BlizzCon is still three months away, but convention season is in full swing. The San Diego Comic-Con ended a few days ago, and in the seemingly endless days that stretch out between now and Blizzardpalooza, there are several huge conventions that may be occupying your time. I'll be leaving next week for Gen Con, and a month after that you'll be able to find Rafe and me (along with a large handful of staffers from Massively) at Dragon*Con. I often wonder if we geeks have not subconsciously scheduled some of the biggest conventions of the year over the summer months as a result of the countless dull hours in our youth because we didn't appreciate the "traditional" summer activities. Whatever the reason, though, this is the time of the year when it's truly grand to be a geek.
It is not, however, such a grand time if you are trying to make healthy dining choices.
Plan ahead to stay ahead
While it can be incredibly motivational to have a goal like "get in better shape before BlizzCon," there is a big danger of taking a huge step backward once you've hit that milestone. At a con, it's quite possible to do a lot of damage that weekend. Hotels and convention centers are not, as a general rule, known to have the healthiest or cheapest foods available. For many convention attendees, a mid-day snack is likely to consist of pizza with the consistency of greasy cardboard or a hot dog that can best be described as a "pork sausage with a hair growing right on it." Flying Spaghetti Monster help you, if you are broke and end up scavenging for food in the con suite!
As with many things in life, I come back to the theme of my last article here at WoW.com when I think about this subject. The best way to minimize the negative impact that a convention can have on your efforts to improve your health is by taking some time before the convention begins to form a plan. As simple as this may sound, very few people actually do it. Oh, they make plans for the convention, all right. They plan out what they are going to wear and what they want to see. They know what parties they want to attend and what autographs they want to get months in advance. However, if you ask them if they know where they are going to eat, you are likely to get a blank stare in reply. It's just not something that most of us consider until we get there, and by that point, we're usually too caught up in the awesome to care.
The sign of a true pro
One of the easiest ways that you can keep yourself from eating too much junk food at a convention also happens to be one of the most economically sound ones: Bring your own snacks. While this may require you to carry a slightly larger suitcase or take fewer black shirts with white lettering on them, those inconveniences are far outweighed by the amount of money you'll save while making the stomach grumblies go away as you rush from panel to panel. When you're packing your snacks, try to grab things that are nutritious, compact and (perhaps most importantly) don't require refrigeration. Trail mix, beef jerky, granola bars and dried fruits are perfect. Candy bars -- especially chocolate ones -- are not. Even if you ignore the fact that candy bars are mostly just empty calories with little to no nutritional benefits, they just don't survive abuse well. Backpacks and pockets tend to get warm, and as yummy as a candy bar may be, a melted candy bar that got crushed into your pocket lint by the linebacker cosplaying as an orc just doesn't taste as good.
You can always tell the seasoned convention veterans by the quality and quantity of snacks from home that they have secreted about their person. I've seen gamers at Gen Con put out full snack spreads during sessions for their fellow players, but it is best not to count on the generosity of others in this regard. Keep yourself armed with something to munch on at all times, and you'll spare yourself unnecessary calories and save a few bucks in one fell swoop.
Another important way to prepare is to find out what kind of dining options are going to be available to you while you are at the convention. Obviously if you live in the area or have been to a convention there before, this is not as important as it would be for a first-time attendee, but it does not hurt to refresh your memory or see if anything new has opened nearby. Many convention hosts have a list of restaurants you can find in the area on their website. The Anaheim Convention Center, for example, has this handy map. Not only will this let you know what you can expect to find as far as chain restaurants, but it gives you the opportunity to look up menus in advance for restaurants you may not be familiar with and decide what the healthiest options are before you actually get there. As I emphasized in my last article, it's a lot easier to make a healthy choice when you are eating out if you make that choice before you actually get to the restaurant. An added perk to doing this is that you will not waste any time going over the menu and you can get back to the convention (the real reason why you are there in the first place).
Perhaps the most important thing you can do for yourself at the convention, in regards to your health and general well being, is sleep. Yes, that's right. Sleep. I know, I know. There's so much going on! If you sleep, you might miss it! I get that. Is that fun thing going on at 4 a.m. worth feeling like crap for the entirety of the next day? Is it worth the amount of caffeine you'll need to inject into your body to stay awake? Is it worth weakening your immune system so that you are more vulnerable to con crud?
All the rest
Speaking of con crud, while it's not necessarily relevant to the whole "diet and exercise" thing, make sure you shower daily and wash your hands frequently while at a convention. Regardless of your intentions about staying healthy at a convention, odds are you're likely to do a little damage to the progress you've made. Don't make it worse by being too sick to exercise for a week after you get home. An old guildmate of mine named Korrawi taught me the 1-2-6 Rule for Convention Attendees – one shower a day, two decent meals and six hours of sleep. Far as I'm concerned, this should almost be a requirement to get your badge (especially that showering part).
While we're on the subject of exercise, don't forget that most hotels these days have pretty decent exercise facilities available to their guests. You're likely going to get a lot of exercise just walking around, but it doesn't hurt to start your day off with a little treadmill action or a few laps around the pool -- maybe even, perhaps, some light weightlifting.
I wouldn't recommend that you try to get in a really intense workout or break any personal records, though. You're on vacation, and it's going to be hard to enjoy yourself if you're too sore to move. For that matter, when you get right down to it, you don't want to do any of the things I've listed above to the point where you make yourself miserable. It is a vacation, after all. Relax and enjoy it a little. Have a few meals out where you treat yourself to one of your favorite foods. Have a few drinks. It's all good. Just don't do it to the point where you eat and drink that way the whole time. It doesn't take a lot of effort to figure out how and when you're going to be "good" at a convention, but that little investment can make a huge difference once you're on the ground.
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