Managing Travel in Sport
Competitive sport is now recognized on a global scale and travelling to the remotest parts of the world for matches, promotional events and even training has become a staple for all professional athletes. One may have heard of elite players travelling in luxurious and spacious private jets compared to common folks who have to travel in a cramped budget airliner. And although, their Instagram posts may be in conflict, both sets of travelers face similar symptoms associated with travel fatigue and jet lag albeit of varying degrees. These two terms are often used interchangeably due to similar symptoms but that is not case as one may travel from UK to South Africa for 9 hrs and not cross any time zones.
Travel fatigue: It is generally associated with the stress of a long journey. Eg: Disruption of sleep and normal routine and travel related issues like checking in, baggage claim and immigration.
Symptoms- General fatigue
Disorientation and increased likelihood of headache (dehydration)
Symptoms usually disappear by the next day with the traveler having had a good night’s sleep.
Advice- Before the flight
Plan for the journey well in advance
Try to arrange for any stopovers to be comfortable
Make proper arrangements at the destination
On the flight
Take plenty of roughage to eat (eg. Fruits)
Walk around the cabin or stretch out every 2 hours to avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis
Avoid caffeine or alcohol as this will lead to further dehydration
Relax with non-alcoholic drinks and a shower
Brief nap of an hour if it is day time
Keep hydrated with juices or water
Jet lag: It is the lack of synchrony between the body clock and outside world that results in individuals suffering from negative subjective and objective effects (Reilly & Waterhouse, 2005). Travel eastwards is associated with increased symptoms of jet lag compared to westwards travel. Jet lag lasts for roughly 2/3 days x time zones crossed for eastwards travel and ½ days x time zones for westwards travel
The human body clock is governed by circadian rhythms which are affected by endogenous (melatonin release) and exogenous (light-dark cycle) factors. Depending on the synchrony of these rhythms, mental and physical performance fluctuates through a 24 hr day (Waterhouse et al., 2007). Core temperatures, grip strength, isometric knee extension, whole-body flexibility and self-selected work rate peak around 16:00-20:00 hr and lowest values are observed 04:00-06:00 hr. Therefore transition across different time-zones can have a serious impact on the mental and physical performance of not only athletes but also the general population.
For Brief stays (3 or less days) in the new time zone
Not enough time for the body clock to adjust so the traveler is better off staying on home time.
Eastward travel: Schedule important activities in the afternoon or evening local time (coincide with day home time) and relax in the morning (coincide with night home time)
Westward travel: Schedule important activities in the morning and afternoon and evening should be left for relaxation.
Longer stays in the new time zone
Adjusting the body clock to the new destination time by phase advance or delay. In simple terms it means one’s bedtime and wakeup-time will be earlier (advance) or later (delay) at destination time compared to home time. Eastward travel of up to 8 hrs, a phase advance is promoted and westward travel adjustment through phase delay is encouraged.
Prior to travel: This can be considered for large time zones transitions (8 or more) and involves gradual shifting of eating and sleeping habits by 30-60 min each day towards the destination.
During travel: Planning of travel where the time in between waking up at home time and going to bed at destination time is shortest, has shown to ameliorate the effects of jet lag (Forbes-Robertson et al., 2012).
1. Light: Exposure to bright pulses of light in the 6 hr window immediately after the trough in minimum core temperature (Tmin) produces a phase advance and light exposure before Tmin produces a phase delay. Therefore, light exposure in the early evening and first part of the night (home time) will result a phase delay (westward travel) and light exposure in the second part of the night or early morning will cause a phase advance (eastward travel).
2. Melatonin: It is a naturally secreted substance at the time of normal sleep onset and promotes sleep. Melatonin capsules administered in the afternoon and evening tends to advance body clock and in the morning tend to delay it. CAUTION: CONSULT DOCTOR BEFORE ADMINISTRATION.
Source: Waterhouse et al. 2007
3. Exercise: Avoid heavy volumes as this may lead to injury and additional fatigue. Moderate intensity exercise (Heart Rate: 90-130 bpm) is recommended instead. The evidence of exercise affecting adjustments in body clock is sparse but scheduling exercise with light exposure has shown maximum benefits.
4. Diet: A high protein breakfast like scrambled eggs raises plasma tyrosine levels and promotes synthesis and release of noradrenaline and dopamine causing alertness. And a high carbohydrate evening meal like pasta will facilitate the release of serotonin causing sleep.
Source: Google images
5. Changing time on your watch from home to local time can also subconsciously adjust the body clock. The sense of accomplishing and making most of one’s time at the new destination can also affect mood and motivation.
Reilly, T. & Waterhouse, J. (2005). Sport, Exercise and Environmental Physiology. London: Elsevier.
Waterhouse, J., Reilly, T., & Edwards, B. (2007). Jet lag: trends and coping strategies. Lancet, 369, 1117-29.
Forbes-Robertson, S., Dudley, E., Vadgama, P., Cook, C., Drawer, S., & Kilduff, L. (2012). Circadian disruption and remedial interventions. Sports Med., 42(3), 185-208.
By Atharva Tere