Ask Amanda: Long Haul Health

An old sorority friend of mine came to visit from ye olde London last week, and she had a very urgent #AskAmanda question – how can you possibly stay healthy on (and before/after) long-haul flights?

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I’ve definitely touched on healthy air travel before, as well as how to get through a bout of travel without getting sick, but I’ve never specifically touched on long-haul flying (which I’ll define here as 8+ hour flights with at least three time zone changes) and how it can mess with even our best healthy intentions.

First of all, prep it up.  As they say, failure to plan is planning to fail, so as soon as you are aware of your travel plans, start to conceive your strategy.  Figure out when/where you’re going to eat your meals (on the plane?  before you travel?  upon landing?), what hours you’ll need to sleep on the plane to minimize jetlag on arrival, purchase your in-flight support items (such as a neck pillow, travel moisturizing mask, reusable water bottle, water pills, and compression socks), where you’re going to sit (I always choose an aisle seat near the restrooms so I can stretch and “go” as I please) and what you’re going to wear for both comfort and necessity (if you’re not going straight to work upon landing, why not go straight to the gym – and wear activewear on the place so you can?).

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Second, commit to finding the best quality food possible during your travel.  Crappy airline snack boxes are less-than-tempting when you’re packing a decent salad from Au Bon Pain in the terminal; bringing your own food from home to avoid sodium-and-carb filled airplane food is extra credit.  If you absolutely can’t plan ahead for your food, at least try and switch your airline meal – you can often pre-book low-sodium, low-calorie, or vegan meals, all of which will save you tons of unnecessary junk in your system.

Next, once you land, don’t immediately plunge into full vacation mode, especially if you’re traveling for work (which is, let’s be honest, the opposite of vacation). Google search your new surroundings for the terms “salad” or “healthy restaurant” or even “best healthy food” and commit to eating at least one vegetable-heavy, clean meal per day while traveling.  And guys – hydration could not be more important on flights like these.  Stick to a 2.2-3 liter per day habit, and again, get that bathroom-adjacent seat.

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Fourth, stick as closely as possible to your normal routine.  If you’ve found weight control success using protein shakes, stick that powder in a Ziploc and make yo’ shakes in your new locale.  If you’re a runner, make sure to bring along your running shoes and gear, and ask your hotel concierge for a safe local route (rather than saying “I didn’t know where to go!” and skipping the whole thing).  Pack your vitamins and supplements, continue your intermittent fasting window, sleep as close to your normal hours as possible, and don’t overdo it on booze or unnecessarily indulgent food (wine and dessert with clients is ok…if it’s not three evenings in a row).

Finally, plan for a glorious return.  Even with relatively healthy habits, long-haul travel and its associated time changes, dietary changes, and often-harried schedules can leave you frazzled the moment you reach home.  Put together a little detox routine (mine includes as much sleep as possible, a deep tissue massage for my swollen lower limbs, a short run or yoga class, and a giant dose of green vegetables) that you always have to look forward to as a re-energizing and relaxing treat.

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For those of you who regularly travel long-haul – how do you recuperate and recharge?

Ask Amanda: Total Recall

The timing on this legit reader-request #AskAmanda could not be more perfect as I’ve just returned from a wonderfully indulgent vacation in Japan.  She asked me how I get myself back on track after a weekend (week…month…year…life….) of too much food, too little exercise, and a general lack of health and fitness habits.

To give you an idea of what I mean when I’m talking about overdoing it, take a peek below. Over the five glorious days I spent in northern Japan, a typical day of eating looked a lot like this:

As you can imagine, upon my arrival back to Singapore, I solemnly and quietly slid my bathroom scale away under the sink, vowing to give myself a week to “recover,” and devised a plan on how to get back to my fit, firm self after a weekend of overindulgence.

Step one: food.  Whenever I need to clean myself out, I don’t go for the typical quick fixes (think juice cleanses, starvation diets, or some protein-shake regimen).  I simply buy the clean, healthy foods I enjoy and commit to eating them – and only them – for about a week.  For me that looks like:

  • breakfast: none; I return to my intermittent fasting program
  • fast breaker meal: banana or apple with natural chunky peanut butter
  • lunch: can of water-packed tuna mixed with plain hummus and 1/2 avocado
  • snack: a cup of full-fat Greek yogurt with blueberries and nuts
  • dinner: 1/2 avocado and 3 eggs over German bread with a side spinach salad

Sure, it’s not super exciting, but it definitely works – and that’s what matters to me.  The ingredients are cheap and simple, there’s barely any cooking involved, and I like all the food listed here.  I pair every meal/snack with 1/2 liter (16 ounces) of water and make sure I drink at least one container of coconut water (especially important in the Singapore climate) per day to offset all the dehydration of the (black) coffee I tend to gulp by the gallon.

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Step two: workouts.  When I’m coming back from an inconsistent or nonexistent workout schedule, I like to come back with a week of two-a-days – either an endurance cardio workout in the morning and superset weights in the afternoon, or a HIIT workout early and a slower weights program later.  I don’t overdo it in either workout session, but I do like to make up for lost time a bit and recommit my body and mind fully to exercise.

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Step three: sleep and skin.  After even one weekend of indulging, especially at age 33, I can see the effects of too much alcohol and sleep deprivation all over my (bloated, dull, patchy) face.  I like to use the first week back to do some serious rehab on my skin (think exfoliating scrubs, hydration mask, and heavy-duty eye cream every night, plus a scheduled facial as soon as I can make time for one), and get tons of sleep (for me “tons” is anything above 7 hours, and I cherish every second of it) until I no longer resemble the walking dead.

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If the Korean girls do it, I’m doing it – cleanse, tone, eye cream, face mask – ALL OF IT!

Finally, a wonderful step four: massage.  Sure, I was just on vacation, surrounded by leisure time and onsens aplenty, but I was also crammed into an economy-size airplane seat for about 10 hours each way and traveled two red-eye flights to make the trip happen. When I got  back, my neck felt like it had been strangled and my sore legs (from two days of snowboarding after an 18-year hiatus from the sport, sigh) felt like they were radiating pain.  I like to get a nice, deep, almost-painful massage to work out the travel tension and body aches from a whirlwind trip and help me get back in the mindset of work, business, and responsibilities again.

What are your best post-vacay rituals?  How do you get back to your healthy routine?

Ask Amanda: Fly Away With Me

I just checked in for the first legs of what is about to be an absolute whirlwind of flights – Singapore to Melbourne to Adelaide on the first leg; Adelaide to Bali to Singapore to San Francisco to Phoenix on the return.

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God, I hope not

Whew.  I’m already exhausted and I haven’t even left (or packed, but that’s another story).

That said, with all the air travel I do (and the propensity toward colds and flus this time of year), a loyal #AskAmanda reader asked me how I possibly manage to stay healthy through the festive season – and I admit, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Some of these are going to be a bit redundant from the last time I wrote on this topic, but there’s more to staying healthy while traveling than just popping Emergen-C (though I do recommend it) and a lot of it bears repeating.

First off, prep yourself for your travel plans.  So many people get swept up in the holiday season and don’t pack or prepare for what’s ahead – which ends in a lot of stressed-out rushing, last-minute forgetful packing, and utter exhaustion before you even hit the security gates.  Be thoughtful with your packing, choose comfortable clothing (and if you tend to swell like me, compression socks and loose pants) for the flight, toss an empty water bottle in your bag for some in-flight hydration, and take the time you need to actually get to the airport, no stress – believe me, it helps.

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Second, arm yourself with nutrition.  Skip the over-salted, under-nutritious airplane and airport food and bring yourself a nice bag of nuts, homemade sandwich, and bottle of water so you don’t starve or dehydrate on those oh-so-dry airplanes.  If you wanna get really fancy with it, wrap up some hummus and crackers, or even slice some fresh veggies for a quick in-flight crunch (and feel victorious while everyone else is wrestling open a laughably tiny peanut bag).

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Third, focus on hand washing and sleep, in that order.  The moment you hear someone with a hacking cough or wet sneeze on the plane means you’ve probably already come into contact with something they’ve touched or breathed on, and it should be a red alert to jump up and wash your hands (or in a pinch, use hand sanitizer).  Most of the common colds and flus can be combatted with this simple act, yet it’s the thing so many travelers forget to do that leaves them landing with a sniffle of their own.  And I know it’s easier said than done, but SLEEP – sleep! – if you possibly can.  Close your eyes, breathe deeply, use a neck pillow, do whatever you gotta do so that you don’t arrive at your destination a wacked-out, sleepless mess.  (Ladies, throw a nice thick face cream on before you doze for an extra spa-like bonus as you catch your crucial zzzs.)

And finally – don’t forget to move.  The aforementioned hand washing is a great excuse to get up from your seat, and when you do, take yourself through a few easy stretches to encourage circulation, keep your muscles active, and maintain mobility so that you don’t land feeling stiff and tired.  I always grab an aisle seat to make getting up as easy-peasy as possible, and my average rate of standing movement is about once per hour (believe me, on these 17-hour long-haul direct flights, even that seems like a feat!).

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The long story short of it is this – with some simple planning, healthy eating, comfy clothing, and basic moving, you’ll avoid the common travel bugs lurking within those big metal tubes, and ensure that your Christmas is a happy and healthy one.

What are your tricks and tips for travel?  How do you arrive feeling refreshed and relaxed?

Ask Amanda: The Half Of It

Hey, did you guys know I ran a half marathon this past weekend?  

I’m almost kidding, since I feel like I posted it all over every social media platform I had – but who can blame me*?  The race went great, the location (Angkor Wat Archaeological Park; definitely worth your visit) was incredible, and the training I put into the effort was top-notch.

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All the amazing kweens of the 2016 Angkor Wat International Half Marathon (me, far right)

*I almost turned this post into a mini-rant to counterpoint OTHER peoples’ mini-rants about how “annoying” it is to post your workouts on Facebook; a habit which I not only have NO problem with but find encouraging and inspiring – but I digress; that’s not what today is about.

Today is about half marathon training, my friends – or really, any endurance event training, since I’ve been doing a lot of those things of late.  How do I train for a long-distance running or obstacle event?  What are the keys to success in these cray-cray distances?  And how can you avoid some of the common mistakes new racers make?

First of all – and I stress this so much to clients it’s almost a joke – I don’t run that much.  Ok, before that seems absurd, let me clarify – I absolutely do run more than your average person not doing half marathons.  But I do NOT run every day, every other day, or really anything over 15K (9.3 miles, American friends) unless I am training for an actual full marathon.  What I do do is make every single run count – I hit one speedwork, one strength/hill run, and one distance run per week when I’m in endurance training.  The speedwork usually involves a legit rubber track; the strength involves hills (if I can get ’em outdoors), treadmill inclines (if I can’t), or tempo work (like this); and the distance run starts at just 5 miles (8K) and grows to a max 15K (in this hot and humid weather, I find it is more than enough to get a sense of what race pace and fatigue feel like, and also enough to test nutrition and fuel options).

Which brings me to my next point – the centrality of proper nutrition.  Hate to be a downer, but guys, it’s not just the big fun carboload meal you eat before the race that “counts” (and for the record, my favorite pre-race meal is NOT a big plate of pasta, but rather, a big slab of red meat – either a burger and fries or steak and potato), but in fact the nutrition program you use on a day-to-day basis throughout training and during the actual race that matters most.  I do intermittent fasting each and every day of the week, but I also limit my carb intake in the week leading up to the race.  Two days prior, I start to add refined carbs back in force, and then the night before the race, I give myself a healthy dose of simple carbs and animal protein – and believe me, this method makes me feel like I have a jet pack on my back.

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As for race-day nutrition, everyone is different – so it is crucial that you find a strategy that works for you well before the actual day.  For me, I have trouble eating in the morning due to a mixture of nerves, lack of appetite, and fear of pooping my pants, so I like to load up a later dinner the night before and race on coffee, water, electrolyte beverages, and GU gels alone.  Other athletes I know like to wake up with a hearty bagel or muffin, then hit some chews throughout the race; even others I know carry actual food with them on the course (believe it or not, I know one gal who legit races with a cooked sweet potato in her pocket).   Lance Armstrong was renowned for taking in nearly 20 PowerGel packets (!) during the 26.2 miles of the NYC Marathon the first time he ran it.  Summary point: it does not matter what you need to do for race-day eating; it DOES matter that you practice, practice, and practice again eating EXACTLY what you’re going to eat in EXACTLY the conditions you’re going to eat it to make sure it doesn’t cause you any hassle, GI distress, or general discomfort when the big day comes.

Besides nutrition, the biggest advice I can give new endurance runners is to cross-train with weights.  You heard me – don’t be afraid of getting bigger, be focused on getting stronger and more indestructible.  Sure, there’s something to be said for being light and fast on your feet, and I absolutely do recommend finding a healthy race weight and adjusting your nutrition program to help you reach it – but there’s also a great deal of value in being powerful (this was the first half marathon in six years that I was able to PR, and I attribute it to a killer kick that allowed me to drop two fellow female competitors that had led me for the entire race in mile 11), recovering easily, and finishing strong.

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So what do I mean by cross-training with weights?  I mean 2-3 sessions of dedicated, structured resistance training per week.  Perhaps for you that’s a bootcamp-style workout, or a circuit training class, or a TRX session – all great options.  Maybe you’re the type who likes to follow a traditional training split (like back/biceps, chest/legs) in the gym alone.  A third option may be to join a CrossFit or obstacle-racing gym (depending on your goals) and practice functional skills like flipping tires, kettlebell swinging, or rope climbing.  Whatever your preference, make sure you’re lifting with proper form (a session with a personal trainer can be an awesome investment here to master the basics), lifting heavy, and lifting with a focus on core development (i.e. choosing free weights or a barbell; not relying on gym machines to do the stability work for you).

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Finally, and this underlies all of my advice above – make sure you have a plan.  Serious runners get coaches; if you can’t afford one, get yourself a solid running plan online, make your runs and workouts as serious as your work appointments or meetings, and stick to it.  I advise 12-16 week plans for new half marathoners; 16-20 for new marathoners.  For shorter distances, allow yourself at least 8 weeks to fall into a focused run-and-resistance  training routine, and for obstacle racers, make sure you’ve got race-specific (like the aforementioned rope climb) training at least once per week in the 4-5 weeks leading up to race day.  And as always – listen to your body.  Even the best runners on the most finely-tuned programs get injured when they build mileage too quickly, skip their cross-training, “forget” to stretch or do yoga, and stop sleeping enough to recover fully – so make sure you’re keeping your self-care intact as you ramp up your endurance work, too.

How do you train for a long-distance race?  What are some of your time-tested tips?

Beachin’ in Boracay: A Memoir

Folks, it’s been over two months since I had one of the most epic vacays of my life – and if you’ve been following me on Instagram, you got to see up close and personal some of the absolutely incredible moments I was able to spend (along with my wonderful travel companion and fellow blogger Justin Walter from Around the World with Justin – check out his post on our trip here) in Boracay, Philippines.

Let’s be real: I think we could all use a little beachside throwback in the depth of winter.

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Our first day in paradise

Here’s the thing about Boracay – location is everything.  Like, all the things.  You need to be centrally located (Station 2 is my personal reco), and you sure as heck want to be directly on that long stretch of beautiful white beach (aptly named, White Beach).  We were lucky enough to enjoy a sponsored stay on one of the only resorts in the area that spills out directly from the lobby onto the sand – The District.

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Unedited gorgeousness that is The District

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Not even kidding that this is #nofilter on White Beach

You guys, The District is The Sh*t.  From the moment we checked in, we were greeted with the utmost in friendly service and professionalism – every staff member made sure to say hello, ask how we were doing, and make sure we we comfortable throughout our stay.  Nothing felt forced, and every interaction was pleasant and easy.

Oh, and did I mention our actual room?  Take a look around this baller suite:

The bed was so comfy it was damn near impossible to get up each day (but hey, those beach chairs don’t fill themselves) except for the siren call of the delicious (included!) breakfast.  Mangoes do not get fresher than this, my friends – and again, the service at breakfast (including the action omelette and noodle stations) was impeccable.

But let’s not get hung up on staying inside the hotel.  The amazing beach chairs were our favorite places on property, and also where we spent most of our lazy, luxurious days – drinks in hand, sunscreen on, in and out of the bath-warm water all day long.  There are kayaks, jetskis and stand-up paddleboards to rent (beach staff will arrange it for you at a very reasonable cost) – that is, again, if you can get up out of your lounger.

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In the epic words of 311, “I’ll be here awhile…ain’t goin’ nowhere…”

At some point you start to feel guilty from all the luxury, but The District has you covered on that, too – they’ve got a full service gym that is cool, clean, and wonderfully equipped – a little bit of heaven for a trainer like myself, who actually likes working out on vacay.

The daytime in Boracay can only be beat by one thing: the nightlife.  As soon as the sun starts to set (which it does, early, in the winter), the island starts to liven up.  We watched the sunset each night from our perch atop the Star Lounge restaurant, over freshly grilled seafood (or, like my friend Justin, some less ocean-y options), delicious wine and cocktails, and chilled-out music – absolute paradise.

The District is right in the middle of all the nighttime action – steps from D’Mall (tourist trap but must-see scene nonetheless), amazing clubs like our fave Epic, and all the cool local beachfront action (I bought these delicious garlic peanuts from a beach seller for about 50 cents and it was the perfect boozy snack before bed).

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I’m not drunk, you’re drunk

Our stay was only a weekend, but it will last in my memory forever – it is far too easy to fall in love with the slow-paced beach lifestyle, amazing scenery, and warm service that characterize both Boracay and The District.  We cannot wait to come back and walk into this lobby again soon…

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For more information: The District Boracay
T: (63 2) 234.9058  |  T/F: (63 2) 234.5917  |  M: (63 917) 7737572
Email address: reservations@thedistrictboracay.com

Talkin’ Thai & the Great ROCKtober Challenge

Hey guys, it’s been a while.  Sorry for the delay – my parents were in town over the past month and while wonderful (truly wonderful!), it set me back a bit on the blog end of things.  But I’m back – and I have a lot to report.

First of all, can you believe I’ve been in Singapore for FOUR full months?  I hit the 4-month mark on Tuesday, and to be honest, it really is starting to feel like home.  I’m excited to get to six months as I feel like that’s really some sort of “established” goal time (and will also be our first expat Thanksgiving), but even at four it’s feeling nice and cozy.

That said, toward the end of my parents’ visit to Singapore, we snuck in a getaway to Thailand – Krabi, to be specific, beach paradise and gateway to the islands.

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A look down Aonang beach

Sure is beautiful, huh?  Too bad it looked like this for approximately 45 minutes of our entire 4-day stay.  Turns out that whole “monsoon season” is a real thing.

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Grey skies are gonna clear up…nope

Despite getting rained on every moment of every day (poured at breakfast, poured on the boat tour, poured as we tried to shop, poured all the way to the airport), we had a great time – we managed to sneak in some hammock time between downpours, eat a TON of great food (my personal fave?  Green curry beef, of course) and maybe imbibe a bit, often out of a piece of fruit filled with delicious booze.

Mom & Dada going "Coco Loco" at the beach bar

Mom & Dad going “Coco Loco” at the beach bar

Some might say we were crazy to try and make a Thailand trip happen in the rainy season, and those people might be right.  But don’t worry, we don’t take advice very well – Nick and I are headed back (this time, to the utter insanity of Bangkok) for the upcoming Asia Fitness Convention.

I’ll be there reppin’ Aquaspin which, by the way, is taking off in a major way – I’ll be running our first Instructor Certification program next week, and the week after, we’re taking the biz all the way “down under” to Sydney – can’t wait to certify our first international group while we’re there.  A quick behind-the-scenes from our latest photo shoot:

Not mad at this view

Not mad at this view

And oh yeah, in case you can’t tell from the grey skies in the photo above – the haze is back, and it’s awful.  Apparently this is a not-so-hallowed annual tradition whereby Indonesia burns the hell out of their palm oil groves and we get to breathe soot-covered air for an undisclosed amount of time (currently creeping up to a month; some estimates say it won’t clear until November).  Check out the crap I get to breathe:

Hazy lazy days of September

Hazy lazy days of September

But enough about travel, smoke and business – let’s talk about something a little cmore personal, shall we?

After nearly a month of eating, drinking, and general merriment with my parents in town, both my husband and I realized that we’d really start to let ourselves go when it comes to personal care.  Care for some examples?

  • Neither of us have been to the dentist since we arrived
  • I still haven’t gotten my hair cut
  • We’ve both gained weight (let’s not talk about how much)
  • I cooked ONE meal at home during the entire month of September
  • We typically have at least one alcoholic beverage five nights out of seven
  • I’ve done exactly three yoga classes here over a period of four months

I’m sure there is more but I won’t even allow myself to regale you with the full monty of our health and wellness sins.  Sure, I’m still working out regularly (nine Spin classes a week will kind of do that for you), taking Crossfit classes, and getting my 20K daily steps.  But it’s time for a real shakeup in the ol’ lifestyle – so behold – the Great ROCKtober Challenge.

The Great ROCKtober Challenge is really a misnomer, as it’s not really a “challenge” in the sense of a competition, and it’s not necessarily that rocking.  It’s more about returning to a healthy frame of mind and way of living that will give us both more energy, better eating habits, and a stronger mind-body connection by the end of the month.  The basic tenets?

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I laid out 10 weekly goals for myself right where I can see them – in my dressing room – and these 10 concepts (simple stuff, like eating vegges with dinner, getting yoga in once a week, or engaging in positive self-talk) will guide my habits throughout the month.

Do I hope weight loss is one outcome of the challenge?  Sure, and I’ve taken my measurements and body fat percentage to make sure I stay on track with that part, too.  But this challenge is mostly about getting myself back to the place where I feel my best – eating well, moving with intention, and giving my mind time to rest and recuperate.

What are your goals for the coming month – or rest of the year?  I’d love to know your strategies, too!

Small Space Circuits: The Vacation Workout

As a trainer, I am constantly combating excuses about why a client “can’t” work out.  I don’t have time, they say; I’m not a member of a gym, they wail; I never know what to do on my own, they claim.

What if I could solve all of those issues with just one simple (but tough!) workout?

I recently had the opportunity to go on a river cruise down the Mekong from Cambodia to Vietnam with AmaWaterways.  The cruise itself was amazing (and highly recommended), but being a river vessel, the gym space was limited – as was my time, since part of the reason one goes on vacation is to experience another culture, not to spend hours working out.

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The beautiful cruise ship AmaDara

Because I had the benefit of traveling with a fitness-minded friend, I recruited her to partner up with me and we committed to 20 minutes of exercise on “most” days.  I designed a short, high-intensity workout to keep both of us active and strong without wasting our precious cruising hours.

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Ready to work out!

Get ready – this one’s a toughie, as there’s not much rest and there is much running/cardio.  Feel free to modify the workout if you have access to equipment (i.e., run on at treadmill if you have one, jump rope if you brought one, add weights to your squats if you have some) – but know that you don’t need a speck of stuff to get your sweat on with this routine.  Let’s go!

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Fitness room onboard the cruise ship AmaDara

SMALL SPACE CIRCUITS

Warm up with 1-2 minutes of easy cardio, like jogging, jumping jacks, or cycling.

Next, alternate 2 minutes of high-intensity cardio (like sprinting, jumping rope, or burpees) with 2 minutes of full body exercises (listed below), continuing for 5 rounds.

Rest 30 seconds between each 4-minute round, finishing with a 1-minute plank after the fifth round.

Cool down and stretch for 1-2 minutes.

2 MINUTE RUN / 1 MINUTE PUSH-UPS / 1 MINUTE STEP LUNGES

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE JUMP ROPE / 1 MINUTE TRICEPS DIPS / 1 MINUTE SQUATS

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS / 1 MINUTE BICYCLE CRUNCHES / 1 MINUTE PLANK-UPS

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE JUMPING JACKS / 1 MINUTE KNEE-TO-ELBOW PLANKS / 1 MINUTE SQUAT-KICKS

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE BURPEES / 1 MINUTE SUMO SQUATS / 1 MINUTE V-UPS

REST 30 SEC

1 MINUTE PLANK

One more step – pat yourself on the back for having a) worked out on vacation and b) made it through a really tough 20 minute effort.  Now bon voyage!

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Vietnam ahoy!