I worked my butt off for years building a lean and muscular physique. I’m a hardgainer so it was no easy task to put on muscle mass. Maintaining those gains was (and still is) as challenging as achieving them, so naturally I became concerned about losing muscle when I first traveled abroad.
I knew I wouldn’t be following my usual five-day routine, and I didn’t want to lose any of my size or strength. Applying my expertise as a personal trainer, I began to explore the most travel-friendly options for training and nutrition.
I’ve been a full-time traveler for several years, and each country has helped me perfect my travel workouts and nutrition regimen.
Perform Bodyweight Exercises
Bodyweight exercises are the most convenient way to get the resistance you need to maintain muscle. When I’m traveling, I try to find a local park with a pull-up bar and a bench to incorporate plenty of bodyweight exercises into my routine.
Here are exercises that I use in my park workout when I travel. With the exception of the pull-ups, you can also perform these in a hotel room, hostel common area, or airport lounge:
- Bodyweight Squats
- Bodyweight Lunges
- Single Leg Squat with Abductions
- Mountain Climbers
If you want to make these bodyweight exercises more challenging, slow your pace as you perform them, take shorter breaks between exercises, and increase the number of repetitions or sets.
Bring Resistance Bands
I can’t recommend resistance bands enough. They are compact, lightweight, and durable. Although they look like a flimsy piece of rubber, most sets of bands provide up to 125 pounds of resistance.
Depending on the exercise, I use two or three bands at one time so I always have the resistance I need. Here are the most common exercises that I use in my resistance bands travel workout.
- Overhead Squats
- Reverse Flies
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Chest Crossovers
- Front to Lateral Raises
- Top to Bottom Core Twists
- Alternating Bicep Curls
- Overhead Triceps Extensions
Buy a Day Pass or a Week Pass at a Gym
When I’m backpacking outside of the city, I’ll perform resistance band workouts. When I’m in a major city—even if I’m just passing through—I buy a day pass at a well-stocked gym and go twice: once in the morning and once in the evening. I do this once or twice per week just in case I won’t be in a city again for a while.
I focus on full-body workouts with heavy weight, low repetitions, and high sets. Here’s a breakdown of my morning and night sessions:
- Elevated Dumbbell Split Squats: 5 sets of 5 to 8 repetitions
- Weighted Pull-ups (or Lat Pull-downs if a weight belt is not available): 5 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions
- Romanian Deadlifts: 4 sets of 5 to 8 repetitions
- Incline Barbell Bench Press: 4 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions
- Leg Press: 5 sets of 5 to 8 repetitions
- Cable Face Pull: 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
- Top to Bottom Cable Twists: 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
- Cable Crunches: 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
- Side to Side Cable Twists: 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
Focus on Protein
Now let’s discuss one of the most important factors for maintaining muscle while traveling: protein.
Protein contains amino acids, the building blocks of muscle tissue. Studies show that high-protein diets increase the creation of muscle protein while preventing muscle breakdown. An intense workout, hike, or sightseeing excursion without adequate protein can increase your risk for muscle loss. No matter where you travel, be sure to eat meals that are rich in protein.
Here’s a list of the most common high-protein foods that I’ve easily been able to find around the world.
- Local fish
If you have a substantial amount of muscle, I recommend bringing whey protein or branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) when you travel. These supplements conveniently provide a fast supply of the amino acids needed for maintaining muscle. Packing a protein supplement can also help you save money since it can be used as a meal replacement.
I always pack a small container of whey protein. I bring just enough to provide one serving per day for a week or two, depending on how long I’ll be traveling.
Visit a Sauna
Saunas are typically thought to only be beneficial for water weight loss, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. When you enter a sauna, your body releases heat shock proteins. These specialized proteins have been shown to be anti-catabolic or prevent muscle breakdown.
Visiting a sauna can also increase the amount of growth hormone that is released in your body. Growth hormone promotes muscle building and recovery.
Sauna culture is prevalent in many countries outside of the United States, making them easier to find and less expensive to visit.
If you’re new to the sauna scene, I recommend one or two intervals of 5 to 10 minutes. If this isn’t your first rodeo, you can enter a sauna for three to five intervals of 10 to 15 minutes.
Look for Adventure Activities
Don’t like the idea of exercising while traveling? I recommend including plenty of adventure-based activities that demand the most from your muscles. Here are some of my favorite examples:
Surfing: A full-body workout that incorporates swimming, pressing yourself up, and stabilization.
SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding): An intense core, arms, shoulders, and upper-back workout that also challenges your balance.
Hiking: A great lower body workout that can involve your upper body if you cross over rough terrain or do some climbing.
Rock Climbing: A total body workout that requires muscular endurance and stability as you climb your way up, down, and all around.
Are You Worried About Maintaining Muscle While Traveling?
What are some of your concerns about maintaining muscle mass while traveling? Not sure if you’ll have access to high-protein foods? Confused as to how to perform some of the exercises listed above? Let me know in the comments below.