How to Stay Healthy When Touring

Damian Erskine: Before and After

Q: I’ve noticed on social media that you’ve lost a fair amount of weight this year. It also looks like you spend a fair amount of time on the road or gigging a little bit of everywhere. How do you manage to eat well and stay healthy, especially when traveling? (I can’t seem to go a single gig without regretting those chicken strips the next morning.)

A: Yes. As of this moment, I’ve lost 72 pounds since January of this year (8-10 pounds per month, basically. I went from 246 to 174 – this morning). I feel fantastic, nothing hurts anymore, I look younger, and it honestly wasn’t half as hard as I thought it would be. I didn’t know that I had that much weight to lose, actually.

I won’t get hyper-specific about my diet and workout routine because I’m not a health guru by any stretch, but I’ll tell you what worked for me and give you ideas of how to make the road work for you. The reason I’ll get into this at all is that the most important thing you can do to help maintain good habits on the road is to form good habits at home.

If you make it a “way of being”, then it’s no more difficult to exist at the gig or on an extended tour than it is on your day off. In fact, I find that it’s almost easier to stick to a healthy routine while traveling, once you have internalized a few healthful tendencies.

I’ve certainly dieted in the past and I’ve gone for stretches where I got more exercise and nothing had ever really given me noticeable results until the moment that I just decided to get healthier over-all, and changed my relationship with food and movement.

The change needs to happen in the mind first and foremost.

I decided that I couldn’t help but slim down if I lived healthily; so I decided that I wasn’t going to focus on the weight number, but rather just form good habits.

I also knew that, if I hated it, I wouldn’t stick to it for very long (it being the diet or exercise… ANY of it). I knew that I had to make gradual changes and just keep to a few hardened rules and trust that I would find my “flow”.

I’ll quickly explain the changes I made, why and focus on how to keep it going on the gig or even on the road.

My initial changes were:

  1. Get at least 20-30 cumulative minutes of exercise every day
  2. Cut out processed foods and sugar as much as possible
  3. Give myself 12 hours of not eating (stop eating before bed!)

The diet has evolved to be a simple combination of anything I want as long as it is comprised of meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts with no added crap in the ingredients. Good quality foods (raw, if possible) with no added sugar or science words of any kind (if I don’t know what it is or wouldn’t be able to spell it confidently, it doesn’t go in my mouth). I also tend to avoid unnecessary carbs and dairy (I don’t freak out over a little shaved parmigiana on my salad but I also don’t drink dairy or order cheese on anything.

I also tend to skip the bread, potatoes, etc. (although sweet potatoes are great for you).

I also don’t drink calories at all. I eliminated cream and sugar from my coffee and, other than that, pretty much only drink water or sparkling water (a little lemon or lime goes a long way towards making it taste like something).

Additionally, I pay attention to condiments, dressings, and sauces. Most of those are just sugar sauce of one flavor or another. I’ve watched too many people order the salad in order to feel like they made the right decision, and then dump 500 calories of dressing and toppings on there. I was once out to eat after a flight at a chain restaurant by our hotel and they had just started listing caloric content next to each item on the menu. Most of the ‘salads’ had as many calories as the nachos and cheeseburgers. Be mindful of what you eat. Take none of it for granted.

The amazing thing is, after you reacclimatize your palate, most things (ketchup, for example) taste pretty intensely sweet. I never realized how sweet all of my food was until I eliminated sugar from my diet and tasted some of my old ‘go-to’ dishes.

Read the Ingredients

Unfortunately, this means that you’ll learn how little of the food in the grocery store falls into the (my) healthy category (even if it’s looks healthy, says organic or healthy right on the box). Most things are LOADED with sugar, sodium, and science words. Try and find foods that only have foods as the ingredients (even the sliced meat usually has a ton of added sugars, etc… It’s hard to find sliced Turkey that is just… turkey.

Eventually, I also came to realize that I wasn’t eating nearly as often, either. I basically have a late breakfast and an early dinner at this point. I also listen to my body. If I get hungry (not ‘bored hungry’, but ‘actually hungry’), I’ll have a snack; but that snack will be a banana, and/or a handful of nuts. Something along those lines. Just a little something to get you to the next bigger meal.

Three Things to Keep in Mind (Helpful Concepts)

  1. If you’re not hungry enough to eat a piece of fruit, then you’re not actually hungry!
  2. Every moment you do something or choose not to do something, a decision is being made. Make the decision that you’ll wish you had made tomorrow. (aka: decision making with hindsight). If you know that you’ll wake up feeling like a dolt for having that 2nd plate of pasta and the dessert, simply make the better decision and just don’t let yourself give in to it. Every time you successfully choose not to do something you’ll regret, you get better at not doing things you’d come to regret. It gets much, much easier to automatically make good decisions, very quickly).
  3. Don’t beat yourself up. If you ‘mess up’. So what…. so you chose the lasagna with a chicken and waffle chaser at dinner last night. Alright… that was fun. Don’t beat yourself up over it and DEFINITELY do not think, “oh well… I blew it”, and give up. Simply make a better decision next time. Boom, back on track. The past is past, work towards the future.

If you eat right 90% of the time, those moments of reckless abandon party eating can come and go with no consequences. It’s only when you eat like that too much of the time that it starts to become an issue.

In fact, because I eat well most of the time, in those instances where it’s more appropriate to just let go and get down with some heavy food with friends, I fully enjoy myself as opposed to sitting in the corner gnawing on my carrot stick and mumbling about ‘needing more gluten-free options’.

Of course, I may get an extra 15 minutes on the exercise bike before bed and have a decidedly healthy food day the next day but, otherwise, I don’t let guilt play into the equation. I had a good time with friends and it’s all good. Back on the salad train tomorrow.

The exercise is a two-fold thing. For the major chunks, I try to get at least a 30min walk in every day and usually prefer to do 3-10 mile hikes with elevation changes, when I have time. I also bought a cheap stationary bike and, if I haven’t had time to move that day, will get in a quick 20-30 minutes (while streaming a show or reading a book) before I totally melt into the bed or couch for the evening.
I also like to do 3-10 minutes of weight training, a few times a day at home, or longer sessions while on the road.

I don’t have it in me to pound away at the gym for 3 hours, every day (or any day, for that matter). Because of that, I’ve discovered the joys of short, intermittent workouts.

100 jumping jacks take me 90 seconds. I ALWAYS have 90 seconds available.

A quick round with the dumb-bells through my favorite movements takes me about 5 minutes.

Each of these things is a nice way to elevate your heart rate and get a little something in. They also add up.

Sure, 4 minutes with a set of dumbbells isn’t going to change your life but, if you do that 5 times every day, that 20 minutes of lifting weights actually starts to have an effect after a few months. Of course, lifting weights with a personal trainer 6 days a week will have more results, more quickly, BUT, how long would you actually do that? I can truly enjoy a few minutes of weights because I feel good that I’m doing something healthful for myself, AND it’s not that hard! Because it’s not that hard, I can do it every time I have time to do it and it doesn’t get in the way of my schedule at all.

Gigging and Traveling

Plan ahead. Think about what your day will look like and make sure that you’re covered. I will almost always have an emergency ration on me, in my backpack.

My go-to travel foods are:

  1. Nuts (unsalted. raw is best but at least try to avoid the salted and/or sugar-coated stuff)
  2. Bananas are my JAM
  3. Power bars (I look for bars that ONLY have simple ingredients in them. I definitely lean towards the bars with higher protein and lower sugars but, if the sugars are from fruits, and not just added sugar or corn syrup, I don’t fret too much about it)
  4. Pea protein powder. Protein powder is a great back up plan.

If you don’t know exactly what kind of food options you’ll have at the gig, hotel, airport, bar, event center, etc… Bring something that can live in your backpack or gig bag, just in case. Even better, if you’re on a van tour or have a few days in the same town, hit the grocery store and get real supplies.

As long as you always have a healthy option available to you when it’s time to eat, you have no excuse not to eat healthily.

That’s really it for the food thing…. Always have a healthy alternative available to you if you find yourself in a sea of chicken strips and band-wiches and you can go wrong unless you consciously decide to go that way.

Like I said, earlier… it’s NOT that hard. Eat healthy foods and learn the difference between ‘want to eat’ and ‘need to eat’.

Now, the thing that helps set it over the top for me and got me results was combining a proper relationship with food (hate the word diet) and movement.

My motto truly is as simple as, “got a minute?”

Is everyone damn-near horizontal, slouched on the couch in the green room staring at their phones? Find a quiet corner and do 50 jumping jacks. Drop and do a few pushups. Grab a chair and do 10 quick chair dips. You’ll get the blood flowing and it kicks you right out of sloth mode. It actually gives you energy! You’ll be glad you did when you hit the stage and you’re not still zoned out from 45 minutes of Instagram cruising and candy-crushing. Bonus, you got a few more minutes of exercise in you today!

Most hotels have a gym and/or pool. I love going down and doing 10 min of weights and 20 min at a brisk walk on the machine (weird right? I actually love that now… It’s amazing how much better it feels to move once you lose a few pounds. I used to abhor exercise. Now I crave movement in my day).

But, you don’t need a gym to get exercise (No more, “aw man.. forgot my shorts. I can’t hit the gym in my jeans. oh well, Netflix it is”. Your body-weight is all you need in a hotel room! Hit youtube and find some mellow, bodyweight exercises. Pushups, planks, chair dips, lunges… there are dozens of things you can do in a hotel room that’ll get your heart rate up.

I also bought some suspension straps and I also have elastic bands. Both items are affordable and, using your hotel room door as an anchor (use the deadbolt), you now have a pretty impressive range of exercises available to you. It’s amazing the kind of gym you can get going in your room with some adjustable straps and a solid door.

The bottom line is that you have to well and truly internalize the desire to make the changes in your life necessary to foster health. I was starting to have trouble sleeping because of back pain and I was always shocked when I saw pictures of myself because I was still skinny in my head, even though I had been over 200 pounds for over 20 years. I’m in my mid 40’s and I knew that it was only going to get harder and I decided to really commit pretty spontaneously. I had fallen 3 times, in 3 different countries because my balance was starting to suck and I was getting clumsy. I was starting to get “the look” from people that were sitting next to my seat on a plane (you know… the one that says, “oh please keep going… CRAP… fat guy has the seat next to mine”). I was having a harder time loading gear. I guess that I had hit rock bottom with the health and was starting to get scared about what life was going to look like from then on. I felt like an oaf and was starting to waddle.

I had had enough.

So, in summary: Travel health is related to home health. Once you prioritize your health, it’s not that difficult. It just takes a little bit of intention and over-sight. I think it probably wise to stick to a few small changes at first.

Health Over Weight to Get You Going

Don’t over obsess about the number on the scale at first too much, but set goals and work towards goals in small increments.
it took me a few weeks before the weight started dropping consistently but, once my body settled into the new routine, I steadily lost about .25 pounds every day. Of course, you’ll plateau while your body adjusts to the new normal but just stick to the healthy choices and you’ll start dropping again in a week or so. I tended to drop for a few weeks, plateau for a week or two, and then drop big again, and trickle down from there until the next plateau. Once I was a few weeks into the process, I lost a solid 10 pounds per month for the first 40 pounds or so, then the pounds started to come more slowly but I had less excess and I was likely also building muscle because it started to actually feel good to move somewhere around the 195 mark for me.

Make Each Decision One by One

Try to choose health the vast majority of the time but also allow yourself some freedom within there (I guarantee that you’ll start to feel so good, you actually won’t even want to eat a pizza by yourself anymore. Once you learn how good the ‘good’ food makes you feel, the ‘bad’ stuff becomes WAY less appealing.

Just Do Something

Feeling lazy? Alright… just hit 10 pushups real quick before you sloth out. Always try to just do a little something (I promise, you’ll start to want to do more)

When Traveling, Be Proactive

Bring food for the airport, flight, gig, hotel. Nothing to eat but Starbucks? Bet they still have a few bananas out on the counter! Grab a few of those and forget the breakfast sandwich. Grab a few for later, too. I can’t tell you how many coffee shops I’ve walked out of in the morning, before lobby call, with a banana in every pocket and my coffee.

Move

Waiting at the gas station while they fill up the van? Do some jumping jacks. Grab a curb and do some pushups. Jog around the block real quick.

Afraid to look dumb? You’ll get over it and, at the end of the day, you’ll likely wake up having lost a bit more weight. You probably also felt better on the next leg of the ride.
WORTH IT.

Here’s a super simple summary for a healthy life on the road:

  1. Eat simple foods and bring good food with you to gigs
  2. Don’t eat after the gig
  3. Exercise
  4. Drink water

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to askdamian@notreble.com. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Sergii Vdovychenko

    Great article, thanks!

  2. Ricardo

    Great information. Great job Damien!

  3. Damian Erskine damianerskine.com

    Correction! The sentence, “Once I was a few weeks into the process, I lost a solid 10 pounds per week for the first 40 pounds or so” SHOULD read…

    “Once I was a few weeks into the process, I lost a solid 10 pounds per MONTH for the first 40 pounds or so”

    BIG difference. sorry… lol

  4. MG

    Damian has it right: stay off the bread, pasta, dairy and all those fancy science words. It worked for him, it worked for me, it will work for you. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Mark J Chyna

    I am a physician… and this article has some of the most common sense and intelligent advice on weight loss, exercise and nutrition that I have read in a long time. I especially like the fact that Damian is avoiding fad diets and potentially harmful supplements or prescription medications in favor of actually eating the right type of food and increasing activity levels. He also distinguishes between eating when hungry vs eating when bored… or eating as a patterned routine (whether alone or in a social group) when not necessarily hungry. Plus, he does not recommend the potentially harmful extended fasting periods of over 24 hours in favor of fasting at the END of the day with no food before sleep.
    Damian, you may have a second career as a nutritionist. Great work on your lifestyle change, and great article!

    • Damian Erskine

      You made my day! It feels right for sure but it’s fantastic to get verification. Thank you for taking the time!

      • Eddy

        The hardest part for me is not eating after a gig… I’m usually very hungry then. Also, when I’m bored.

  6. Great post. So proud of you Damian. And your doctor must be thrilled with your bloodwork!

  7. You got it ALL right, Damian! Especially the relaxed but determined attitude is essential. As is making the right choices about what, how much and when you eat and drink. It is truly amazing how your perception of ‘sweet’ can change in a rather short periode of time.
    Totally with you on this!

  8. Sean Needham

    Some good advice there Damian; myself and the guys always try and find a little bit of competition each day on the road, whether we’re just shooting hoops or have found a climbing wall/archery range/bowling alley or something else where we can score points off each other makes the exercise a lot more fun.
    Then there’s the other side of it, we all try and find time away from each other (and the mobile phones) just to get the head clean, whether it’s just going for a walk, finding a gym or a swimming pool or just sitting on a bench and watching the world go by for an hour; being on the road with the same folk is tiring, little problems can bite big and being able to step away and put it in to perspective can be the difference between a so-so gig that night or a great one.