4 Hacks to Stay Fit on Business Trips

It’s 8.30pm and you’ve just finished 6+ meetings in one day in Bangkok, not to mention a fairly large dinner with a client at an amazing restaurant on Soi 11. There’s still the sizeable report that you must submit regarding the day’s outcomes, as well as packing and preparing for tomorrow’s 6.30am flight to Yangon. Yikes.

While business travel may seem glamourous, the pressures of a convoluted schedule can make it difficult for one to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. As you might know from my previous blog post, I enjoy adhering to metronomic and ritualistic scheduling to ensure that I fulfil the daily steps that must be made towards longer term health/physical goals.

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Managing to maintain some fitness after a 2 week trip to Thailand, Myanmar and Singapore.

I have witnessed many a business-person eventually deteriorate into a state of general unhealthiness due to a lifestyle that demands regular travel. It’s not hard to see why – usually business trips include early starts and late finishes, minimal time for exercise (if at all) and the constant availability of unhealthy food.

 

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Serving for one during a dinner meeting at Jimbaran Beach, Bali. Great example as to how difficult it is to stay fit while on business travel.

Business travel definitely puts strain on a healthy lifestyle, and I’ve been able to witness these challenges first hand. In my previous role, I was required to undertake a three month secondment to dually manage both the Queensland and Victoria marketing teams. This required flying down on Sunday nights and then flying back to Brisbane on Wednesday/Thursday. In my current role, I now manage our marketing operations across South East Asia – this usually requires some travel every other month to cover the expansive borders of this region.

Throughout this time, I have sought out easy and effective ways for me to minimise the “damage” caused by way of a busy travel schedule. First and foremost, I think it’s important to not be so hard on oneself and acknowledge that your workouts and health will realistically have to take a back seat when you’re travelling for business (it is, after all, not an exercise vacation). However, these tips have worked for me in terms of making the transition back to my regular routine upon returning home.

#1 Skip the buffet breakfast and instead pack protein powder + greens mix

Probably the easiest step to making the move to a healthier business trip. Due to competitive pressures, most 4 or 5 star hotels now offer a full breakfast buffet with bacon and eggs, creamy omelettes, waffles, croissants, sugary cereals and even fried chicken (yes – in Indonesia they seem to eat fried chicken all the time). The availability of such a plethora of food is definitely too much temptation for a recently-reformed buffet lover like myself.

I have to admit that sometimes I have made my way to the buffet breakfast with the intention of only having a small breakfast, only to find myself later regretting that extra serving of oh-so-tasty bacon.

If you have more self-control than I do, then by all means use that discipline to restrict yourself to something like a black coffee and two boiled eggs. However, recently I’ve found a faster way to have breakfast without having to make my way to those seductive grease-filled smorgasboards.

Nowadays, my business travel breakfast consists of:

  • Protein shake with greens mix: I’ve been using the Earth Protein and Green Fusion range from Bulk Nutrients. This effectively emulates the usual morning shake that I have for breakfast at home, except minus the almond milk and kale.
  • Black coffee or green tea matcha latte from Starbucks

As you can see, it is very simple and provides one with valuable time for the other competing priorities while on business travel. While this would definitely not sustain an athlete or aspiring bodybuilder, I find that it is optimal for me considering the other variables at play.

#2 Select a hotel with a fully-equipped gym OR a hotel close to your regular gym’s local franchise branch in that city (if available) 

Obviously the most ideal situation would be to have access to a fully-equipped gym so that you may simply continue with your normal routine. As I’m sure many of you know, hotel gyms are often lacking the required equipment for a proper workout. In fact, you’d be lucky to find a hotel gym with more than simply a treadmill and a multi-function pinned weights machine.

If you have the time and freedom in selecting your accomodation, just scan through photos of the hotel’s facilities (I usually rely on Trip Advisor’s visitor photos to avoid crafty marketing visuals) to see if they have the equipment that you need for your workout. I recently did this prior to a business trip to Yangon, and was stoked to find that the hotel had a fully-equipped free weights area with a squat rack!

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Surprisingly well-equipped gym at Jasmine Hotel, Yangon

The alternative to this would only apply to those who already have a multi-site gym membership (e.g. Fitness First, Jetts, Anytime Fitness). Usually a normal membership at a gym franchise grants one with access to all their braches; if not, you may just have to pay a slight premium for this luxury. When I previously had to spend 4 days a week in Melbourne, I was lucky that I had a Jetts membership at the time. Therefore, I chose a hotel that was not too far away from the closest Jetts branch, and caught the tram there after work.

While this tip is simple enough for domestic travel, it can be challenging to find a gym with such a wide global presence. So far in my experience, Fitness First and Anytime Fitness have by far the most expansive reach, with branches in most key cities across South East Asia.

#3 Make the most of nearby class options

The best part of travelling can be the opportunity to try out new experiences. There is such limited free time when travelling for business so it makes sense to experience something outside of the ordinary during your workout hour – effectively killing two birds with one stone.

For example, when I’m in Thailand, I will regularly attend Muay Thai classes for my daily workout. Nothing beats the endorphin rush and cardio workout received after striking pads with the always-enthusiastic trainers at top Muay Thai gyms across Bangkok. Not only is this a fun way to fit in a time-efficient workout, but also an authentic Thai experience that wouldn’t be available in Australia.

Some other options could be Crossfit in Kuala Lumpur, yoga in Bali, boxing in Manilla, Wing Chun kung fu in Singapore…the opportunities are endless for an interesting and culturally-unique workout.

 

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One of the best Muay Thai gyms in the Bangkok CBD, Mankong Phranai.

#4 Aim for a larger (healthier) lunch

While there are usually a bombardment of appointments during business trips, I find it important to have a relatively large lunch to ensure you have the sustenance required to maintain optimal energy levels. Especially if you intend to stick to tip #1, you will likely not be able to last until dinner without a decent meal at midday.

I often make time in my schedule to accomodate lunch, whether it be by myself between appointments or alternatively with a client, and will order a larger meal. I am often very tempted by mouth-watering options such as pad thai, fried chicken wings, Malaysian curries etc.; however, for lunch I’ll usually try and keep it healthy with a simple meat and vegetables option.

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Lunch of papaya salad and chicken fillets on Soi Sukkasame, Chiang Mai. Seriously one of the best meals I’ve ever had!

Having a large lunch will also make it less likely that you will binge on unhealthy food or drinks at night. I often see fellow business travellers skip lunch and then feel it is acceptable to have an obscenely large dinner accompanied by beers. Sayoonara abs!

No doubt there will be many times when these rules are broken due to the hectic nature of a business trip. Recently I was on a trip where I was required to travel across 5 cities in 3 countries over the course of 3 days. Early flights and all-day conferences meant it was basically impossible for me to adhere to any kind of schedule! I believe on days like this it’s obviously important to just do what you can – manipulate the variables that are within your control. Drink a lot of water, skip the unhealthy food and sleep well…and save that energy for a big workout when you do eventually get the time!

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