Road Warrior: How To Build Muscle While Traveling

Nick Ludlow
Written By: Nick Ludlow
March 31st, 2014
Updated: June 13th, 2020
19K Reads
Maintain your good health, and improve your workouts, nutrition, recovery and sleep with these tips for fellow "road dogs" by competitive powerlifter Nick Ludlow.

I'm a road warrior - flights from my home city at 5am every Monday and returning to my residence every Thursday night at 11pm. Four Days and three nights without a full kitchen can be a challenge, but I don't let that de-rail me from reaching my fitness goals.

Here is how I eat to gain while traveling.

Road Warrior Muscle Building Nutrition

Attack your morning nutrition

If you are a breakfast eater and have preferred status, take advantage of the free breakfast in the concierge lounge. The black coffee and tea are excellent calorie-free options for increasing both your fluid and antioxidant intake.

Although the scrambled eggs may not be of 5-star quality, help yourself. Eggs are an excellent source of protein, B-vitamins, choline (for preserving memory and ensuring proper nervous system function), healthy unsaturated fats, and cholesterol. Don't fear the cholesterol. Recent studies have shown that dietary cholesterol intake has no negative impact on cholesterol levels in healthy individuals.

If you’re craving carbs, skip the sugar-laden breakfast pastries, and instead opt for the whole grain bread or English muffin. These complex carbohydrate sources will provide you with sustained energy, and are better  than a “sugar high” from the pastries.

For an extra hit of healthy fats and protein, spread on some peanut butter. Nearly every concierge lounge offers the ¾ ounce pre-portion peanut butter packets which provide 120 calories, 11g of fat (mostly unsaturated), and 4 grams of protein.

Pull Ups

Maximizing your office eating

Many road warriors have established a preferred status with hotels. This can mean free stuff. Even if you're not a big breakfast eater, snag some shelf freebies to snack on at work.

Every concierge lounge I've been in offers a large assortment of fruit, such as bananas, apples, and oranges. Fruit is a low calorie way to increase your consumption of fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins. If you're lucky enough to have access to a fridge at the client site, pick up the hard-boiled eggs and yogurt - these can easily be stored for later snacking.

Before going in to the office, stop at the nearby gas station or grocery store for shelf-stable snacks that will provide sustained energy. Opt for lean beef jerky. It is an excellent source of supplemental protein, but check the labels to ensure sodium levels are reasonable (<400mg per serving). Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are an excellent source of Vitamin E, healthy unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Portion control is crucial with these calorically dense nutritional powerhouses – a 1oz serving adds up quickly so consider purchasing pre-portioned packs so that you know how many calories you’re consuming. If you’d rather buy in bulk, the typically 1oz serving of nuts is ~23-28 whole almonds, 7 full walnuts/14 walnut halves, or 49 pistachios.

Although “protein bars” may looks like a simple way to increase protein intake, think again. Many of these bars have added sugar and oils that can quickly add calories to the point that it’s basically a candy bar with protein! If you decide to go the protein bar route, look for complete protein sources such as whey, casein, or soy, 3+ grams of dietary fiber per serving, and little/no added sugars or oils. Quest Bars have surged in popularity and looking at my above recommendations, they fit the bill!

Us road warriors spend a lot of time traveling and sitting, but don’t let this allow you to become a slug. Add in exercise whenever you can – take the stairs instead of the elevators, park in the furthest parking spot from the office, take a 5 minute walking and stretching break every hour (time and situation permitting).

STAY hydrated – even a slight level of dehydration can muddle focus, decrease metabolic rate, increase fatigue; don’t force water, but don’t hold out until you’re desperate for a sip of high quality H2O.

Push Ups

Avoid a meal-time meltdown

When lunch time rolls around you’ve got a few options. Because you didn't "pack from home," you can:

Order from the client’s cafeteria. If they have a salad bar, go nuts! Salad bars are a great way to get in your vegetables, which are full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. For a protein source, considering ordering a chicken breast without the bun from the griddle or ask for deli meat without the bun.

When it comes to fat sources, opt for an olive-oil based salad dressing, which is an excellent source of unsaturated fats. Or you can throw a handful of nuts or seeds for both healthy fats and additional fiber. For carbohydrates, choose something nutrient-dense and slow burning, like a plain baked potato, sweet potato, brown rice, or whole grain pasta. These foods have fiber and complex carbohydrates, which will help you power through the afternoon.

If you’re a calorie counter, this meal may be the most difficult. Most cafeterias are serve yourself so the pre-portioned calorie amounts are not listed.

You can also opt to go off-site to eat, or pick up something to-go. Going off-site to eat is an excellent way to catch some sun rays, remove yourself from the screen, and socialize with co-workers. These de-stressors may lead to you become “caught up in the moment”, but don’t let that ruin your food choices.

If you’re a calorie counter spend a few minutes exploring the restaurant’s website to see if they post nutrition information. If they do, simply pick the items you’re planning to eat and record those macros in your journal. If you’re not a calorie counter, aim for dishes with minimally processed ingredients and watch out for sauces. Cream and oil-based sauces can add an extra 300+ calories to your meal.

Don’t be afraid to ask the serving staff to customize your order. The worst thing they can say is “no.” I’m willing to bet they’ll bend over backwards for any reasonable requests.

Don’t want fries? Ask the restaurant if they will sub in a salad or baked potato. Want an extra piece of chicken? Ask away! Want dressing or sauce on the side? Let them know in advance. This will increase your control over portion and calorie intake.

Note that some of these requests may cost a little bit extra, but as a road warrior you likely have an expense account. Can you really put a price on good food?

Dinner time room service

When dinner rolls around, you’re in a similar scenario to lunch but with an added twist… room service. If you’re pressed for time due to post-work work (stinks right?), too tired to go out, or there’s nothing decent to eat in the area, then room service is a great place to find a healthy meal.

The hotel and restaurant industries are built around superior service, so combining these two entities is a recipe for success. Ask away and don’t be afraid to request something that’s not on the menu. If the ingredients are used in anther dish, then those ingredients are fair game.

For us calorie counters, this might be a tricky situation. Use your best judgment with portion sizes and don’t be afraid to box up half for tomorrow’s lunch. Of course, don’t forget to tip ;)

Keep your body happy during happy hour

Road warriors know that happy hours, or post-work drinks are commonplace. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with abstaining from alcohol, but if you choose to indulge, select low carb/light beers or liquors with calorie-free mixers such as diet soda, club soda, or water.

Avoid the pre-mixed and sweetened beverages such as margaritas and daiquiris. These are typically made in a blender. These drinks can contain over 40 grams of sugar and 400 calories in just one drink.

Road Warrior Workouts & Recovery

Hotel gyms often follow a formulaic layout - dumbbells up to 50lbs, and a variety of cardiovascular machines. Maybe, if you're lucky, they have a nautilus machine. However, you can still make do. Utilize the following:

  • Bodyweight Exercises – Push-ups, Squats, and Lunges are 3 excellent bodyweight exercises that can be performed anywhere will not only increase your heart-rate, train your muscles, and improve flexibility if you perform them with a full range of motion.
  • Dumbbell Complexes – picking a set of dumbbells and performing a series of exercises back-to-back that flow in a logical fashion.
  • HIIT on the cardiovascular machines – 15 seconds all-out followed by 45 seconds rest; repeat for 15-20 minutes.
  • Steady State Cardio – I’m a big fan of the elliptical or incline treadmill as these are both low-impact activities that don’t affect my weight training the next day.

For additional ideas, check out the following M&S workout sections:

Before Bed

Once again, take advantage of the lounge and enjoy a warm soothing beverage such as tea or decaf coffee. For most folks, caffeine immediately before bed could increase the difficulty of falling and staying asleep.

Practice good sleep hygiene –

  • Avoid screens 30-60 minutes prior to sleep.
  • Take a warm shower (your body will naturally begin to cool down and this mild drop in body temperature will promote sleep).
  • Consider taking relaxation supplements such as melatonin (natural produced in the body), 5-HTP, or valerian root. For those of us who travel across time zones, these can be a life-saving for helping to increase quality sleep as well as “reset” the body clock to a proper sleep schedule.
  • Many hotel rooms have bright clocks and noisy neighbors – consider packing a sleep mask and earplugs to block out sound and light

Being a road warrior is tough mentally and physically, but if you keep these tips handy you’ll be sure to stay in tip-top physical condition while racking up the frequent flier miles and hotel points!

Posted on: Tue, 04/08/2014 - 14:44

Nice article!!

Posted on: Tue, 04/08/2014 - 14:44

Nice article.

Nicole B
Posted on: Wed, 04/02/2014 - 09:34

Great article Nick! Although it is tricky, you have to take care of yourself on the road. Thanks for the tips!

Posted on: Mon, 03/31/2014 - 18:11

Yeah buddy! Congrats on getting your first article published! - BukAndrew