Hey everyone, just got back from a long distance travel event to Muscat Oman for the GC32 World Championships. Good event for OPEX athlete Ed Smyth who was on team Oman Air that ended up winning the event! I was on Team Argo and we had a hard fought event, but learned a ton.
Traveling to Muscat, Oman was the longest travel experience I have had to a sailing event yet. I had 3 layovers with a total travel time of 23 hours. During this most recent travel experience I took some really good lessons away that all sailing athletes could use to perform at peak performance after long-travel plans. Here are my top 5 lessons to help athletes stay in peak condition while traveling.
Many travel itineraries to the East require that you take an over-night flight leaving late afternoon and arrive early morning. With a 6-8 hour flying time you travel through 5-6 hours of time zone changes. To ensure that you are maintain peak condition once you arrive in your new destination you must sleep. So the question then becomes how can you best sleep on a plane.
The key aspect that has helped me fall asleep while traveling on long-distance flights is to remove all blue light from the equation. Just as we prescribe for athletes to ensure great sleep quality at home, we also prescribe while traveling that you remove all blue light prior and during your travel. Blue light stimulates the brain and prevents you from falling into a deep enough sleep cycle that will promote recovery. Blue light comes in the form of lights and screens. This means that best practice recommends that you do not watch movies, use your phone, or have bright lights on while you sleep.
So the best practice I have found to get a somewhat quality sleep in while flying is the put my earplugs in and my eye mask on as soon as possible. And try and fall asleep. 9 times out of 10 I can get 5-6 hours of sleep in and as a result feel pretty good considering once I arrive in my new destination.
Hydration is key everyday, but can be considered even more important while you’re flying. Because the air drawn into the plane to pressurize it comes from extremely dry, high-altitude regions of the atmosphere, the plane environment itself is drier than the desert. Immediately after takeoff the relative humidity of the cabins can drop to nearly zero, which makes it unbelievably easy to get dehydrated, especially on long-overseas trips. As a result drinking water is imperative for rehydration. We recommend 0.8 ounces of water per body weight per day.
Since hydration with water is so important, other liquids such as coffee and alcohol will have a negative effect and ultimately further dehydrate your body.
Athletes should prepare food items they can travel with so that they are not dependent on airplane food and snacks. This means, depending on your nutrition requirements, pre-planning as you would during the week and bring high quality fats, proteins, and veggies that can help you sustain for the entire travel duration.
Some airlines offer specialized meal service for your travel (such as gluten free or diary free options) and can be a good option if you are not able to pre-plan.
Despite airlines best intentions with food, the meals and snacks they provide are loaded with sodium, carbs, and low quality ingredients which promotes inflammation of the gut and poor recovery.
4. Dealing with inflammation
As anyone that has traveled before knows, when traveling or sitting for a long time your tissues will swell and joints will become sore. This is because modern airlines only pressurize their cabins to a level 6,000-8,000 feet, which means that the amount of air pumped inside doesn’t result in quite as much oxygen as you’d normally breathe at sea level. As the result, this makes your body feel as if you were sitting on a 6,000 to 8,000 foot mountain for several hours, which if you have any experience with being at elevation this can have many different effects to your body. Such as feeling dizzy, drowsy, and also a lack of mental sharpness.
Other aspects of flying, like sitting for extended periods of time, causes your blood to disproportionately pool in your thighs and feet, which means that your body is less efficient at circulating and oxygenating the blood, and your brain gets even less oxygen.
This pooling of blood within your legs will cause inflamed/swelling of the tissues. By wearing compression socks or pants you will be able to reduce the amount of blood pooled in your legs and prevent a majority of the inflammation in your body.
Also, get up and walk around during your flights if you are not sleeping. Sit upright with good posture to protect your lower back. And do in-seat as well as standing leg exercises and mobility. These will all help to improve circulation, and reduce the build up of blood and inflammation in your tissues.
5. Dealing with jet-lag
Jet-lag happens when you change time-zones quicker than your body can naturally adjust to the change in the circadian rhythm (i.e. a disruption of our internal clock, day night cycle). Studies have suggested that it takes our bodies one full day to adjust only one-hour of time zone change, so you can image why it takes several days for our bodies to adjust to several hours of time zone change.
Some studies within mice have detected a protein that prevents the body’s internal clock from being impacted by changes in light. The process of this protein is believed to be similar in humans as all mammalian internal clocks operate similarly. If we didn’t have this protein that blocks the effect of light, then our internal clocks would be erratic with artificial and moonlight. Thus, this is why it takes a while for our systems to adjust to changes in timing of light.
Adjusting your schedule before you leave can have great benefits for recovering from jet-lag once you have arrived at your destination. To start, it is important to understand which way you’re traveling, as most people have a harder time adjusting when they travel east than west. When you travel east-to-west, your body clock needs to be delayed so you wake up and go to bed later. This is a lot easier for us to adjust to than advancing our body clock when we travel west-to-east.
Controlling your light exposure seems to be the best way to control your jet-lag and the change over of your internal clock. Some studies have suggested the most effective way to adjust to a new time-zone is to ease yourself into the new time-zone by consciously manipulating your exposure to light.
To help your body clock reset to the new time-zone, it’s important to seek out and avoid light at the right times of day. If you’re traveling east, you’ll want to advance your body clock, so seeking morning light and avoiding late afternoon light will help your body clock adjust to your earlier time-zone. If you’re traveling west, you’d want to do the opposite.
During my travel to the middle east I did a good job of changing my light exposure, pre-paring travel meals and snacks, great hydration, and slept for 5 of the 7 hours of flying. As a result my performance once I arrived in Oman was significantly higher than others.
Try these tips on your next trip and let me know how it goes!