V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N is almost a chronic craving to escape from our routine life! We are dreaming of it, making plans, counting down the days and what not. The ultimate need of rest and recharge is reaching its peak the closer we get to the day X… Now stop for a second! As a health & fitness cautious person ask yourself a couple of questions. Where is the borderline of doing your body good ends and its destruction from “too much of a good thing” begins? How far can we go with disrupting our regimen whether by increased alcohol consumption, change in nutrition, sleep pattern, activity level and physical fitness? Well…it depends. There is no universal “dose” of vacation one can take without negative consequences simply because our bodies are unique mechanisms and so as our lifestyle.
With this article I’m not trying to give you another “what not to do” vacation list. You’ve got enough restrictions already and adding a few extra “no-no” to such a precious time of your life will make you leave this page immediately. Breathe out and continue reading safely! The whole purpose of my article is to help people like myself and like many clients I’ve been training to vacation with minimum sacrifice of our fitness achievements. And by saying “me, we, us” I mean people who have to work really hard in order to be in shape, who have to watch very carefully what they eat, and whose body changes pretty quickly in response to “unhealthy” things we do. Ok-ok, no tears please! We may not be genetically blessed with effortlessly skinny figure but we are awesome creatures in every other way!:)
Finally let’s get to the core point of this intro. Vacation is your time to relax and disconnect from stressful realities of your daily life. Should you take a maximum advantage of all-inclusive cruise or resort (you know I’m talking about 24/7 buffet and bottomless drinks)? Should you turn every single meal into a cheat meal? Would it be ok to gain 10 lbs, to feel miserable because you can no longer fit into a dress, and to realize that you’ve wasted all those hours in the gym? Probably not! But you can definitely find a good COMPROMISE and make the best out of your time off without an ounce of guilt and a pound of extra weight afterwards.
A cruise can be one of the most challenging vacations for “fitness minded” individuals. You wonder why? Well, it’s simply because you are in a drifting hotel where restaurants and bars are open all day long with hundreds of delicious options to choose from and no portion limitations in buffet style dining. On top of this, some days you’ll have to spend at the sea so your physical activity can be very minimal and, again, surrounded by people who constantly eat and drink. Despite this, a cruise is an amazing way to visit a few places during one trip, enjoy a beautiful sail and all amenities a ship has to offer including pool, water slides, various shows & performances, theme parties, casino, rope course, climbing walls and much more!
Let me share my travel journey on a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise and give you a few tips on what to pack for your trip, active things to-do on the ship and at your destination ports, how to pick and choose your “battles” in a buffet, and much more! Since this was my 4th cruise, I sort of knew what to expect on my vacation and mostly important from myself.
Pack Your Fitness Essentials
First things first. Preparation is the key so let’s begin with the essentials you should pack for your cruise. Trust my cruising experience on this short list –every item is 100% worth the space in your suitcase!
– Gym clothes & sneakers. Pack at least 2-3 cute outfits because there are lots of active things to do on a ship as well as at your destination ports. Besides that, you don’t want to miss a Zumba class or yoga on the beach in case you ran out of fitness clothes.
– Water Bottle/Protein Shaker. Staying hydrated in a hot climate is absolutely necessary especially when you are spending a lot of time outside. Take the bottle with you to the pool, gym, or on an excursion.
– Protein Powder. Bring this with you only if you are planning to workout first thing in the morning before breakfast. Otherwise there is no need for it during a vacation. Please read below why it’s necessary to have quickly absorbed protein like whey isolate before any morning workout.
Now, when your packing is done I suggest you to reprogram your mindset to a vacation mode and let some of the things go…
- Food Logging/Calorie Counting. If you’ve been food logging all along your fitness journey then you deserved a break! Stick to the basics of healthy eating for the most of your meals and you’ll be fine.
- Regular Fitness Routine. You don’t have to follow your usual fitness routine or plan at the same intensity. Change of exercise program will have a positive psychological and physiological effect on your body. I encourage you to try new workouts, new classes, new machines, etc. Surprise your body with something you haven’t done before and turn down the intensity level if it feels necessary. You’ll be impressed to discover new soreness from exercises that didn’t even seem too challenging at the first glance!
- Negative Thoughts. Let go of negative thoughts such as blaming yourself for overeating, having an extra drink, feeling fat, etc. If you happened to have a big meal, that’s fine. Count it as your vacation cheat meal and have a lighter dish the next day. If you feel like you’ve already gained some weight or simply bloated then just go for a run in the morning and have one drink instead of three! Trust me, you’ll feel better and even slimmer after a good sweat session because of endorphins…you know their magic!
Alright, if the “letting go” part went easy (and I’m pretty sure it did) then I think you are ready for my biggest advice…And here it is:
BALANCE is completely realistic and achievable even if you are not the most self-disciplined, goal oriented, results-driven person! It starts with an ACCEPTANCE of the fact that you’ll be off your regular nutrition regimen for the time of your vacation: there will be drinks, deserts, late dinners… The rest will take a little planning and a touch of positive attitude. There are various ways to fill your days with activities that will outweigh the consequences of overeating and drinking. And when it comes to food my advice is simple – pick & choose your battles! Let’s go into more details of how things can be balanced out on your cruise vacation.
Workout is Never a Bad Idea!
Exercising is probably the best way to balance your “calories in” vs “calories out”.
Most ships have a fully equipped gym and offer various fitness classes like Zumba, TRX, spinning, yoga, group cardio and strength training sessions. There are even personal trainers if you prefer an individually design workout! I highly recommend you to check out fitness center and classes schedule during the first day so you can plan the rest of the vacation and reserve your spot for the most popular classes.
I recommend you to exercise in the morning and get it out of your way for the rest of the day. Doing a workout in the morning has its obvious advantages:
- You are less likely to skip it if other things get in a way
- It gives you lots of energy for the rest of the day
- It won’t distract your plans with the family or friends
- It can be more beneficial for your metabolism to complete cardio first thing in the morning before breakfast.
PLEASE NOTE! AVOID EXERCISING IN THE MORNING ON AN EMPTY STOMACH!
If you are planning to do only a cardio session (jogging, running, spinning, dance class, etc.) before breakfast, which is actually preferable, then you should make yourself a protein shake with ½ or full scoop of whey isolate and 1 glass of water at least 30 min before your session. This will give you some energy and will ensure you are not sacrificing your lean muscle mass for the sake of fat burning.
If you are planning any kind of resistance workout (weight training, TRX class, bootcamp, etc.) before breakfast then I highly recommend you to have the same protein shake and a fruit like banana or apple at least half an hour before a session. Fruits are usually available in a buffet all day long so just grab a couple and keep them in a room so your pre-workout snack is ready anytime.
If you choose to exercise during the day then no special snacking is necessary.
As for me personally, I enjoyed exercising in the morning because my husband takes forever to get up and get himself ready… So I was at the gym almost every morning either for a class or for whatever workout I felt like doing that day. Protein+banana snack gave me lots of energy to complete 45-min weight training session with 20-30 min steady pace cardio at the end.
Explore What Ship Has to Offer!
There are so many fun and active things to do on a ship so you’ll never run out of options: water slides, wall climbing, rope course, basketball and soccer tournaments, dance master classes, etc. Choose whatever makes you move around!
Explore more – shop less! While shopping ashore can become a pretty good cardio, nothing can beat the thrill and excitement of a good adventure. Kayaking, snorkeling, water tubing, zip lining…are just a few out many options to do something active at your cruise ports!
Shots! Shots! Shots!
Alcohol drinks deserve a special attention here. Every day of your vacations feels like a celebration and any celebration needs a toast or two or three… So what do you do about it? Well, the choice is always yours but let me remind you that every shot of hard liquor is 64 calories, a glass of wine is around 125 calories, a margarita can be over 200 calories! On top of this, alcohol often makes you face look puffy the next day and you generally feel bloated. Should I mention the misery of a hangover?
So my advise on drinks is pretty simple:
- Keep alcohol consumption under control. Don’t waste your days on recovering from hangover.
- Have a glass of water next to your drink. Try to alternate.
- Always ask bartender to adjust a sweetness of your mixed drink. This can cut the calories by half!
Choose Your Battles When It Comes to Food!
As I mentioned before, the nutrition part may be the most challenging one on a cruise. Food choices are almost endless and absolutely delicious no matter which restaurant or buffet you are going to. Yes, it’s tempting…and yes, you can make it work!
There are a few nutrition guidelines that will help you to come back in the same (or almost the same) weight your were before a cruise vacation:
- Don’t skip meals or your chances of overeating will skyrocket.
- Don’t turn every meal into a cheat meal. If you know you won’t be able to resist a dessert for dinner then keep your breakfast and lunch healthy. If you are craving pasta for lunch – go for it! But you’ll have to keep your dinner light. Balance is all it takes!
- Try to follow the basics of healthy nutrition when you order your meal or trying to build your plate at a buffet. Start with lean protein (fish, seafood, poultry, lean meat cuts, eggs, tofu), then add wholegrains (oatmeal, whole grain bread) and veggies (salad, stir fry, steamed, grilled).
- Opt for light or sugar free desserts, which are always available at a buffet for people with diabetes. Believe it or not they are super tasty and you’ll never tell they are sugar free if you won’t read the label.
- Stay away from overly processed junk food
- Avoid going to a buffet after 10pm for a late snack. You won’t resist pizza, hot dogs, cookies and pastries… And that’s pretty much all there is.
- Choose water instead of soda, juices (unless they are fresh squeezed) and other sugary drinks.
- Portion control is a must!
- Opt for light salad dressing and sauces.
- Choose grilled or baked products over deep-fried.
Finding healthy options was never a problem even considering my food allergies. Please note, that cruise staff is extremely attentive to your dietary needs and restrictions. They will do everything possible to accommodate your special requests and will never give a hard time about it!
As for my personal experience, I tried to keep my plate full of veggies and protein in different variations.
My healthy breakfast favorites:
- egg white omelet with veggies, cheese and a slice of whole grain bread
- ½ cup of cottage cheese with a few pieces of fruit
- 1 tablespoon of peanut butter with whole grain toast
- ½ cup of plain yogurt with granola
My healthy picks for lunch & dinner:
- veggie salad with light Italian dressing and chicken
- coleslaw salad (no mayo version) with turkey patties
- grilled veggies with steak, beef stew or meatloaf
- shrimp cocktail with beans salad
We also had dinner at the Italian, French and Asian restaurants. And these were not heavy meals as you would have thought. All menus offered something healthy and low in carbs like a crab salad, ratatouille, grilled vegetables lasagna (which had minimum cheese and was shared between two of us), sea bass with asparagus, etc.
I had a dessert every night and at least one drink with my dinner.
Therefore my diet was 80% healthy (lean protein, veggies, whole grains in the morning) while the other 20% went to daily sweets and alcohol. It may seem normal for some people but this diet was much higher in calories and particularly carbs than what I’m used to back home. But since I worked out almost every day and went on excursions with moderately high activity level, I came back gaining only 2 lbs! And in just a day those pounds were gone!!!
Oh, I almost forgot to mention! I enjoyed every meal I had on a cruise and didn’t feel like I was missing out on something. Remember, once you’ve built healthy habits, they became your safety guards. My body has occasional cravings but overall I don’t like deep fried foods, junk snacks, and very sweet things. I truly love wholesome meals, fresh ingredients, fruits and vegetables…So eating healthy food isn’t a restriction but rather a necessity for me to feel good inside and out!
- No visual change of my body was noticed neither on “before” & “after” pictures, nor by my clients! However there were +2 lbs on a scale which were gone in day… So let’s blame the water retention 🙂 My body fat percentage stayed the same. And this is pretty amazing considering all the crepes I ate for dinner and a drink or two I had every night.
- I felt physically rested yet stronger from the total of 5 workouts I completed during the cruise. Since my diet was higher in calories, there was a lot more energy to complete those workouts and I actually increased my work weights!
- I was mentally rested and recharged which was the ultimate goal of our vacation
- Last but not least, this pale Russian girl finally got some tan! Whooo-hooo!
No, I’m NOT a fitness freak or fitness addict! My body isn’t shredded and quite far from Instagram fitness models’ standards. However it takes a lot of time, efforts, and “no-no’s” in the kitchen to be where I am with body right now. Slowly but steadily we are becoming friends:) We are listening to each other and compromising on a lot of things. And my vacation was one of those compromises which worked out perfectly!
I hope some of my tips can be helpful to you as well. Or at least you know someone who could really benefit from my experience… If so, share it!