Despite all of the video conferencing tech, travel will always be a crucial part of business. You don’t have to be a sales machine to make frequent travel a normal part of your role – as even startups are getting increasingly global. Everyone knows that nothing is more important than taking care of their health but travel, too often, provides a convenient excuse.
Between offices in Silicon Valley and Ukraine, exploring startup ecosystems on four continents, and frequent speaking engagements; in the last couple of years I’ve found myself racking up some serious frequent flyer miles. Worst yet, I’ve been switching 8-14 hour time zones twice or more each month. I’m not getting any younger and the travel will not let up any time soon. So I’m becoming increasing more focused on staying healthy through it all.
More recently, I’ve been sharing my acquired and tested “travel health hacks”. They are collected for your pleasure below – I hope you find them useful in dropping your excuses.
#1 Baseline and measure everything
First things first, I’m not a doctor. I’m sharing what works for me and while being 100% healthy. Not only should you follow your medical regiment if you have chronic issues, but you should take the time to get good baselines. Annual physicals are increasingly important as we age but not enough. You should get a blood test like WellnessFX to understand where you might be lacking in vitamins and minerals or track down issues like cholesterol. I also recommend 23andMe so you get to know what your elevated risk factors are. Ignorance is only bliss until you get a bad surprise and in this case you might have a time bomb inside of you. Better to know and adjust bad habits accordingly ASAP.
If you are truly lazy, at least get a good scale. You can’t change anything you are not measuring. I recommend the Fitbit Aria scale that will help you record your progress. Weigh yourself at the same time every day. I do it every morning right after waking up.
You are what you eat, so don’t put crap in your body. At least minimal knowledge of nutrition is crucial. I highly recommend picking up a good book on the basics and to start really paying attention to nutritional labels.
Here are some of my fundamentals:
- Your body needs healthy protein starting at breakfast even if you are not trying to build muscle.
- If you are planning to skip a meal, make it dinner not breakfast. You need energy to start the day out right and kick-in your metabolism. Most people over-eat at dinner both in volume and unhealthy content. Skipping dinner is probably the biggest weight loss hack around.
- Contrary to popular belief, healthy snacks throughout the day keep your metabolism working and prevent you from gorging on giant meals.
- Carby snacks like chips are your enemy, nuts and vegetables are your friend.
- Salt is white death and also makes you retain water and therefore extra weight. Pretend that salt shaker is filled with poison… because it is.
- Your body doesn’t need fruits, they are filled with sugar, and previous generations didn’t have the luxury of eating them year round. They survived just fine.
- Fruit juices are even worse and have even more sugar and calories.
- Not all calories are created equal. A steak or lean chicken breast is good for you. That Frapuchino or Jamba Juice is absolutely not.
- Milk (and dairy in general) does not your body good. It is a weight gainer, plain and simple. How else do you think calfs turn into cows? The dairy lobby promotes the hell out of milk’s calcium content but there are better ways of getting it.
- Get to know (unsweetened) almond milk. Hands down better for you than dairy milk and even soy.
- This one is painful: dessert. It is my absolute weak spot and Achilles heel. I envy people who are not into desserts. The most I’ve ever been able to do is to cut desserts out for a few weeks at a time. If you can drop them, do it. If you can’t, at least avoid cakes, frosting, and white chocolate. Mind the dense calories as well. The one saving grace is that dark chocolate (in moderation) has some good nutritional value. White chocolate though is a simply a ton of sugar.
Crash diets are a fad and can be difficult to follow. To make a true effect on your health, you have to change your life style. That said, I do a periodic “cleanse” if I’ve been particularly bad for a while and need to shed 10-20 lbs. Very simple, for a couple of weeks no carbs (including all sugars even fruit) and no dairy. The toughest part of this is finding what I can eat but there are some shortcuts. For breakfast I usually have 2-3 hard boiled eggs. For lunch and dinner a protein like chicken or steak with dark greens. In between lots of coffee and a handful of almonds here and there.
I can’t lie, the first week you try this it is going to be tough. If you can be disciplined, this will pay off not only in massive weight drops (1 to 2.5lbs daily for me) but will also sharpen your sense of taste and smell.
#3 Vitamins and supplements
Depending on your baselines, your doctor may suggest specific vitamin and mineral dosages. Otherwise you should get in the habit of taking daily multi-vitamins and add fish oil for good measure. Believe it or not, Costco is your best bet for highly-rated and inexpensive vitamins. Don’t forget to count out your vitamins for every day or your trip into a ziplock baggie.
Social drinking is a reality of business. Relationships are built over dinner not in the board room. It is important to not let this affect your health over time, since alcohol is generally bad for you (duh). Apologies to my British friends, beer is a weight gainer with big time carbs and calories. In Eastern Europe, the problem is vodka with its 90 calories per shot. Those caipirinha or mojitos in Latin America have tons of sugar. If you must drink, make it a glass or two of red wine. Resveratrol is an anti-oxidant in red wine which is good for your heart. Keep in mind: the dryer the wine, the less residual sugar it has.
#5 Exercise with no gym (or time)
Fitness on the road is really tough. Unlike all the time in the world with vacation travel, entrepreneurs don’t have an extra minute to spare on the road. Hotels with gyms are expensive and the equipment is unpredictable. So the best plan is to resort to body-weight exercises you can do anywhere and very quick. The number one goal here is to eliminate the excuse and just do something.
Every morning right before your shower do a single circuit (non-stop) of three exercises. It should take 3-5 minutes and get your heart-rate going. Through this, it is more important to have good form than to maximize the reps. Start with 30 each of the following and work your way up as you get stronger:
My personal feelings on running maybe somewhat biased. As a kid I ran hurdles and other short-distance track. In the process I developed shin splints. So these days I really can’t run long-distances on pavement. However, there are much better ways of getting the cardio fix. Rowing is an awesome full-body cardio exercise I really enjoy. Like in most exercises, form in rowing is key:
Also, get to know your optimal heart rate (hint: it is not necessarily maximum) and track it when you do any kind of cardio via a chest-strap heart rate monitor.
#6 Stress management
Stress is a toxic killer. Not to mention, that it is pointless. Whether you worry or not, the result will be the same. In fact, worrying usually negatively affects your performance in a critical situation. Your stress can manifest itself in insomnia, unhealthy eating, depression, and often mistreating people who support you most.
Entrepreneurs have to deal with crazy deadlines, workloads, and unpredictable situations while hearing “no” more than “yes”. Professionals in critical jobs, like pilots, first responders, or special forces, are taught to stay calm and power through stressful situations. Entrepreneurs have to do the same or risk burning out very quick.
Every individual challenge we deal with on a daily basis seems important but usually won’t matter in a month, let alone a year or five. So it is healthier to take a deep breath, calm down, and make peace with the result either way. You win some battles and you lose others. Just make sure you don’t lose more permanent things, like your health or relationships with your loved ones.
#7 Dealing with jet lag
There is in fact a sure way to be impervious to jet lag, it is called “polyphasic sleep”. More specifically Uberman, where you train your body to sleep 20 minutes every four hours around the clock. At that point, it doesn’t matter what time zone you are on. Plus you gain a ton of productive time in your day. I’ve been wanting to try it, but honestly haven’t been able to make the switch. Very few people are able to dedicate the time and go through the two weeks of hell to get there. If you can pull it off, let me know.
If you are a normal monophasic sleeper and cross times zones often, it will get easier over time. Here are my hacks that help:
- As soon as you board the plane set your watch to the new time zone and don’t think about the one you are leaving.
- Don’t eat 10-12 hours before your wake-up time on the new time zone. Your circadian rhythms-that wake you and make you sleep-are heavily dependent on your eating cadence. If you are not eating for half a day, your body naturally thinks you were sleeping.
- When traveling east, make sure to go to bed and try to fall asleep at your normal bed time even if you are not tired. Putting your head on a pillow has a magic sleepy effect.
- When traveling west, force yourself to stay up until at least 10 or 11pm. Going for a walk works great, especially if it is still daylight. You are going to be exhausted but this will surely help you switch much quicker.
- You are almost guaranteed to wake up in the middle of the night for the first 48-72 hours. Even if you can’t fall back asleep, do not get out of bed or get into “active” mode until a more normal wake time. Certainly don’t eat until normal meal time and don’t skip your morning exercise.
#8 You must be crazy if you are still smoking
When I was in 13, I finally convinced my father (a life-time smoker) to quit. Outside of being a raging alcoholic or drug addict, smoking is the single worst thing you can do to your body. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life and never understood the allure. If you add up all the smoking breaks in a day, it is a massive time waster to boot.
California has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world and has been my “normal” since childhood. But when I’m in Europe or Asia, it seems everyone needs to go for a smoke. If you have this terrible habit and care about your health enough to read to the end of this post, do yourself a favor and start by quiting right now. Cold turkey, just tell yourself you don’t need it anymore. No one last one, just throw away whatever packs you still have and don’t do it ever again. If you are not strong enough to do this, maybe you don’t have the will power to become a successful entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs deal with much more difficult challenges on a daily basis.
Stay healthy my friends and leave your own travel health hack or two in the comments.