Travel is hard on your body. Especially airplane travel – where you’re bombarded by radiation, out of touch with the natural magnetic fields emitted by the planet Earth, exposed to strange foods and bad water, and throwing off your circadian rhythms with travel across multiple time zones.
As a competitive Ironman triathlete and habitual globetrotter who speaks at health and fitness events, I need my body and mind to perform at peak capacity when I “touch down” to where I’m going. But if I’m not careful, jet lag can really throw a wrench into my routine.
So what is jet lag, exactly?
The symptoms of jet lag include trouble falling asleep (usually if flying east), early awakening (usually if flying west), interrupted sleep, trouble staying asleep, poor mental performance and concentration, fatigue during exercise, headaches, irritability, and problems with digestion including indigestion, constipation, and even reduced interest in and enjoyment of food (especially unfortunate if your travel includes fine cuisine!).
Technically, jet lag is called a “chronobiological” issue.Your body clock is simply out of synchronization with your destination time, since you’re exposed to daylight and darkness that is contrary to the circadian rhythms to which you’ve grown accustomed. This upsets your body’s natural rhythms, and the problem becomes magnified since your normal times for eating, sleeping, hormone regulation and body temperature variations no longer correspond to what you’re used to. Your body simply rebels.
So what can you do about it? Fortunately, there’s quite a bit you can do – and these strategies make you feel like a million bucks whether you’re traveling to China or simply hopping across a few states. Without further ado, here are the 11 things you must know before you ever step foot on an airplane again.
1. Grounding / Earthing
Grounding (also known as earthing) simply involves “getting in touch” with the natural magnetic frequencies released by planet Earth. To take a deep dive into the nitty-gritty science of grounding, watch this free grounding film. At no time does this become a more effective strategy than when you’re traveling, since hurdling through space 40,000 feet above the planet in a metal tube is about the most disconnected with the earth you can get.
How do I do it? As soon as I land in my destination I make it a point to either A) get into a pair of Pluggz or Earthrunners as fast as possible, or B) go outside in my barefeet (yes, I’m the guy in the grassy lot behind the airport hotel doing morning barefoot yoga). I also take my Earthpulse everywhere I go.
2. Exercise Session
Multiple studies have verified the normalizing effect of exercise upon circadian rhythms. As lousy and miserable as I feel doing a swim, bike, run or weight training session after a long day of travel or a long few days of international travel, the sooner I exercise after arriving at my final destination, the sooner I bounce back from jet lag and normalize my circadian rhythm and sleep. Swimming and outdoor barefoot yoga seem to be the least painless of choices.
3. No Caffeine
It’s a fairly common recommendation to see the consumption of caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants discouraged for managing jet lag, and I agree. Aside from the trace amounts of caffeine in the Chinese Adaptogenic Herbs and dark chocolate I occasionally consume while traveling, I simply do not touch caffeine or any other central nervous system stimulant while in route to my final destination. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that rather than “timing” my body to sleep at about the time I’ll be sleeping at my final destination, I instead focus as much as possible on free-running sleep strategies, even on the airplane and in the airport.
As mentioned earlier, I do not use melatonin unless I’m traveling, in which case 1-3mg 30-60 minutes prior to bed can be useful for re-booting the circadian rhythm upon arriving at the final destination (1). I’d discourage using it until that point (e.g. on the airplane). For a melatonin supplement, I simply use liquid drops.
5. No-Jet-Lag Supplement
I discovered this stuff at a Chinese herbal store in the Hong Kong airport when traveling home from a triathlon, and upon inspecting the ingredients to verify there was nothing in it that would kill me, I trialed it – following the instructions to take 1 tablet upon take-off, 1 every 2-4 hours while on the plane and then 1 upon landing. And the stuff works wonderfully, both east-to-west and west-to-east. There are five homeopathic remedies listed as the active ingredients in No-Jet-Lag: Arnica Montana, Bellis Perennis, Chamomilla, Ipecacuanha and Lycopodium. I’m no homepathic expert, but both my wife and I now use it when we are traveling internationally, and have found it to be extremely effective in eliminating jet lag symptoms, especially when combined with the other strategies you’ve just learned.
Sure, you’ve probably heard that you lose more water flying at altitude so you need to drink more water to stay hydrated and beat jet lag. But I’ve been experimenting with relatively high water intake and finding that it helps out quite a bit. Try to drink closer to 12-16 ounces of water each hour, and make sure if you’re in an window seat that your aisle-based airline partner is spry and willing – or switch spots with them.
Curcumin – which is found in turmeric and curries – is a very strong antioxidant which helps tremendously when taken on an empty stomach both before and after flying. I’ve been using about 1000mg of natural curcumin.
8. Cold Showers
I’ve been going so far as to actually go into the airline lounge in the airports I’m at if I have a long layover for a 10-15 minute cold shower, and/or doing that in the hotel when I get where I’m going. Splashing lots of cold water in your face is OK, but not quite as effective as immersion or showering. Cold showers have very powerful blood vessel expanding properties (they release more nitric oxide into your blood vessels) which dramatically helps beat jet lag.
9. Completely eliminate processed sugars and vegetable oils
I mean completely. These are some of the best foods to cause full body inflammation, which you especially don’t want when flying. So while the 80/20 rule may work most of the time, I follow the 100/0 rule with these foods when traveling – they make up 0% of my diet (and yes, that usually means no airplane food for me, and lots of raw seeds, nuts, chlorella, spirulina, raw fruit, etc.!).
Sulfur-containing foods are very good antioxidant precursors, and include compounds like broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onions and Brussels sprouts. Supplements containing “MSM” are also effective, but can have a nausea producing detox effect, so be careful with them. If you opt for the garlic and onions route, you may need to brush your teeth afterwards if you plan on talking to your seatmate on the airplane, but if you squeeze in a few meals with these foods in the days leading up to the flight, you’ll feel much better when you land!
Oxytocin is an extremely powerful hormone that acts to lift your mood, and also as a potent antioxidant, antidepressant and antinflammatory. Although it’s most commonly known as a hormone that is released after sex, one of the cool things about oxytocin is that you can get your fix anywhere and at any time – including when you’re traveling. All you need to do is simply hug someone or shake their hand. The simple act of bodily contact will cause your brain to release low levels of oxytocin. So find the first person who’s OK with it when you get to your final destination and give them a big, loving bear hug!
For more tips on managing stress, hacking the day to free up more time, traveling smart, tuning your mind, and performing at peak capacity without destroying your body or mind, check out Ben’s new book “Beyond Training”. There’s even a free chapter there where you can discover whether or not exercise is bad for your heart (you’ll be surprised!). Enjoy.
About the Author
Ben Greenfield is recognized as one of the top fitness, triathlon, nutrition and metabolism experts in the nation.
Ben coaches and trains individuals for weight loss, lean muscle gain, holistic wellness, and sports performance, both in Spokane, Washington and Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho (at Human Wellness Solutions) as well as all over the world (online training from the website Pacific Elite Fitness).
He also runs the Rock Star Triathlete Academy, the internet’s top school for learning the sport of triathlon and how to be a better triathlete. He was voted in 2008 as the Personal Trainer of the Year, by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, an internationally recognized and respected certifying agency.
From 2006-2009, Ben was Director of Sports Performance and managed the physiology and biomechanics laboratory at Champions Sports Medicine in Spokane, WA, offering metabolic-based weight loss, bicycle fitting, running gait analysis, swim stroke analysis, VO2 max testing, blood lactate testing, resting metabolic rate analysis, and other cutting-edge procedures for weight loss and performance. He is now a full time coach, trainer, nutritionist and author.
In college, Ben competed in tennis, water polo, and volleyball, and now competes as a top ranked triathlete for Triathlon Northwest and a multiple Ironman Hawaii finisher. As an author of several books on fitness, metabolism, and diet, Ben specializes in nutrition, weight loss, triathlete analysis, coaching, and endurance athlete program design.
For more information on coaching and training with Ben, just visit www.bengreenfieldfitness.com