There are few scenarios more frustrating for a personal trainer than having a client who constantly travels. Even short trips destroy routines, make nutrition difficult to control, and mess with training intensity (if workouts happen at all).
Throughout my career, I’ve always had a high number of clients traveling for business or pleasure on a regular basis. I’ve learned how to produce client transformations while navigating around unpredictable schedules.
Here’s the core problem: You can’t use travel as an excuse for a lack of results. Especially if you have clients who are off somewhere on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis. The responsibility is on us as trainers to be able to educate our clients, provide extra accountability, and plan around the events as much as possible.
Your goal: Set up some travel rules that are easy to follow and won’t interfere with the business or pleasure (or both) of the trip.
Here are the best strategies I’ve used with my clients over the years to help them maintain their results, or even make a little progress, while on the road.
Part One: Getaway Day
In my own experiences, and listening to clients after their trips, your departure sets the tone for the entire trip. You can be stuck at the airport anywhere from three to 24 hours.
If it’s 90 minutes before takeoff and your client has already downed five beers at the airport bar, chances are he’s heading for disaster. On the other hand, if you can encourage your clients to continue their normal eating and drinking habits on the outbound journey, they’ll reach their destination in a much better mindset and mood, with greater motivation to stick to the plan.
This is a particularly useful motivator for your business travel clients: Work trips are stacked with back-to-back meetings, so they’ll want to minimize travel fatigue and be at their sharpest when they hit the ground. Making healthy choices on Getaway Day will help their plan results and let them do amazing work.
Drinking on the flight
Focus on hydration. Air cabin humidity is lower on a plane, so aim for at least eight ounces (250 milliliters) of water for every hour above the ground to stay fresh.
Curtail the boozing, too. Not only will it intensify dehydration, but having a hangover a few hours after you land (fun times) will encourage poor food choices later on.
Eating on the flight
Ah, airline food. You just never know. If you fly coach, don’t even bother. Business and first class will offer unpredictable choices and quality. Even if portion sizes are reasonable, it’s impossible to know how many calories and what hidden ingredients you’re taking in.
Here’s how I advise my clients:
- Eat before you leave the house. This is the optimal choice. You control the ingredients, cooking method, and serving size. After that, you can…
- Fast. For short flights (less than four hours), it’s easy. Just don’t eat. For long-haul or overnight flights, fasting helps to reset meal times so you’re ready for breakfast in the new location.
- Buy your food at the airport. This can be dicey depending on what’s available. I know from personal experience that at most U.K. airports, cold meats, fish, nuts, and other easy-to-carry snack foods are generally available. In a pinch, a bag of mixed nuts is a reliable choice.
- Pack your own meals. I only recommend this for clients on extremely time-sensitive and high-stakes deadlines, such as weddings or photo shoots, when calories, ingredients, and feeding times matter. Why? Taking food through security is hit and miss. No liquids, of course. In my experience, Tupperware with all types of solid food, protein powder inside a shaker (but no water), and packs of meat or fish are fine. But be careful of gel-like foods such as nut butters, as they may be limited to certain amounts. Also, only take enough food for the plane journey itself, as different countries have rules for bringing in outside meat or fish.
READ ALSO: “Five Ways to Help Your Clients Lose Weight”
Part Two: Your Client’s Eating Plan
Since no two clients are alike, I always start with a series of questions:
- Are they going away for business or pleasure?
- If pleasure, have they been working up to this holiday for months?
- How long will they be on the road?
- Are they in the middle of a serious body transformation?
- Are they in a muscle building/maintenance phase?
These are typical scenarios you’ll encounter as a trainer, and I learned them firsthand.
In 2016, I was deep into a muscle-building phase when I traveled to Hong Kong for more than a week. I didn’t have much of a plan. The goal was to eat enough to maintain my weight. I didn’t, and ended up three kilograms (6.6 pounds) lighter.
The next year, during a 20-week bodybuilding-prep diet, I had three leisure trips lined up. Because of my end goal, I made a point to book self-catered Airbnbs, and was very strict with myself to stay on track. It worked.
I share these experiences with my clients to help illustrate what they’ll be up against on the road, and what needs to be done.
Here are some general “high-level” rules I use with my clients:
- Business trips: Try to be as good as possible, no matter when it is. It’s a business trip, so there’s no need to fall off the wagon. Some business includes entertaining, but having a plan helps limit the damage.
- Leisure holidays in the middle of a transformation: Enjoy yourself, but try to follow the 70:30 or 80:20 rule. The aim is to maintain your gains, or, worst case, be only a few pounds up.
- Leisure holidays after reaching a goal: If you’ve worked your butt off for three or four months with the goal of looking as good as possible on this trip, enjoy yourself! The mental break is part of the reward.
Day-to-Day Tips for Smart Eating
Your clients are away from routine, they’re human, so they’re going to slip. Instead of berating them, offer these rules:
- Eat three meals a day. If you normally eat four to six meals a day, dropping to three will help control calories. If you need snacks in between, the best bets are protein powders, protein bars, or jerky.
- Protein and greens first. Always pick a lean protein off the menu with a side of vegetables. This should be easy in most restaurants.
- If in doubt, go low-carb. While it’s very easy to find carbs, it’s difficult to find clean carbs that don’t include too much fat. Unless you’re somewhere that serves dishes like steamed rice, it’s safer to go low-carb.
- Fast or eat light early. Dinner usually involves nice restaurants or entertainment events. I suggest eating light during the day, focusing on protein and veggies, or fast to delay the first meal until lunch. This gives you a buffer of calories for dinner.
- Hold yourself to two or three alcoholic drinks a day. For obvious reasons.
READ ALSO: “A Trainer’s Guide to Protein”
Part Three: Training When Traveling
If there’s no immediate goal, or if the client’s trip has come at the end of a training block that’s been a challenge mentally or physically, I recommend a deload, if not complete rest. For the majority of your clients, however, it’s critical to maintain training. It’s also one of the best ways for business travelers to relieve jet lag and speed up the return to normal circadian rhythms.
My first rule: Train as soon as you land and get settled (as hard as it may be, just do something active), and then train first thing in the morning going forward.
Here are some of my favorite strategies:
- Freestyle/pump workouts: If your clients have a good level of training experience, they may benefit from just freestyling a few workouts, getting a good beach pump and taking a break from their normal structured approach
- Body weight/band circuits: I like to always give my clients a body weight and/or band routine. You can do it anywhere, and get a solid training stimulus in 10 to 20 minutes. Bands travel well, too.
- HIIT: Another short, sharp workout that your clients can do in any hotel gym. I typically recommend going fast for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by 60 to 90 seconds at a moderate pace, for 10 to 20 minutes.
- EDT (escalating density training). This old-school training method works great when working with very limited equipment in hotel gyms. The aim here is to pick two non-competing exercises, set a rep target for each, and perform as many sets as you can back and forth in the time allocated. I use 10-minute segments like so:
1A) Split squat x 8-12 reps
1B) Dumbbell overhead press x 8-12 reps
Repeat for 10 minutes
2A) Dumbbell bent-over row x 8-12 reps
2B) Feet-elevated push-up x 8-12 reps
Repeat for 10 minutes
- Maintain a step target. One of the best ways to stay active is to get out of the hotel room and see the sights of a new city. You can easily hit a daily target of 10,000 to 15,000 steps.
Part Four: Buffering Before and After the Trip
Even the most well-intentioned clients are likely to slip somewhere, even if it’s by no fault of their own. Knowing this, I try to anticipate the deviations by creating buffers around the trip. We’ll go purposely hard for three to seven days before and after the trip.
This might mean dropping calories further, pushing cardio up, or increasing training frequency. The benefit is that it can account for the potential slip-ups the clients may have. The key: Frame it in a manner that doesn’t let clients think falling off the wagon is a good idea.
For some clients who travel very frequently for business, I intentionally raise the intensity of our workouts. We need to go hard when they’re home because we never know when they’ll be back on the road. I like to know I’ve done my part in preparing them for it.
In the end, that’s your primary role: Give your client the tools necessary to make the right choices in an environment full of distractions and temptations. In my experience, clients want to do the right thing. Your motivation and support can make all the difference.