Building Muscle on a Budget

best gyms in saigon

People often ask me about how to keep fit when traveling and how to build muscle on a budget when living in a foreign country.

I’ve been away from the comforts of the West for over two years now and must admit it’s not always easy staying fit and keeping in shape when on the road or based in foreign lands. Healthy eating can be a challenge, but it’s definitely doable as i’ll explain below.

vietnam beer
Temptation is all around..

 

My weight has fluctuated dramatically over the last two years and whilst I do my best to keep in shape, I must admit it’s a lot more difficult when compared to being at home with the convenience of 24 hour supermarkets at every corner.

You can easily buy protein and supplements such as creatine in HCMC but these are normally double the price of back home, so I tend to buy more inexpensive alternatives such as chicken and fish that is very cheap here.

Chicken in Vietnam sells for around $5 a kilo, and the quality is good. Beef is a little more expensive, but fish is very cheap and i use this as a staple in my diet eating it at least 3 times per week.

 

Gyms are plentiful in Saigon, and start at around 30k VND ($1.5) a session. Monthly and yearly memberships are cheaper again. You get swanky gyms like California Fitness that cost around $100 per month and rival anything you could find back home. I tend to stick to the ‘spit and sawdust’ type joints however. As long as they have enough free weights available so I can perform the basic compounds exercises I’m happy.

My Typical Days Eating

In order to get all my macros in and hopefully gain or at least hang on to a little muscle, I try to eat as clean as possible keeping protein high. A typical days eating may look like this:

Breakfast:

3 whole eggs, broccoli & skillet potatoes. A hearty start to the day that should keep any man full for at least a few hours. Sometimes if i can find decent bread i’ll go for the poached eggs on granary toast, a cheap and delicious meal any time of the day.

poached eggs
Mmm breakfast..

 

 

5g Creatine.

Creatine is a great supplement for energy and improving recovery. It also draws water into your muscle cells brining nutrients with it, so is a nice anabolic (muscle building) compound that’s cheap to buy and easy to use.

Lunch:

Either com tam (2 pork chops and rice with egg) if i’m out and about, or bo bam (lean mince) with an egg and vegetables, cooked at home.

If i’m training that day then I’d add some extra carbs such as rice or sweet potato into the mix.

com tam
Com tam-pork, rice and vegetables for around $1.50

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner:

Dinner will be similar to lunch, built around lean proteins but I’d normally add around 250 grams of white fish here that I would steam in soy and spring onion with a little chilli. I’d accompany this with some rice for carbs and lots of local vegetables such as broccoli and avocado when in season for good fats.

Beef, avocado and herbs
Beef, avocado and herbs

steamed fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snacks:

To keep me going throughout the day I’ll snack on boiled eggs (6g protein per egg) and things like avocado and occasionally fruit.

I try to steer clear of things like pizzas and processed/refined foods, even though Dominos is ridiculously cheap here. I’ll eat the odd burger or two, often making these at home to my own recipe.

This is just a snapshot of what I would eat in a normal day. A lot depends on where I’m working and if I have the time to cook. I will structure my meals so that carbs are close to training times and try and keep protein relatively high at around 1 gram per pound of bodyweight that seems to work well for me.

 

Lean protein is relatively cheap to buy here, so I always recommend getting a place with a kitchen if you can afford to pay a little extra rent and cooking for yourself at least 3 times per week.

Training

Training depends on whether im on the road or at home.

As I like to base myself at home as much as possible these days and due to some niggling injuries im a big fan of bodyweight workouts.

Currently I follow a full body routine 3 times per week consisting of squats, press and a pulling exercise to target my biceps and back. This has worked remarkably well and has kept me in good shape.

Typically I’ll train Mon/Wed/Fri with squats to failure. I’ll throw in a pressing movement either between two chairs at home or just a standard floor push-up.

To target my back ill do some inverted rows using my kitchen table or go to my local park where they have an outdoor gym with a few bars you can use. An example of the inverted row can be seen below. It’s a great exercise for targeting your back and arm muscles.


I try to get one gym session in a week where ill go for a push/pull workout utilizing free weights and the occasional machine such as the seated row. I don’t go to the gym too much these days, but hey do have their benefits 😉

vietnam gym

 

 

I believe in keeping it simple when training so i don’t tend to do any isolation exercises such as barbell curls. When doing full body compound exercises you really don’t need to do any isolation work as every smaller muscle group is being hit in synergy with the larger groups in my opinion.

 

So to finish off, keep it simple with your eating and training when abroad and don’t forget hydration due to the heat. It’s definitely worth continuing training when abroad or traveling. Healthy body, healthy mind 🙂

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