Out of the last 2.5 years, I have spent around 12 months out of the country, either backpacking or working. In the next year, I will be spending 4 months in Chile, 6 months in Barcelona and perhaps some time in the States. This time abroad has given me perspectives and experiences I would never have been able to enjoy in the UK, as well as invaluable career opportunities. However, balancing foreign life with exercise and eating well can prove very difficult, especially in countries which don’t offer the same goods and services as you are used to having at home.
When you go grocery shopping, do you recognise every brand you pick? Do you have a go-to yoghurt, or mylk alternative, or even a favourite store? You walk in, you even know the layout like the back of your hand, you can almost zombie-walk through the shop. However, when I was living and travelling in South America, there was never a supermarket that I recognised or any brands I could fall back on without paying many times their value.
Instead, I had to find alternatives and to substitute local ingredients and seasonal produce for the normal things I would find at home. By visiting markets, I was able to get the freshest products at the lowest prices, and know exactly where they came from. I found that meat was very inexpensive, especially at supermarkets, and so were nuts and fruits. This was before I began to live a Paleo diet, so I ate a lot of rice and quinoa, which was cheaply bought in bulk. Fruit juices were my go-to drink in the streets, where you could ask for them “sin azucar” to stop decay-inducing levels of sweetness.
Street eating and eating out presented a slight difficulty, in that normal meals contained at least 3 different carbohydrate sources – bread, chips and rice – served with a lump of fried meat. Nevertheless, here too it is easy to make some changes, with lots of restaurants offering plantain in place of the other carbs. In the street, although you could never be sure of the water used to wash the salads, on every street corner was a stand selling skewers of freshly cooked meat, offering a quick protein source on the go.
If you’ve been following my Instagram, you’ll have realised that I eat a lot of protein powder in smoothies and nice cream bowls. This was, for some reason, one of the hardest things to find whilst I was away. It was also, for some reason, the thing I had most trouble trying to replace! I’m used to just adding it to anything as an extra boost of protein, especially after a workout. I had to adapt away from eating it every day, relying more on plant-based protein sources and eggs.
In all, especially when I was staying in hotel where I could cook my own food instead of relying on restaurants, eating didn’t pose too much of a problem. I enjoy finding new foods to try, and experimenting with local recipes. I also found that in Peru and Bolivia, they eat a lot of soups which are nourishing and healthy (and the only thing I could find with plenty of vegetables!) so these were always my fall-back if I couldn’t find anything else to eat.
The main problem was my workout schedule. In the UK, I stick to a very set training schedule with plenty of miles and lots of gym sessions for strength. When travelling, moving from town to town every few days, there was no way I could keep signing up to gyms and workout there. Instead, I would do body weight circuits about once a week for strength and walked a lot.
I also set myself a challenge: to go for a run in every single town I stayed in. I didn’t have to do a lot of miles, and in fact I didn’t do more than 15 miles most weeks, but it got me out and about. I also found that it was a great way of exploring a new city, quickly and safely. It gave me a time to get out before the crowds, to see the tourist spots in the early light of morning when everyone else was still tucked up in hotels and hostels.
Last summer, when I was working in Laz Paz, Bolivia, the two months I was there gave me enough time to join a gym and get the most of my membership. The problem there was not the time or the travel but rather the altitude. At 3600m (14 000ft) above sea level, there is no air even to breath, let alone work out. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t train to my full capacity and and lost a lot of the fitness I had built up through my marathon training. However, I then spent a month hiking in higher altitudes still, where I again felt my aerobic fitness improve and my muscles recovering.
In the next months, I will be using the lessons I’ve learnt from past travels to make sure that I continue training and eating in the best way possible. Having already visited Chile, I know that there is a good range of supermarkets and markets, and that it is a safe place to run and work out.
Stay tuned for my adventures of being Paleo and a marathoner in Chile, Spain and America! Follow me on Instagram (@primallyimperfect) and on WordPress. How do you cope with exercise and eating whilst outside of your own country?