September 1, 2012

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Well Traveled

How to Stay Focused and Energetic on Business Trips

Peri Kinder

September 1, 2012

After making it through airport security, you dash to your gate, grabbing a large cinnamon roll and jumbo-size coffee along the way. On your flight, you munch on salty peanuts and pretzels, guzzling Diet Coke to keep you awake so you can, literally, hit the ground running.

Your business trip consists of periods of frenzy, followed by brief moments for food and rest. You return home frazzled, spent, exhausted and burned out.

Sound familiar?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Taking time to prepare for a business trip can mean the difference between a top performance and mere survival.

“People don’t realize how much traveling can affect their health. Even pros have a difficult time not feeling the effects,” says Dr. Michael Jennings, owner and founder of Personal Family Physicians. “First of all, don’t leave in a state of exhaustion. If you are burned out before you leave, how can you be mentally prepared while you’re there?”

So how can you treat yourself well, meet deadlines, beat jet lag and come home with energy? Jennings has some suggestions to make your business trip healthier and more productive.

Eat Healthy
Grabbing food on the go may be convenient, but convenience has its price. Most snack foods found in airports are high in fat and sodium, and relatively low in nutrients. Plus, sitting in a confined airplane seat for a long time can cause fluid retention and swelling. Instead of junk food, Jennings suggests eating a healthy meal before you get to the airport.

If there’s no time for a healthy breakfast or lunch, packing sliced apples or bananas and peeled oranges is a great alternative. “Focus on fruit because it has negligible fat and it won’t weigh you down,” Jennings says. “Eat foods with plenty of fiber and protein and very light fat.”

Once you arrive at your destination, make healthy menu choices by avoiding fried foods, salads with lots of dressing or over-sized portions of meat. These heavy foods can make you feel sluggish for several hours.

Also, don’t wait too long between meals. Snack on healthy foods between meals so you’re not ravenously hungry by the time you finally make it to dinner.

“And eat light,” he says. “We have a tendency to overeat when traveling. We usually eat 50 percent more calories, or more, compared to eating at home.”

Find Time to Exercise
If you already have a scheduled exercise routine, try to stick with it while traveling. Make sure to pack exercise shoes and clothing so there’s no excuse to slack off while on the road. It doesn’t have to be a high-intensity workout, maybe just a walk around the hotel or to a nearby attraction. Just 15–20 minutes per day creates health benefits that will leave you energized and ready to face your next challenge.

Utilize the hotel’s fitness facility, or see if it offers access to a fitness club. Take the stairs whenever possible and, if there’s time, enjoy a walking tour of the city. But don’t put off exercise until your daily meetings are over because, chances are, it won’t get done.

“Exercising first thing in the morning could be your best option,” Jennings says. “There’s a low probability at the end of the day, when you’re tired and mentally spent, that you’ll make it to the gym. And exercising late at night can inhibit deep sleep.”

Get Your Zzzzzs
Lack of sleep affects your body and mind. When traveling through two or more time zones, circadian rhythms are upset and it’s harder for the body to maintain, repair and function well. A week or so before your trip, start changing your routine, eating and sleeping an hour earlier, or later, to help the body adjust to the upcoming time change.

On the plane, adjust sleeping habits right away, staying awake or getting some sleep, depending on where you’re traveling. Once you arrive, get involved in some physical activity to rejuvenate and adjust to the new time zone.

And if you find it hard to sleep in a different location, talk with your doctor before your trip to get some sleep aids so you can be alert and focused during meetings.

“Some people can sleep on the wing of the plane, while others need different strategies for dealing with sleep problems,” Jennings says. “But don’t use caffeine or energy drinks. They will end up being more disruptive to your sleep.”

If it’s possible to delegate, pass jobs like calculating bids along to co-workers who might have more time available. “No one else can sleep for you, but somebody else can crunch numbers for you,” he says.

Follow these easy tips and your next business travel experience could be much more effective.

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