Avoid Belly Fat While Traveling For Work | Dr. Isaiah Hankel | Focus, Create and Grow Your Way To Intelligent Achievement Avoid Belly Fat While Traveling For Work | Dr. Isaiah Hankel | Focus, Create and Grow Your Way To Intelligent Achievement

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Avoid Belly Fat While Traveling For Work

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”

Lin Yutang

“Those who think they have no time for healthy eating, will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”

Edward Stanley

“All the things you probably hate about travelling -the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispensers, the cheap sushi- are warm reminders that I’m home.”

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney; Up In The Air)


Road Warrior Fifteen = Freshman Fifteen For Adults

We have all seen the affects of freshman fifteen: two months into your very first year of college you notice that you or one of your friends has put on an extra 15 pounds. Boom – that quickly. Its not a coincidence that college kids start wearing warmups and sweatshirts to class half way through the fall semester.

But what causes this rapid weight gain?

It’s caused by eating at the dining hall, or d-hall (if you’re cool).

The d-hall is the place in college where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the same times each day. And every meal is a buffet. Over a thousand teenagers and 20-year-old kids enjoying life by eating crap together in a colorfully painted building.

The most common side effect of eating at the d-hall is of course: overeating. It takes a lot of discipline to restrict your diet when you’re faced with the following combination: all-you-can-eat meals, a schmorgesboard of friends to hang out with, and a comfortable lounge to relax in. This was why my college wrestling friends and I would avoid the d-hall like the plague during the in-season (though out of season we would be smashed up against the windows banging on the glass 10 minutes before the doors opened).

If you were like the average college kid, eating at the d-hall was the beginning of the end of your six pack. Any definition left in your midsection would definitely disappear once you started dabbling in heavy drinking and severe sleep deprivation.

Unfortunately, most people never get rid of the extra pounds they gain during their freshman year of college. If you are one of the disciplined few who were able to correct the damage; congratulations, but you’re not out of the woods yet. You may have to face the fifteen pound fat monster one more time. I call this second bout with the beast, road warrior fifteen.

Similar to freshman fifteen, road warrior fifteen is the result of lifestyle changes that dramatically affect your eating, sleeping, and fitness habits.  However, this padded belly shows up 5-10 years after being a freshman in college; when you start your first real full-time job. Whether you decide to climb a corporate ladder, work for a small company, or launch your own business, things are going to be different. For the most part, you’ll be traveling, sitting at a computer all day, and having lots of business lunches and dinners. A trifecta that results in man boobs or a muffin top.

I’ve had to fight off road warrior fifteen twice in my life. The first time was after I graduated with my bachelors degree. I decided to take a year off before going to Graduate school to gain some real-world experience. A few months after graduation, I was hired as a research assistant for McCord Research, Inc. It was an incredible opportunity that allowed me to travel the country and work with numerous MDs and PhD’s in the fields of dermatology and wound healing research.

Every week I would drive across the state to local wound healing centers or fly across the country to various medical conferences. This was dramatically different from my previous routine of waking up at the same time every day in my off-campus apartment, going to a few of classes, working out every afternoon and eating healthy homemade meals. Now, I was waking up at different times, in different time zones, working for 10-12 hours each day, eating every meal in a restaurant, and struggling to find time to workout even once a week. The result: I gained 20 pounds in 3 months.

I remember the exact moment of reckoning: I stood up from my desk at my condo where I was arranging my travel for the next week and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I stopped and stared and wondered who the chubby guy was looking back to me. That moment initiated a series of events that led to me redesigning my lifestyle in a way that allowed me to get back into shape.

Once Graduate school started, I was in the clear. Although my schedule was still hectic, it was consistent. Plus I wasn’t traveling, so I could eat, workout, and sleep when I wanted and how I wanted. This part of my life helped me figure out how to enjoy life and take on a new career while staying in shape.

Fast-forward 5 years: I graduate with my PhD, applied to a few different biotechnology firms, and resumed my business career with a new company. Similar to my experience as a research assistant, this new job required me to travel, work long hours, and eat lots of business lunches and dinners. In fact, I would be traveling 70 to 80% of the time (I ended up flying 50K miles in my first 6 months).

I remember having lunch with a representative from one of the companies I applied to:

“You know you’re going to gain 15 or 20 pounds with this job, right?”

“What do you mean?”, I replied.

“Oh, nothing. People just tend to gain weight when they get out of school and start traveling for work. I wish someone would’ve told me so I would’ve been prepared. It’s the business dinners that kill you.”

But this wasn’t my first rodeo. I was prepared. I had learned the two secrets of avoiding road warrior fifteen: preparation and creativity.

Here are the steps I took to stay in shape while traveling:

1. Load Up – Take Food With You

This is the hardest part. If you’re going to be flying or driving a lot and staying at a bunch of hotels, it’s extremely easy to get caught in the trap of eating breakfast at the hotel, lunch out with your customers, and then dinner at a restaurant (either by yourself or with your clients). A little preparation will help you break the cycle.

If you’re traveling by car, it’s easy, just buy a large cooler, fill it with ice and a bunch of healthy food. However, if you’re traveling by plane, you’ll have to be a little more creative. First, you need to find a cooler that will fit underneath your seat on the airplane. An 11″ x 8″ x 11″ (H x W x L) cooler works best. I use the Embark Midsize Cooler.

Next,  you’ll need to buy some Rubbermaid containers that you can stack in your cooler. I recommend Rubbermaid’s 4-cup flat containers, or something similar. Now all you have to do is cook up a few healthy dishes, such as grassfed burger patties, marinated chicken breasts, and vegetables. Then, store everything in the containers and put the containers in the cooler. Any room you have left in the cooler can be filled with dried fruit, beef jerky, and almonds.

But how do you keep everything cold and still get past security?

I tried a few different things but what worked best involved the 3-ounce, faceless, lotion-like containers you can buy in most grocery stores. You should be able to fit at least three of these containers in a quart-sized zip lock bag.

When it’s time to go through security, simply pull your homemade ice-pack out of your cooler and place it in a bin along with your other liquids. The solid ice in these bottles will take well over 6 hours to melt in your cooler. But just in case, bring an extra zip lock bag to fill with ice at the food court once you get past security.

At first, this might seem like a lot of work, but once you have the cooler, containers, and ice bottles, all you have to do is cook the food. I am able to eat for 2-3 days on the road by doing this. If I run out of food and am still traveling, I simply hit up a quality grocery store (i.e. Whole Foods or Trader Joes) and reload my cooler at the food bar. Eating healthy is one of the best ways to enjoy life.

2. Fire Up – Attack The Hotel Gym

Let’s face it, hotel gyms are where motivation goes to die. Whether you’re staying in a Hilton, Marriot, Holiday Inn or other business-friendly hotel, the gym isn’t much more than a 10×10 ice chest (seriously, why are all hotel gyms freezing cold?).

Nine times of ten, the gym at any standard hotel will be equiped with the following:

1-2 treadmills (at least one will be broken)

1-2 ellipticals

1-2 inclinable benches

A dumbbell rack that goes up to 50lbs

Occasionally, a particularly nice hotel will have a few more amenities, such as a Nautilus-type machine or a miniature barbell, but don’t count on it.

Working out at least 20-30 minutes a day is critical to keeping off belly fat while traveling. But hotel gyms are the pits. So what should you do? Get in and get out. Psych yourself up for a short, intense workout that’s takes less than a half hour to complete.

Don’t waste your time doing isolated exercises using machines or dumbbells (i.e. bicep curls). You will get the best bang for your buck by doing 2-3 supersets of 3 multi-joint exercises. The absolute best exercise you can perform in a hotel gym is the dumbbell squat thrust. There are several variations to this exercise but I prefer to start in the squatting position holding the dumbbells at shoulder level, then firing upward with my hips and pressing the dumbbells over my head until my arms are fully extended. This exercise is great because you can really push yourself within the 5-50lb dumbbell range. If you you lack a lot of weight lifting experience, or if you’ve never done this particular exercise, start with just your bodyweight.

A couple of other good exercises, given what you have to work with, are the single-arm dumbbell row and the incline dumbbell press. Again, the dumbbell rack only goes up to 50lbs, so don’t plan on breaking any strength records. If you can lift the heaviest dumbbells in the gym with proper technique, start increasing your repetition count and decreasing your rest time between each set. Finally, I end each workout with a quick 8-10 minute run on the treadmill. I prefer to do interval sprints, setting the treadmill to ~7.0 for a minute, then to ~10.0 for a minute, and repeating the cycle 4-5 times.

Here is what my 20-minute hotel gym workout looks like:

Exercise Weight x Repetitions
Dumbbell Squat Thrusts 40lbs x 10, 45lbs x 10, 50lbs x 10
Incline Dumbbell Press 50lbs x 10, 50lbs x 12, 50lbs x 15
Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows 50lbs x 15, 50lbs x 20, 50lbs x 20
Treadmill 7.0 (1 min.), 10.0 (1 min) x 5


The following video shows you how to do these exercises and provides you with several viewpoints of the dumbbell squat thrust variation I described (I added music to drown out my gasps for air):


3. Rest Up – Fall Asleep Right Away In Any Timezone

If you are flying back and forth across the country a lot for work, the hardest and most important thing to master is the art of rapid sleep adaptation. For the most part, your goal should be to fall asleep around 9-11PM and wake up around 6-7AM no matter where you are in the world. In other words, you shouldn’t be wide awake in Chicago at 2AM writing an article for your lifestyle blog because you’re on Pacific Standard Time.

Even one hour less sleep a night can impair long-term memory and nerve cell generation. This means that missing an hour of sleep here and there while skipping through different time zones can be disastrous to not only your productivity, but to your overall well-being. The good news is that eating healthy and working out while traveling will help you fall asleep on cue.

Here are some other tips to ensure you sleep like a baby on the road:

1. Change your watch to your destination time zone the night before you travel.

2. Do not sleep on the plane. DO NOT SLEEP ON THE PLANE.

3. Bring your own pillow. The feel and smell (provided you routinely wash your pillow) will help your body relax, adjust to the new time zone, and fall asleep.

3. Drink a liter of water every 2-3 hours. Do this even if you are sitting in the window seat and have to ask your neighbors to let you out to use the bathroom every 30 minutes.

4. Avoid napping immediately after you arrive. If you are gaining or losing over 6 hours and arrive at “bedtime”, it’s better to stay up through the night and fall asleep at the end of the next day than it is to lay awake for 8 hours pretending to sleep.

5. Black out all of the light coming into your hotel room when it’s time for bed. Remember, light is sleep kryptonite. Put a towel against the bottom of the main door so the hallway light doesn’t shine through. Put a pillow over the digital clock and cover the red television “on” light with your shirt. Press the desk chair or ironing board against the curtains so they stay completely shut. And hang your underwear over the smoke detector’s battery light (but keep the smoke sensor area uncovered).

6. When it’s morning, let as much light into your room as possible and have breakfast in a public place. Avoid social isolation during the day time. It’s been shown that being around people whose circadian rhythms are not out of whack will help reset your rhythms. So do your work in a coffee shop or in the hotel lobby rather than in your room alone without your pants on.

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