Routine may be the one thing missing when you’re travelling off the beaten track, and your fitness goals will likely take on a new perspective, but the principle is the same when it comes to staying fit and healthy.
There are not many backpackers who travel to spend a gap year in a foreign land only to get there and do nothing. The fact is that when you’re travelling you’ll likely be far more active than you would be while back at home – and that doesn’t include the work you’ll be doing while you’re away, let alone exercise.
Cardio exercise and resistance training keep you in good health by improving your strength and endurance, as well as weight loss. Of these, backpacking will likely see you lose weight through increased activity and a decrease in caloric consumption. You, therefore, will want to seek cardiovascular exercise sparingly when it feels more of a need. Think about it, if you’re hiking around with a weighted backpack all day, going for a run or deadlifting is going to use up an awful lot of your limited energy, and when you’re travelling it’s best to avoid exhaustion.
Getting in shape will mean a focus on endurance training. For lifting your backpack and carrying everything like a hermit crab for longer periods of time, your abs, core, legs and shoulders will need to be ready, though mass muscle gaining is hardly a requirement.
To build a good basis, or to make any adjustments along the way, try the following using a light to moderate weight and 10-15 reps:
✓ Squats ✓ Trap bar lift ✓ Side planks ✓ Crunches ✓ Roman chair lift ✓ Deadlifts
Note we didn’t use the D word there. Sticking to a diet, in other words, a regimented intake of specific food types as you might while in training at home, is not easily done while you’re travelling. Exchange the word ‘diet’ for ‘nutrition’, however, and by sticking to that you’ll keep in good health.
When you’re backpacking, you don’t always know where your next meal might come from. Literally. You might even have the money, but if you don’t know the local area, or arrive without prior knowledge of when shops or places to eat will be open, you might go without.
Job one, which applies to many aspects of survival while backpacking, is when planning ahead, find out where food will be available.
As for what kind of food, that too might fall under the category of beggars can’t be choosers, but you can at least know what you should be on the lookout for. Given that you don’t know where your next nutrition is coming from, slow-burning carbs and proteins are your lifeline.
You might know casein protein already from training. This protein source hosts a complete amino acid profile and contains branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) which are the building blocks of new proteins. It can take six hours to metabolise, meaning your body digests and puts it to use over a longer period.
Carbs are your energy reserves and, when travelling, stocking up is essential. Without carbs, you’ll burn out, not only physically but mentally too – and while travelling you’ll need your wits about you. Beans, grains, pasta, rice and green vegetables are good sources and also easily carried among your possessions. Low blood sugar is equally dangerous, so carrying a supply of hard candies is a good idea for if you feel a little desperate.
In terms of how much you should be eating, you may not have the option to feast three times a day, but if you have a choice you need to bear in mind how many calories you’ll be burning while carrying a heavy backpack and essentially hiking – not to mention any work or other activities you find along your way. Calorie counting will be tough, but sticking to the old rule of thumb from training in the gym back at home, a surplus of calories will mean you have more to burn off and more mass muscle to gain. Same goes for protein. Because your weight will likely yo-yo over a gap year, stick to the rule that you need carbs and protein before and after exercise. Aim for 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight and a minimum of 225 and 325g of carbohydrates a day.
Staying hydrated is paramount to good health and keeping in top physical form. If you’re travelling a hot country you’ll need to pay extra care to make sure you don’t dehydrate. Avoiding the sun when you can helps, as well as ensuring you always have a couple of litres of water among your possessions at all times. The best advice is to avoid dehydration before it happens. The side effects include headaches, weakness, nausea and inability to concentrate. If you feel yourself speaking, there’s a good chance dehydration is involved, especially if you’re keeping active in the sun.
Last but not least, while there is so much to see and do, exhausting your body could ultimately see you miss out if you injure yourself or get ill as a result. Your body needs rest to grow and recover, so make sure that sleep becomes a primary concern along with staying hydrated and nourished.