before boarding , eat according to that timezone, no alcohol on the plane, no red meats on the plane and when landed and at the hotel if a morning arrival then straight off for a run before anything else. If weather or safety don't permit a run then it is down to the gym. Because I exercise in the morning when at home my body and mind click straight into morning mode and forget about the timezone I have just come from. It always works and has allowed me to maintain my weight at what it was over 20 years ago with high fitness levels. Oh and one other thing when it comes to lounges or planes - I never eat anything that I wouldn't pay for or eat at home , that cuts out 95% of the rubbish on offer , it amazes me what people will queue for in a lounge to eat!

    Commenter
    Michael
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 8:54AM
    • Sensible---something that is apparently not the norm amongst the "executive" class.From your description of them Ithought you were describing the Canberra big house canteens --dining facility with well stocked bar, occupants.The fat cat gang.

      Commenter
      Kane
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 9:24AM
    • Actually, you will find the Canberra 'fat cats' are almost universally thin and fit.

      Commenter
      asdf
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 11:39AM
  • Great tips - I'm always amazed by behaviour in airports. Two things I do to stay relaxed.

    1. Stay seated reading my book before boarding until most passengers have boarded. I had a moment a few years ago where it stopped making sense to stand in a queue, so I can hand over a boarding pass, so I can stand in a narrower queue, with steadily rising stress levels silently willing other passengers to hurry up. Much easier to wait in the (relatively) more comfortable lounge.

    2. Minimal carry on. I actually find it less stressful to wait in the baggage queue (again with my book) than join to increasing number of passengers kidding themselves their bag is small enough to carry on.

    Commenter
    Lindsay
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 9:18AM
    • Great advice Michael! the watch adjustment works great, I also pay particular attention to the hotel where I am staying.
      I make sure I am high up, away from lifts, use the pillow options, only stay where there is a good sized gym, and force myself after a long conference day to never eat in the hotel, get out and find better options and walking at the same time.
      One last tip, I have begun to take a compact speaker system so I can listen to my fav music and avoid the hotel TV.
      SAFE TRAVELS!

      Commenter
      Nomadic
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 9:20AM
      • skipping rope - cheap, light, packs small and can get you sweating in a 20 minute session, and less than $10 to buy if you don't have one.

        Commenter
        radar
        Date and time
        April 30, 2013, 9:24AM
        • Stay skinny and don't eat on the plane, you don't need it, you're not going to burn it off. It also means you won't be spilling your excess flab into my personal space. If you do, I'll make your flight very uncomfortable.

          Commenter
          Ms Anthropist
          Date and time
          April 30, 2013, 10:02AM
          • Great Article, I really enjoyed it. I'm on the way today to purchase some noise reduction headphones as I'll be flying in a few weeks, a great idea. Cheers.

            Commenter
            Daniel
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            April 30, 2013, 10:04AM
            • @radar.. even cheaper is just going for a run, and you sweat in 15 minutes.

              Commenter
              fit
              Date and time
              April 30, 2013, 10:09AM
              • I travel a fair bit for work but I am lucky as I always stay in the same hotels so in each capital city so I am able to have a routine to keep my fitness up. Plus I have learnt as well not to get an oversize meal but instead go for the entree size as that is generally all I need.

                Commenter
                Kutiel
                Date and time
                April 30, 2013, 11:01AM

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