There’s a double-edged sword to this whole fitness lifestyle.
On one hand, there’s the obvious benefits: looking and feeling better, having more confidence, improved health markers, and the fact that you’re just overall more capable of fully experiencing life.
Good stuff, for sure.
But there’s also a dark side-
- The guy who freaks out when he can’t find a “real” gym while on vacation for a week.
- The guy or gal who forces themselves to take a week off from any kind of organized training… and then sits on the beach, stressed and second-guessing themselves the whole time, chomping at the bit to get back to the gym.
- The person who “secretly” tries to calculate their macros when dining out with their family at some awesome exotic restaurant because they know they’ll feel guilty if they don’t.
So, yeah, while living a healthy, fit lifestyle is all kinds of awesome, there’s some potential downsides, too.
I know, because I’ve been there…
And if I’m not careful, I can slip back into still being there.
I literally used to think that one week away from the weights would cause me to shrink up into some weak little twig. I’d panic if there weren’t heavy weights at my disposal while traveling. At the same time, I’d walk around in misery, wanting to relax and indulge, but knowing I’d feel guilty if I did.
That’s not healthy or helpful.
Going on vacation should be fun, right?
Yet a lot of people go into their travels with a lot of stress about their health and fitness.When it comes to staying in shape while on vacation, the questions are pretty common:
“Should I just stick with my usual regimen?”
“Will I get fat if I don’t train for a week?”
“Will I lose strength/muscle if I don’t lift for a week?”
“Maybe it’d be healthy to just take an entire week off from training?”
“How can I find the balance between looking and feeling awesome while still relaxing and having a good time?”
The goal today is to clear this matter up and find a way to enjoy vacations while looking your best and staying in shape.
The #1 Crucial Decision You Must Make
Some people see Zac Efron in Baywatch and think it would just be the coolest thing in the world to walk around on vacation looking all ripped-up. The appeal is real. And I get it.
There was a time when this was me. I didn’t care about “all-inclusive” drinks or indulging in my guilty food pleasures; I just wanted to look freaking awesome. (Well, I did care about those things, but I cared more about looking my best).
But here’s what I’ve learned from experience: If you’re not careful, this image-focused approach can turn into an obsession. And more often than not, no matter how good you look, it won’t feel good enough.
When I was younger, I spent most of my time on vacation worrying about whether or not I looked “good” enough.
I can recall a few vacations where my mental chatter looked something like this…
- “Should I eat this awesome-looking Crepe that I can’t get anywhere but here for breakfast… or will that hurt my ab definition?”
- Was Paddleboarding for two hours enough physical activity… or should I find a gym and get a “real” session in?
- My friends/family seem to be having such a good time not obsessing with how they look… is this really worth it?
- I haven’t done a “real” workout in 5 days… am I getting weaker? Am I losing muscle? Do my arms look smaller?
How relaxing do you think that was?
I’m not saying there’s a “right” answer for everyone, but that’s my experience having done this multiple times before.
Is the goal to look as awesome as possible to show off your “beach” body or do you want to look “good” and enjoy yourself some, too?
That’s the first question you gotta answer.
The approach you take, from training, to the way you eat while traveling will depend on your answer. And if you don’t address this upfront, you’ll be caught in a weird limbo, where you constantly second-guess everything you do because you’re not sure what your goal actually is.
How To Stay Fit On Vacation (And Still Have A Good Time)
There’s literally a hundred different websites and magazines that will tell you how to stay “on the regimen” to be as shredded as possible while on vacation, but that’s not what we’re gonna do here.
Muscle That Matters is all about balance. Yeah, we want to look awesome. But there’s more to life than that, too.
Like experiencing new locations with family and friends without having to constantly think about the macronutrient total of the meal in front of you.
Like being able to do fun stuff without having to grade it on an “enough/not enough” physical activity scale.
So following you will find answers to the most common questions that come up when trying to merge the fit lifestyle with vacation. Use it to develop your own plan so that you can stay fit while still enjoying your travels.
Should I Workout While On Vacation?
For people who consistently hit the gym week after week, month after month, with few breaks, there’s nothing wrong with taking a week off from any kind of organized training. In fact, it may be just what you need to feel rejuvenated. You’re not going to lose strength or muscle in a week.
It’ll be fine, I promise. I recently got back from a two-week vacation where I only did one workout in an actual gym.
That doesn’t mean I just sat on my butt the whole time. I hauled all kinds of chairs, coolers, canopies, and all of my kids’ stuff for miles across the beach. I spent a few hours paddleboarding in the ocean one day (which is way harder than a lake, by the way).
And you know what? There were times when I started thinking… “Is this enough? Should I find a gym?” There were even times when, all guilt aside, I missed the gym and wanted to train. But it just didn’t work out, and I walked back into the gym today with a renewed passion.
So maybe taking a break, even though it was tough at times, was the “healthiest” thing I could have done.
Bottom line: I think it’s a good idea to stay active on vacation, but that doesn’t mean it has to look like what you usually do. Go hiking, try a new sport or activity that gets you moving and enhances the experience and go with it. And if you really want to do “real” workouts, go for it. But don’t feel like you have to.
A few further considerations when deciding whether (or not) to exercise on vacation:
- Working out has more benefits than just building muscle and gaining strength (a.k.a. the “physique” stuff). For many people, it’s a mental stress reliever. Something that makes you feel a lot better. This is why I highly recommend staying active in some capacity, even if it’s not what you normally do.
- The longer your vacation, the more you may consider scheduling “normal” workouts. A week or less on the road? It probably doesn’t matter. But if you start getting into longer travels, you may want to do something more structured (for the sake of your mental and physical well-being).
Should I Stick To My Normal “Diet” While On Vacation?
If I’m being honest, I struggle far more with nutrition while traveling than I do with working out.
I have friends who gain up to 10 pounds on a week-long vacation. All the alcohol and exotic food take a toll quickly. They look at vacation as a free-for-all, where they can indulge to their heart’s content.
Personally, I’ve tried that approach and run into a few issues:
- After a few days of no-holds-barred eating, I notice a negative visual difference
- I feel worse (energy/intestinal discomfort/etc.)
… That’s not a fun way to spend a vacation, either.
So here’s the deal: you gotta find balance. There’s going to be benefits of following at least a semi-structured eating plan while on vacation. You’ll look better, you’ll feel better.
That doesn’t mean you can’t build in room for mindless indulgence.
There’s probably a hundred ways to do this, but here’s the best approach I’ve found:
- Pick one meal per day where I don’t worry at all about how “good” my food choices are or even how much I’m eating.
- For the rest of my meals that day, stick *close to my typical “diet” (I don’t count macros/calories, I just focus on lean protein, fruits, and veggies and toss in some carbs like rice or oats if I worked out recently).
The “free” meal doesn’t have to stay the same each day. Typically, when my family goes on vacation, we eat breakfast and lunch at the house we’re renting and then go out for supper. So I’ll save my “free” meal for supper and make my own breakfast and lunch that’s lean protein, fruits, and veggies.
A typical day of eating while on vacation may look like this:
Breakfast: piece of fruit, lean protein (or just skip it and fast until lunch)
Lunch: piece of fruit, lean protein, veggies (a salad works really well here)
Supper: Whatever I want
This set up works really well because you get lots of high-quality nutrients during the day to stay energized and feeling good.
But, there are also times when I flip this around and use my “free” meal for breakfast and eat lightly the rest of the day.
What it comes down to is this: if you want to look and feel good while on vacation, you probably can’t just eat whatever you want, whenever you want. After a few days, you’ll start to look and feel worse.
But if you can compromise a little and pick one or two meals per day where you relax and eat what you want, you should be fine.
I will say, I’ve found it really important to decide what you’re going to do at the start of each day. When you have no structure, it’s easy to just say “screw it”, and do whatever.
Plan ahead, decide what you’re gonna do, and stick to it.
All the articles about “Peak Week Techniques” and doing all kinds of crazy to stuff to be shredded on the beach are, in my opinion, misguided.
Having a strong, healthy – and yes – great looking body is a lifestyle.
When asked how he got in shape for Baywatch, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson said, “I don’t get in shape; I stay in shape.”
There’s one thing that needs to be prefaced with all advice aimed at “how to do fitness on vacation” information: Consistency is still king.
As long as you’re training and making smart nutritional choices most of the time when you’re not on vacation; what you do while you are on vacation really doesn’t matter that much.
Someone who’s taking care of business 50 weeks out of the year can get away with relaxing for a week or two (if they want). The fitness mags and supplement companies want you to think getting in shape requires 100% adherence to the “perfect plan” as if that even exists.
Truth is, building an awesome body is more of a stumbling-your-way-forward test of endurance. Those who stick it out, net more “wins” than “losses” and find a way to enjoy the process always come out on top.