All year long, Dragon*Con feels like a distant dream that will only come someday. Then August hits, and suddenly I’m scrambling to book my plane, finish my costumes, and make arrangements for my cat to be cared for while I’m in Nerd Nirvana. To those not in the know, I tell people that Conventions are like Halloween, New Year’s, and your birthday all rolled into one spectacular holiday — particularly for a party convention like Dragon*Con. It also tends to be a whirlwind of junk food, late nights, and alternating alcohol and caffeine. There’s a reason “Con Crud” is a real phenomenon.
It is so easy to mess up your system in the frenzy of convention time — poor food choices, dehydration, and a lack of sleep can take a serious toll on your system. And, if you have been trying to eat healthy and get in shape, it can also look like a major roadblock to success.
It is not. Never let a fitness or weight loss goal stop you from living your life to the fullest. Full stop. But, there is still a way to enjoy the con without setting yourself back. Every year, I try to get a little better at that balancing act. I’m coming up on my 10th Dragon*Con visit and I am still working this. Here’s an inside look at my five main tips for staying healthy at any convention.
1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Water is your best friend, whether it’s from overly-conditioned air indoors or your PVC-based cosplay has turned you into a sweat factory, it’s important to drink your water. The excessive amounts of caffeinated beverages and alcoholic beverages consumed are also major culprits in dehydrating congoers everywhere.
Even 1-2% dehydration has proven to lead to a decline in cognitive function. Dizziness, nausea, and headaches are common with dehydration, and it can also decrease immune function. When you’re in close quarters with tens of thousands of people, you’re going to want your immune system functioning in its best condition.
Bring a water bottle and fill it with actual water. Not vodka. (See above re: dehydration.) It will also give you the opportunity to save some money because beverage prices tend to skyrocket at convention time. Businesses have captive consumers and they know it. Most places will have fountains where you can fill up for free.
2. Gotta Catch ‘Em All (Zzzs that is)
Convention programming can be packed around the clock. When the panels end, the parties begin. It can be tempting to go all night and caffeinate in the morning. Believe me, I spent some early congoing years staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning and getting up at 7 am to do it all again. Coincidentally, these were also the years I got sick the most after the con.
Try to dedicate at least 7 hours to sleep. It can be especially hard at cons where people camp out over night for certain events. Lack of sleep can mess not only with your cognition, but your mood as well. 60% of the time, every time a con fight happens, it’s from sleep deprivation.
3. Shower. For the love of all that is good and pure, please shower!
You may have somehow tetris’d six or seven people into your hotel room, and someone might be sleeping in the bathtub but you can kick them out for five minutes to do a quick rinse and scrub. Axe Body Spray is not a substitute. You know who you are.
Remember, this is for hygiene. You’re going to want to scrub away the shared germs of thousands of other humans, klingons, and cylons. Smelling good is just an added bonus. (A very important bonus.)
4. Eat something green (Mountain Dew does not count) and other nutritional tips
Convention hall food tends to be calorie dense and nutritionally lacking. Pizza, burgers, hot dogs, all easy to prepare for the masses, but not necessarily the best option. Restaurants are going to have better options but can get pricy.
Try to find a local grocery store where you can find some more nutritious snack options. Pre-cut fruits and veggies are a good snack, and filled with fiber that will keep you fuller longer. Many pharmacy/convenience stores will have some fresher food options as well.
If that is not an option, eat strategically. Prioritize protein in your meals and snacks. Start with a filling breakfast, and have a game plan for meal time. Another good money saving tip is to split restaurant or take-out meals in half. That way, you get two meals for the price of one and spread out those calorie-dense servings throughout the day.
For those who practice intermittent fasting, this is a great time to use the tool. If you’re not used to fasting, do not use con as a starting point.
Lastly, have a treat meal. No one got thin from eating one salad, and no one got fat eating one order of fries. A weekend of nutritionally lacking food is not going to “ruin” your goals. Remember, you need to eat 3,500 calories above your daily needs to gain a pound of fat. If you do see a massive spike on the scale, recognize that most of it will be from salt, carbohydrates, and a sluggish digestive system.
5. Hit the hotel gym
With con, there’s usually a lot of walking, followed by a lot of sitting. You may get more distance than usual getting around to everything you want to see. For most it may be more activity than usual. Bump up your heart rate a few times a day, try to take the stairs if possible. Especially when you notice someone who is unable to use the stairs! Courtesy will always make con better.
If you have been following a workout plan, most hotels will have basic fitness equipment in their gyms. You might not be hitting those heavy squats, but a short workout is better than no workout at all. Regular exercise also improves the immune system.
Plus, what cosplay doesn’t look better with a little post workout-pump?
Bonus: Mental Mantra
I’ve had a lot of trial and error when it comes to finding what works for me. It took years of saying I was going to work out during con before I actually did. Using con as an excuse to binge eat and drink left me feeling sluggish and unhappy and unable to enjoy the festivities. These are the three key things I keep in mind for the best time.
- Conventions are a break from work, not from life.
- I’m celebrating my passions, and health only amplifies that passion.
- Everything in moderation, including moderation.
What do you do to keep yourself healthy at con? What is your favorite part of con? Let me know in the comments!