We asked two well-traveled trainers for their best fitness and nutrition tips while traveling—and then tested them on a 41-hour journey.
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Airlines are modern masters of torture. As a freelance journalist with a shamelessly millennial wanderlust, I'm no stranger to jet lag, dehydration, seriously questionable airline food, a screwed-up workout schedule, and the kind of post-plane stiffness I'd hoped not to experience until I looked a little more like my grandma.
While globe-hopping, I follow of the basics of healthy travel: Drink lots of water, pack snacks, get your heart pumping during layovers. But over the past year—with my butt clocking enough time in airports to earn platinum frequent flyer status—I've realized it's time to up my healthy travel game to make my time in transit as healthy as possible. (Related: 6 Healthy Ways to Pass the Time While Traveling)
To do this, I asked two well-traveled trainers, Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn (the duo behind Tone It Up), for their healthy travel tips. Then I put them to the ultimate test: a 41-hour journey from Detroit, MI, to Perth, Western Australia. (Related: How to Sleep On Any Flight, According to Top Sleep Docs)
The experiment had a surprising effect: It put me in a healthier mindset for my entire two-week trip. Pre-planning a slew of healthy choices for every part of my journey made me realize traveling doesn't have to be a disaster for your workout schedule or your food choices—you can create a healthy routine even on the go.
Here's what worked, what didn't, and how to make your next trip as healthy as possible.
Get your sweat on: "We love to do some kind of cardio to get moving and get our heart rate up before sitting on the plane," Dawn told me. "A high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine is amazing because it boosts your metabolism and tones your total body at the same time." Getting up extra early for an a.m. flight to go to a HIIT class? Not super realistic for me, so Scott suggested finding a fitness activity that would fit better with my flight schedule, like the anytime, anywhere daily workout moves on the Tone It Up app, which you could even do at the airport. (Related: 5 Do-Anywhere Partner Exercises from the Tone It Up Girls)
How it worked for me: Since I didn't really want to board my first 14-hour flight in sweaty spandex, I opted to do some pre-dawn toning moves before leaving home. I also threw in some jump squats, mountain climbers, and plank jacks to get my heart rate up. While I didn't love the early wake-up call, I didn't feel like the slug I usually do in the middle of a long flight. I may have been binge watching plane movies, but I'd least I'd already got a workout in.
Get your steps in: To get as much movement as possible before a seated cross-continental journey, Dawn and Scott advised power walking the terminal to boost my heart rate. So instead of taking escalators or moving walkways, I hoofed it from one end of the terminal and back again (complete with carry-on) for 30 minutes before boarding.
How it worked for me: Overall, this was one of my favorite tips. Stretching my legs and pushing myself to score a negative split on my walk made me feel energized and strong before boarding.
Fuel up pre-flight: Tone It Up's nutrition motto is "Lean, Clean, 'n Green"—not exactly what you find in those super-questionable in-flight meals. K&K recommended fueling up before the flight, when I'd have access to healthier options. "This means choosing whole, clean, unprocessed foods like lean proteins, leafy greens, and healthy fats," explains Scott. "This will help you feel light, refreshed, and satisfied for your flight." Since one meal likely won't last for your entire trek, they also recommended stocking up on healthy snacks like hummus and cut veggies, dried fruit, or protein bars from home. "If you're in a pinch at the airport, you can always find something Lean, Clean, 'n Green," says Scott, "Look for a big salad with lots of veggies and lean protein, fruit, or unsalted nuts."
How it worked for me: Airport food is so important to me that I've been known to choose a layover based on my meal options. While I always pack healthy snacks, this is the first time I made sure to pack a whole meal or eat before takeoff on each leg of my journey. The difference it made was huge. Rather than feeling bloated and sick after a greasy microwaved meal, I felt light throughout the entire flight.
Flex while sitting: When you've been sitting in a chair the size of a shoebox for 14 hours, getting up is a literal pain in the butt. K&K had two words for me: plane yoga. "I usually cross one leg over my knee for a modified pigeon pose," Scott said. "Rolling your head side to side can also loosen up tight shoulders."
How it worked for me: My overnight Etihad flight actually had an in-flight yoga program designed specifically for the journey. Score. This was life-changing. In addition to modified pigeon, I spent 30 minutes flowing through shoulder and arm stretches, even squeezing in some spine-loving cat-cow. By the time I stood up, my hips, back, and shoulders felt less creaky than ever after a long journey.
Hydrate: The number-one healthy travel tip I hear is to hydrate in flight. "We recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces of water a day," Dawn said.
How it worked for me: I always buy a bottle of water and sip throughout the flight. But with a goal of drinking 65 ounces, I realized I wasn't drinking nearly enough. This time, I stocked up on four bottles before boarding. While I didn't get the headache that usually sets in around hour five, I did have to pee—a lot. If you want to up your hydration levels, get an aisle seat.
Eat often: "Aim to eat about every three hours to stay nourished and keep your metabolism revved," Scott told me. Here's where all those pre-packed snacks come in.
How it worked for me: The only hard part about this tip is scrounging the airport for healthy snack restocks on a layover. I opted for some natural popcorn, raw almonds, dried apple slices, and a handful of Kind bars. Having an arsenal of healthy eats definitely made it easier to say no when the snack cart rolled around.
Stretch immediately: Rather than beelining to baggage claim, K&K recommended taking a few minutes in the terminal to stretch it out. "Stretch your chest and shoulders by clasping your hands behind your back and gently pulling your arms back behind you. Hold this pose for a few deep breaths," said Dawn. "You can also do a side stretch by raising your arms above you and holding your hands together. Tilt slowly side to side." They also suggested a little heart-rate boost via squats or walking lunges.
How it worked for me: Walking lunges in the middle of a terminal filled with frenzied travelers didn't exactly seem practical, so I power walked to baggage claim instead. In the 20 minutes before my bag arrived, I got a nice full-body stretch (including a full pigeon pose to release all the massive tension from my hips). Taking the time to stretch made me appreciate just how stiff you get from being sedentary for a few hours—definitely worth the post-flight pause.
Do an outdoor workout: "Getting outside is the most important thing for beating jet lag," said Scott. "For us, the best way to fight jet lag is to sweat it out," Dawn added. In other words, pack your gym gear at the top of your carry-on.
How it worked for me: By the time I landed in Perth—41 hours after I'd left my house—all I wanted was a proper bed. Real talk: Getting the motivation to work out after a marathon trip like this is no joke. For the sake of journalism, I very reluctantly pulled on a fresh pair of leggings and running shoes and dragged myself on a run. Ultimately it turned out to be more of a walk but I was still glad I'd gone. I slept like a baby and didn't feel a lick of jet lag when I woke up on day one of vacation.