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It’s a pain in the proverbial

You seemingly achieve super hero status in the months leading up to a vacation, with the distinct realisation that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be returning in a months time with a higher body-fat percentage, a reduced lung capacity, a reduced wallet and even more likely, a heavy case of post-vacation ‘blues’.

It’s perfectly normal…

I suffered from every single one these factors when I returned from Europe a few weeks ago.

This vacation, more than ANY of my others, was fueled by daily (yes daily) consumption of alcohol without a single in-room or hotel workout to be found.
I took the entire three weeks off from training (besides some in-room pushups during the final week).

In times gone past, I would have chosen to workout at least a few times per week during my trip, but this just didn’t happen.

I blame a number of things:

1) Alcohol consumption – Those that have read my book, will know that I’ve spoken about alcohol and it’s effects on motivation. You just won’t have the same ‘drive’ to want to workout (well at least I didn’t).

2) High frequency eating – I was eating a LOT. For someone that doesn’t eat breakfast and follows intermittent fasting pretty religiously, I found this sudden change-up to 4 or more meals spread out during the day, to leave me feeling ‘FULL’ a lot more often. Once your tank is full, you tend to want to move less.

3) Excess walking – Our trip involved a sh*tload of walking. Sometimes we’d be on the move for 6-8 hours of the day, stumbling around cities and sitting at random cafes to drink and eat the local fare. Add significant amounts of walking to your lifestyle, and suddenly come home time you aren’t ‘chomping at the bit’ to get down to the hotel gym.

But surely these few things shouldn’t hinder you capacity to train?

Yes and no.

I felt the need to guinea pig myself whilst travelling for the first time ever since I’d began training. I’ve ALWAYS done some kind of training on holidays, so this was going to be my first real experiment.

It’s interesting albeit an expectation that due to the lack of any form of resistance training, that my body wouldn’t really understand where to shuffle the excess calories, and therefore increase storage around my waist.

These were the things I was looking to monitor…

1) Body fat
2) Mood
3) Sleep
4) Muscle mass
5) Strength

These factor were monitored whilst I was on a sporadic diet, endured little to no exercise (besides walking and lugging a pack), increased my carb intake, reduced protein consumption and substantially increased my alcohol intake.

#1 Body Fat

Before Trip: Approx 7-9%
After Trip: Approx 12-15%
Notes: I could literally see my abdominals fade away over the three weeks I was away. The first week it was barely noticeable, but as my body began to absorb the extra calories like a sponge, I began to store the excess as unwanted body fat. I think it became most apparent after a week or so in when my wife said to me “Well, at least you still have a 4-pack”.

It’s interesting albeit an expectation that due to the lack of any form of resistance training, that my body wouldn’t really understand where to shuffle the excess calories, and therefore increase storage around my waist.

Even MORE interesting I found, that the most significant changes to my body happened the week I returned whereby the excess walking I had been doing was suddenly reduced to zero.
Not sure what to make of it, but I think I shot up a few body-fat percentages during this time alone.

#2 Mood

Before Trip: Heightened sense of excitement (as expected).
During Trip: Pretty level considering the amount of alcohol that was consumed. I guess you could off-set this with ‘travel excitement’ that most people experience (therefore largely cancelling it out).
After Trip: Possibly the BIGGEST crash in mood I’ve ever had post vacation. I’d been to the USA several times and Europe before, but never has the post-holiday depression been quite so bad. Was it just the extended layover? Was it the realisation that this might be the last ‘big trip’ for a while? Was it the alcohol or a combination of all three?

#3 Sleep

Before Trip: Slept like a baby most nights (achieving roughly 8 hours most of the time). I find that I sleep a hell-of-a-lot better when I train than when I don’t.
During Trip: We stayed in 9 different hotels, so sleep was never going to be consistent. Couple that with the fact that I wasn’t training at all, and alcohol affects deep REM sleep, you may have your answer.
After Trip: Sleep was difficult due to a variety of factors all relating to post-holiday depression and lack of training.

#4 Muscle Mass

Muscle Mass is an area which was difficult to gauge without fat callipers before, during or after the trip (due to my clothing feeling a similar level of ‘fitted’ tightness throughout the period). Strength suffered considerably post holiday (as I knew it would), but muscle mass stay relatively same-same.

Let’s be honest – it’d be difficult to lose a heap of muscle in a three week period unless you weren’t eating at all or were enduring other extended periods of caloric restriction more than you should be.

#5 Strength

Strength is an area that I find suffers the most when not constantly tended to. Three weeks without any considerable muscle load or stimulation saw me shed large amounts of poundages from every single one of my lifts. By the end of it, I felt soft and weak.

This is me ‘cold’ – Not feeling nor looking the greatest!

Not a motivating way to get you back into training I can tell you :)

What to make of the data…

Everything that happened to my body, did so at probably 90% of my expectations. I knew EXACTLY what I was getting myself into over the course of three short weeks of disciplinary abstinence.

The key here is, to realise that you are going to step backwards a tiny bit — you won’t come back strong as an ox and ‘shredded’ beyond belief. Quite possibly, you’ll have gained a few pounds, increased your body fat levels and reduced your strength some what.

Fast forward to today (some three weeks after returning)…

My strength is almost back to where it was and my other health markers seem to have returned to their previous numbers…

Except for my body fat levels

I know that I’m turning 34 next year, and that my natural testosterone production is quite possibly on the decline, but fat gain occurred and at an alarming rate for a three week period.

So how would I go about preventing fat gain whilst travelling?

If I was to do it all again with ‘body maintenance’ as a key goal, I’d probably do a few things a little differently. Here are some that I’d recommend you adhere to…

– Use Intermittent Fasting here and there to give the body a break from caloric excess – you can do that by skipping breakfast every second or third day and even skip the airline food (especially on 10 hour+ long-hauls).

– Watch alcohol consumption – this is difficult to do when you’re in ‘vacation mode’, so maybe select the less ‘calorie-dense’ options such as vodka soda, gin and tonic etc. It’s the cocktails that will REALLY punish you so steer clear whenever possible. Beer and wine are ok, but once again, if you couple them with heavy meals, you’re not going to do yourself any favours.

– Limit carbs on less active days – If you know you’re going to be sitting on a bus all day or enduring some other activity that is quite sedentary, try and limit them.

– Take the stairs – Does your hotel have a lift? Maybe use the stairs instead of taking it every time you forget your sunglasses.

To wrap it up

It will take time to get back to where you were before you left, and that’s perfectly ok. I wouldn’t, for one second, skip ANY of the most amazing life experiences I’ve had in recent years whilst touring the planet.

We only have one life, make sure you choose to live it – the gym will be there when you get back :)

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Clint,

    I suppose the only benefit to coming back from holiday is that you were probably anxious and ready to get back to dieting and working out to revive your physique. I know this is how I feel after vacations… and I haven’t been on anything near as long as a three week vacation in a long time. I’ve noticed I can really let myself go after just a few days off if I’m not careful.


  • Bob says:

    So… more calories + no working out = fat? Wow.. eye-opening fucking post!!

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