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Jet Lag Issues: Stay Healthy With Travel

Here's a look at some of the issues that can come up during travelling and racing.

It seems that every year there is a new Ironman to travel to, and world championships are usually halfway around the globe. Sometimes travel can be detrimental to your health and fitness and lead to sub-optimal performance. Here’s a look at some of the issues that can come up during travelling and racing and what some of Canada’s top athletes do to stay at their peak form.

Jet lag can occur when athletes are travelling to compete internationally across various time zones. Circadian rhythms and sleep wake cycles can be disrupted with this type of travel.  Circadian rhythms are a person’s internal biological and behavioral functions that cycle over roughly a 24 period. They can be modified by bright light, darkness, the hormone melatonin and exercise, but the light-dark cycle of the environment seems to be the strongest influence. Jet lag results if these rhythms are interrupted and is characterized by sleep loss, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, reduced energy and alertness – not the desired state for an athlete going in to competition.

Scientific research hasn’t proven that jet leg has a negative effect on performance, but athletes know these symptoms are not going to help us feel and perform our best.  There are various things that can be done to combat these symptoms and get on track in the new time zone.

Laura Brown and Steph Roorda, members of the Canadian National Women’s Team Pursuit Track Cycling team, use light visors to help maintain their circadian rhythms. Research does show that bright light does have the biggest influence on the sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to bright light when our body temperature is very low (5:00 a.m.) delays the circadian cycle and exposure to bright light after that time speeds up the cycle.

Another concern that athletes deal with during travel is the lack of activity and movement during long flights.  Jasper Blake, an Ironman Canada champion, uses compression socks for long flights. Although research is still new in the area of performance enhancement and compression garments, compression socks can help various aspects of venous return. Members of the National Track Cycling team use these socks while flying to decrease the risk of blood pooling in the lower legs or blot clot formation.  Research shows that wearing graduated compression socks while flying can help increase the linear velocity of blood flow in the venous system -essentially, the socks help the blood return back to the heart.

Most of the athletes consulted for this article use chiropractic, active release technique (ART®) or massage therapy to help recover from travel as well. Most also suggest that you stay hydrated during the flight and avoid heavy exercise upon arrival. A travel day is not considered a rest day due to all the external stresses on the body. You should have a true rest day, or an easy day, upon arrival to let your body tissues catch up.  Safe Travels!

Dr. Jenn Turner is a chiropractor who travels with the National Track Cycling team and works with various elite and recreational athletes.  She owns two clinics- Moveo Sport & Rehabilitation Centre and Optimum Sport Performance & Health Centre just outside of Vancouver, BC.  Jenn herself is a competitive age group Ironman triathlete and tries to learn from her athletes!