The Effects of Jet Lag on Crossfit training (and how to reduce them)

Hello again!

I started writing this post at 5:00 a.m. Why you ask? Jet lag my friend, jet lag.bill the cat

As you know, (since you have religiously read everything on my blog) I am an Expat. I live in Switzerland, which is far away from my homeland, and my husband’s homeland. While being an expat has many advantages, it does come with a few disadvantages…like the annual trip to see the in-laws in Seattle at Christmas. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my in-laws – I was lucky enough to marry into a wonderful family – but they live in a time-zone nine hours behind the one I live in.

Every year we go to Seattle for Christmas and every year jetlag kicks my everloving (and – let’s be honest – expanding) *ss. Seriously, I feel like I’ve been hit by a train for the first two weeks that we come back. This is hard on my life…and on my crossfit training. As it turns out, this is not an uncommon thing and it happens to many crossfit athletes – jet lag really disrupts rest and recovery. So I looked into it to see if there was anything I could do to get over coming home more quickly and back to training well.

First let’s start with what jet lag (also known as Desynchronosis – see? Don’t say I never taught you anything) is. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) jet lag is: “a temporary disorder among air travelers who rapidly travel across three or more time zones. Jet lag results from the slow adjustment of the body clock to the destination time, so that daily rhythms and the internal drive for sleep and wakefulness are out of synchrony with the new environment.”

NASA has suggested that it takes 1 day to recover for each hour of time difference. I mentioned that Seattle was 9 hours behind right? That means it will take me 9 days to recover. It has been 4 – and they’ve been hell. Jet lag is also worse if you are travelling from west to east (crap!).

What causes jet lag?

Essentially, from what I understand from my very high level research on this topic, is that travelling through different time zones affects your  melatonin production cycles, which affects your Core Body Temperature. Drops in your CBT increase sleepiness which leads to declines in mental and physical performance. The release of melatonin is sensitive to light and gets out of wack when you travel. This means that the normal fluctuations in your CBT occur earlier or later than they normally would – which then cause people to be up at night, wake up too early and cause a lack of focus and energy throughout the day (source).

What are the symptoms of jet lag? 

Jet lag brings with it a whole bunch of tricks that can affect your performance in the gym…and everywhere else. The most common symptoms include (source):

  • Fatigue
  • Disorientation
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach distress
  • Prolonged reaction time
  • Decreased short term memory
  • Decreased concentration
  • Reduction in anaerobic power and capacity
  • Higher injury rates
  • Reduced dynamic strength

This reads like a laundry list of my past four days.

How does this affect training?

Jet lag seems to have different effects depending on the type of exercise you are doing:

  • For low-aerobic sports that require high levels of alertness and fine motor skills like sailing and archery, there’s more room for error.
  • For team sports that require high levels of concentration, there’s poorer decision-making.
  • For individual sports with a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic movements like swimming, mixed martial arts, and weightlifting, there’s a loss of power and quicker time to fatigue.

How to reduce the symptoms of jet lag

While it is probably not possible to eliminate all the effects of jet lag – because let’s face it, evolutionarily speaking, our bodies haven’t had a chance yet to adapt to the physiological changes that travelling such distances so quickly brings with it. There are, however, some steps that you can take to reduce the effects of jet lag. These steps can be done before, during and post-travel, Here are just a few that I thought sounded good or interesting.

  • Do an intense WOD before you travel. This will help tire you out and reduce travel stress.
  • If possible, begin living on the schedule of your destination days before you get there (for major time differences, this may not be possible – I would have difficulty explaining to my boss why I was arriving at work at 3 a.m. J )
  • Consume caffeine, high-protein and high-carbohydrate meals at certain times of day, depending on the number of time zones you’ll be travelling.
During Flight
  • Drink Beet juice (honestly, NBA players do this – the dietary nitrate in beet juice leads to a reduction in oxygen uptake and allows people to do more exercise, activity, etc with less oxygen and hence can help with the lower amounts of oxygen absorption while flying.)
  • For flights longer than 5 hours, try to get as much sleep as possible.
  • Replenish electrolytes during the flight.
  • Move around or exercise (see here for ideas for a quick in-flight workout)
  • Drink A LOT of water. (added benefit: you can stretch during your frequent trips to the washroom)
  • Don’t drink alcohol as its dehydrating effects are increased (sigh)
Post Travel
  • Go to bed only when it is the normal bedtime at your arrival destination (if not possible, try to make it to 8 p.m. at least).
  • Don’t nap (seriously, don’t do this – it is a killer! From personal experience if I nap it takes much longer to recover! Of course I napped this time.)
  • Take 3-6 mg of melatonin one hour before you plan to fall asleep
  • If you land in daytime – expose yourself to bright daylight without sunglasses for at least 15 mins as soon as you can.
  • Early morning and late-afternoon exercise are recommended
  • Walk barefoot on the ground or swim in the ocean to ground your electromagnetic system
  • Return to your normal training routine the day after you arrive. If you workout on the day of travel try to make this a light body weight workout or stretching. Intense cardio is probably not a good idea.

 What about you? Do you suffer from jet lag?

What tricks do you use to get over it?

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