How do you get in shape before traveling? Or get fit for summer? Most people imagine this means drastic changes and multiple hours every day in the gym. Fortunately, the good news is that most of the impact is based on what you eat. Here are my nutrition tips to get fit for your trip. I did it, and you can too!
Nutrition Tips to get in shape before your trip
In this post I’ll tell you about my transformation. I’ll share what I’ve learned about nutrition. You’ll learn how you can apply it to help you get into better shape before your beach vacation. Most importantly, I’ll show you how these changes can actually be sustainable.
My nutrition and fitness journey
About 6 months before my big half year trip through Asia, I decided it was time to get serious about getting into shape. I researched, made a plan, tweaked it along the way, and saw results. I ended up losing 19 pounds while adding a bunch of muscle. If I can do it, you can too!
Don’t follow a fad diet
I don’t have a branded “diet”. Instead I focus on basic principles and stick to them as often as I can. That makes it sustainable for me. There are problems with every “diet” out there – Atkins, South Beach, etc. Note that I’m not a nutritionist. Consult an actual Registered Dietician for their expertise. I’ve read a bunch from RD’s and decided on a strategy, which has been phenomenally successful for me.
Be open minded – but work around your lifestyle
I stopped trying to change my lifestyle. I still go out drinking socially 3-4x per week (note – not recommended…). That’s not changing anytime soon.
And I’m lazy when it comes to cooking. I’m a bachelor and that’s unlikely to change too. I cook, but typically they’re very simple meals with minimal planning. Don’t assume that you’ll become a dedicated gourmet chef just because you decided to get serious about your nutrition one day.
Those were my “givens”. I was willing to experiment with changing everything else. Then I started reading up on ideas. Get motivated!
What did you cut out?
I generally don’t eliminate behaviors. Instead I determine “best practices” and follow as often as I can. Nutrition is about choices. Eat this, not that. I’d make a small change, and it was fine, so I make another. Step by step. The key for me is knowing what’s the better decision at every meal choice. Then I choose it as often as I can. Some decisions weren’t a compromise at all, while others involved trying a variation and seeing if I could get into having it.
Ready? I’ll summarize and then explain. Here we go!
6 Nutrition tips to get in shape for your trip:
- Eat protein with every meal, including breakfast. This helps you stay full longer.
- If possible, have vegetables and beans with every meal too. This includes breakfast.
- Portion control: I used to overeat too often. Moderation is key.
- Drink water (as often as you can).
- Improve quality of snacks.
- Reduce non-water drinking.
If you do one thing to improve your nutrition, make it that first principle:
> Eat protein, veggies, and beans, in every meal.
My top nutritions are including this trio in every meal. This is ideal. This is what you’re striving for. If you learn just one thing, keep that trio in mind. In my experience, it makes a big difference. I’ll give suggestions for each.
This is what a “balanced” meal means to me. Note that it’s drastically different from the old food pyramid or even the new USDA plate. Perhaps that’s because mine isn’t influenced by lobbying.
Details in other notes below:
>> Nutrition tips: Eat Protein with every meal.
Nutrition tips: include a portion of protein with every meal
- Why? Protein digests slowly, which keeps you full longer. Also if you work out, your body will need more protein.
- Which is best? Grilled chicken breast is a wonder food. It’s lean (low-fat) and has incredible amounts of protein (26g per serving!). I eat it often. Learn to explore different spices marinades and sauces to keep it interesting. Some marinades are fatty or high calorie, so note that it’s a trade-off. Spices generally add taste without sacrificing health benefits. I like the Mccormick Grill Mates.
- 1st Runner up for best protein (after chicken breast) are most fish options. The fat is typically the “good fat” and loaded with nutrients you want. Turkey’s also among the better options.
- Red meat offers lots of protein but isn’t as lean fails in other areas. Thus it should be more of a change of pace.
- Portion size – this should be about a fistful of a meat or fish. Don’t count calories every meal. It’ll drive you nuts. Learn once and you never have to count again.
>> Nutrition tips: Eat vegetables with every meal.
Nutrition tips: eat your veggies with every meal
- Why? Nearly every vegetable is loaded with nutrients that are good for you.
- Which is best? – most are good for different reasons. Choose any veggies you like.
- Watch out for the ways they’re prepared. Some people add butter or salt to bribe themselves to eat them. Try to avoid this. There’s lots of health reasons to limit your sodium
- While fresh is always better for you, canned and frozen vegetables are still good. I like the Steamfresh microwavable series (and store brand) for every vegetable I’ve tried, and canned corn and peas.
- Some canned peas actually have 4g/protein per serving. Who knew! This is an excellent and easy addition to any meal.
> Nutrition tips: Eat Beans –
Nutrition tips: Eat beans with every meal you make at home.
- Why? They’re good for you and fill you up, meaning you’ll consume less if you just eat more beans. Skip them and you’re hungry too often.
- Hint – Draining them will also significantly reduce or even eliminate flatulence, the primary reason people avoid beans. I have digestion challenges so I never used to buy them. However, open the can, drain it and run water through it. This works for me! I initially bought organic based on a recommendation too, but not sure if that part is important. For a 10 cent difference, it was worth a shot.
- Which kinds? Most are good for you – black, pinto, red kidney, et al (nearly all except baked).
Fresh vegetables are better for you, but canned veggies and canned beans are definitely an adequate substitute (and much better than none at all). They’re quick, portioned, and store well so you don’t have to plan or worry about them going bad. Done and done.
> Nutrition tips: Drink water
- Drink lots of water.
- Why – Water fills you up and is good for tons of reasons. Every year there’s new studies on why drinking water is good.
- Tip: Keep a glass of water at arms-length with you at all times. You’ll be surprised how much more you drink. After a while you’ll subconsciously just grab the glass of water and drink.
> Reduce non-water drinking. Less soda, less beer.
Avoid or limit beer consumption. Diet soda is not an exception. Beer and soda are wasted calories and ruin your metabolism. There are lots of other reasons that non-water drinks are bad.
Artificial sweeteners trigger appetite in some, which doesn’t help you. I wasn’t a soda drinker (except for mixed drinks). However, I was drinking orange juice because I thought the vitamin C was so good for me. Then I noticed the 22g of sugar! Now it’s a change of pace. There’s other ways to get vitamin C.
“Fruit” drinks aren’t helpful. They’re typically high sugar or high in sugar substitutes (often worse). They typically don’t add many health benefits. Also, they typically don’t have much fruit in them. Or they add nutrients while adding tons of sugar or artificial sweetener. Instead, try actual fruit.
Dairy can add some protein and is ok overall, but isn’t helpful in other areas. Your body likely doesn’t need dairy. I recommend lots of water. Learn to love it.
Nutrition tips: Portion control –
Don’t overeat. Eat slowly, and stop when you feel full. Resist the urge to eat until your stomach feels like it’s going burst. This is against my tendency so I had to train myself.
The immediate result is that you’ll want to eat more often (see below), which is counter-intuitive but can be wonderful if you make good decisions.
For snacks, take a portion and put the rest away. Instead of eating to try to fill yourself up for the day, just eat more often…
Turn your body into a fat-burning furnace!
Nutrition tips for Breakfast
My breakfast goal is to stay full with good foods until I eat lunch. How? There’s a few ways to do that.
I like to eat fruit with 30 minutes of waking up. Then I have a proper breakfast with some protein as well as a small amount of vegetables and beans. Details below –
- Grab a piece of fruit when I first wake up to “break the fast” and jumpstart my metabolism. I typically grab a banana. Eating an apple will also contribute to waking you up. Some argue that apples are almost as good as caffeine.
- Then I make eggs with a few spoonfuls of veggies and beans (often leftovers from the night before). It doesn’t seem natural with breakfast, but it goes a long way to keeping you full throughout the morning until lunch. That’s my goal for breakfast.
- Oatmeal and cold cereal can be ok but they’re not ideal. They’ll fill you for the moment, but don’t include significant protein. That explains why you’re often I’m hungry shortly after. They don’t enough add nutrients, and they don’t fill you up. If you want to keep cereal, aim for low sugar cereals and get some whole grain.
- Baby steps. You still have to like it! I still wander from this best practice but I know what I should be aiming for at all times. It’s very similar to how a lot of families weaned themselves off of whole milk by going to 2%, and then later become a family that buys 1% milk or skim. This was our pattern growing up, and now skim milk is my choice.
Many people are successful at skipping breakfast as part of a calorie restriction and intermittent fasting strategy. If you go that route, work hard at making good food choices when you finally eat. Then it’s important to avoid over-eating. These are extra challenging if you work out when you wake up.
Food Rating System: Plus, Minus, Neutral
- Plus: “+” Foods that mostly help – fish, grilled chicken, vegetables
- Neutral/Fillers: Foods that fill you up but don’t add significant nutritional value. These are usually things that are ok in moderation but don’t really add much value. Fruits offer some nutrients.
- Minus: “-” Foods that mostly hurt – most processed, frozen, packaged, or high sugar foods are here. Fatty foods are here. Most breads. Really most things people eat are here.
Nutrition Tips on Snacks
- Ideal – have filling meals with protein, veggies, and beans, so you’re not hungry.
- 2nd best – use leftovers. have another meal that fits the above criteria.
- 3rd best – try to improve what you eat between meals so you’re never hungry. Choose foods that help but in moderation.
- Fruits. I like bananas as a filling option, and add Saigon cinnamon. It’s surprisingly good and has lots of benefits. Other fruits work well here (yes, often high in sugar, but natural sugar).
- Avocado – so good! It’s fatty but it’s the good fat. Cut it in half for portion size. Put plastic wrap touching the avocado to save (in fridge).
- Hard boil some eggs so I always have protein that I can just grab and go.
- I like almonds, which are great as long as you don’t over eat at once. (I do struggle with contributing to droughts…)
- Yogurt can be good but it’s dairy. It’s mostly good but not as effective.
Snacks to avoid
- Thumbs down to – all chips, even if it says “baked,”multi-grain” or “low fat” on the bag (but you knew that). In addition to the obvious, thumbs down on packaged breakfast bars, fruit roll-ups, rice cakes, et al. I’m not suggesting you never eat them, but just realize these aren’t your best choice. For some people, chips or fries are a staple with lunch. If you can learn have a healthier alternative sometimes, it’ll be better for you, and eventually your body might not crave it as much.
Nutrition Tips for drinking alcohol –
- I suggest you try to limit how often you drink, and how much you drink each time.
- Water at all times would still be best but given that I’m going to be drinking alcohol at the bars, I need to make choices.
- Beer is terrible for most ways you can measure it, and thus is the worst offender in this category. Given my digestion challenges, I already keep that to a minimum.
- Soda is still terrible, but I still order a couple of mixed drinks with soda.
How to drink alcohol and still stay in shape
What else to Limit/Avoid to get in shape for your trip:
- Limit white foods. Avoid white bread. Limit pasta and actually just about any food that’s white, or that could be white. Egg whites and cauliflower are good, thumbs down on the rest. Generally limit potatoes, but they score points for how filling they are relative to calories.
- When buying bread , choose “100% whole wheat”. If it doesn’t say “100%” it’s not any better than white bread. Even if it’s 100% whole wheat, it’s still not on the “plus” list for foods.
- There’s obviously a long list. Importantly – I don’t eliminate, I just make a conscious effort to have these less often. I still occasionally have sandwiches at lunch, but realize that the bread isn’t helping. If I could replace the bread with veggies/beans, my meal would be much better.
Good fat is ok – in moderation, at the right times. Yah for avocado!
Nutrition tips: eat slower. I’m still terrible at this and keep reverting back to my typical tendencies, but this would be ideal. Your body doesn’t know how full it is immediately. Take your time.
Choose this, not that.
It’s about choices – identify what can be improved, find alternatives to the most detrimental choices you currently make, one by one.
Sandwiches – what to choose
- Ideally I wouldn’t have any sandwiches, but they’re practical for me.
- Limit the sandwiches that are mostly bread. It’s so strange that this became a standard.
- Honey mustard vs Mayonnaise: When eating sandwiches, realize that the average honey mustard is considerably better than mayonnaise (includes even light mayo). On average honey mustard often has a fraction of the fat and calories of mayo. At deli’s, honey mustard is a better blind bet if you’re going the sandwich route).
- Turkey is generally easily the leanest deli meat you can choose.
- Grilled Chicken is easily the best choice at a deli counter.
Make one change today, and see if you can live with the adjustment. The idea is to make little changes gradually that you can stick with as part of your new lifestyle. Losing weight for a month isn’t helpful – making a body composition transformation that will last is the goal.
Every little bit counts –
Get out of the “all or nothing” mentality, and get into the “every little bit counts” mentality. This goes for both nutrition and fitness. Every tiny food choice matters. Park at the farther space and walk it helps more than parking in the front. Every time you walk or bike cross-town instead of a subway helps. It all counts. Every step.
Take the challenge –
Some of my friends were skeptical that this could have made a big difference. I think these are the key changes I’ve made, and haven’t even done them all the time. Does it work? Try following all 7 principles for 6 weeks – let me know if you see results. Most importantly, a year later, I’ve kept in the same range. I think you’ll notice the impact, and your friends will too.
Fitness to get in shape for your trip
Nutrition will make much more of an impact to help you get in shape for your trip. While most of my impact will be from nutrition, fitness is of course an important component.
If you don’t change your diet, you’re not going to see any of your fitness results. You’ll have more muscle, but it’ll be buried underneath.
For example – if you work on your abs every day, and have a gut, nobody’s going to notice. You can’t spot reduce fat. You can’t choose where you lose it.
Find exercises you like
The very best fitness routine!
People have been asking what’s the best fitness routine to get in shape for your trip. For most people, the best fitness routine…is any one that you’ll stick with.
Minimum Effective Dosage: Boiling = Boiling.
I’m a big believer in MED – minimum effective dosage. Boiling is boiling. If water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, then 300-degrees isn’t going to boil it faster, it’ll just evaporate your water. I think it’s the same thing with training. As soon as I’ve exhausted a muscle group, I move on. A lot of people make this mistake.