As I wake to the announcement that we’re flying over the Antarctica, I gaze down, admire the mighty icebergs and think ‘I’m very, very lucky.’ Yes, travel is an awesome thing. It gives us the opportunity to explore new worlds, learn new things, and challenge parts of ourselves that we didn’t know existed. It is however, probably the most non – primal thing that we do… Wouldn’t our ancestors be a little freaked out by traveling to the other side of the world, in a matter of hours, in a tube full of germs?! All aspects of health aside, just the view of these icebergs makes it all worthwhile.
Before I continue, it’s important to realise that we have a human blueprint for regular sleep cycles, hormone production, nutrition and movement. What happens when we throw this out of balance (in my case a 30 hour flight to Brazil), is that our bodies go completely out of whack – we’re confused, stressed, tired and inflamed (to better understand what inflammation is, here’s a great piece on it). All of this stress wreaks havoc on our health and on the enjoyment of our trip. I experienced this in my 2011 trip to Brazil, where my chronic jetlag caused one awkward interaction after another, coupled with energy crashes that left me half asleep at restaurants.
Eager to avoid all this and make the most out of my trip (I only had 2 weeks), I went about a quest to beat jet lag, and implemented some easy steps that made me time far more enjoyable.
Here’s how I tackled this beast:
1. Intelligent Nutrition and Avoiding Airplane food
I was actually excited when I heard the description of the dinner menu, but this was quickly whisked away when I saw the sorry serving of ravioli. Airplane food sucks, it has zero nutrient value and is not worthy of being in your beautiful body. For this reason I skipped all airplane meals and ensured I had a high fat/protein meal before I flew. This kept me satiated and my blood sugar at bay – below is my pre flight meal of eggs, bacon, mushrooms butter and salad which kicked Qantas’s ravioli of out the park. I also kept a jar of coconut oil handy incase I things got bad.
I also avoided the two demons, sugar and vegetable oils when I could – this involved saying “nao obrigado” A LOT. These are high contributors to inflammation (2), (3) and can do some real damage when you’re already inflamed.
2. Cold Showers
5 minute cold showers replaced my morning espresso and had a powerful effect on my mood and energy. Also, cold exposure is a great way to decrease inflammation, increase lymphatic flow and blood circulation (1) – this is key after being stagnant for hours. Yes, it takes a little testicular fortitude, but the payoff is well worth it.
Supplementation was key to my smooth transition into Brazil. I really don’t like the feeling of being inflamed, so I did a little research on how I can reduce it via supplementation.
Here’s what I took and why.
Circumin – Circumin is the active ingredient in turmeric – a popular spice used in Indian foods and Asian foods, and has been used as an immune strengthener and antioxidant for over 4000 years (4). Circumin helped me with muscle soreness attained from the trip over, and assisted in keeping me limber and mobile post flight.
Melatonin – Melatonin is a hormone that’s secreted when we sleep, and supplementation of it is particularly effective when tackling jetlag (5). I took 1 – 3mg of melatonin before winding down for bed every night. Not only did I wake up refreshed, I also avoided the waking up at 3am thing (when your body thinks it’s 3pm) which was very frustrating during my last trip in Brazil.
* Why I didn’t take sleeping pills – a lot of them tend to ‘knock you out’ which can be handy but is not effective if you actually want to wake and be fresh. Melatonin won’t ‘knock you out’ but it will enhance quality of sleep, which was far more important for me.
Fish Oil – The value of fish oil comes through it’s composition of omega 3 fatty acids, which are key for fighting inflammation (6). I upped my usual dosage of fish oil to 2 tablets at each meal (6 per day) due to my already inflamed state. Also, not having total control over what I was eating, I was prone to more omega 6’s such as vegetable oils. Omega 6’s are PRO inflammatory, and are already abundant in our modern food system. My omega 3:6 ratio was therefore improved (still far from perfect) and I strengthened my immune system in the process – nothing worse than being sick on holidays.
*I’d also recommend taking a probiotic to improve your gut health which takes a beating when traveling across timezones.
This wasn’t easy as I didn’t really feel up to any strenuous workouts, however exercise was the best medicine for preventing the inevitable 3pm crash. I chose short, sharp, HIIT training, restorative yoga, or long slow walks to the city…. I opted against anything grueling like a long run as I didn’t want that oxidative stress on my body. I was lucky enough to check out some crossfit boxes in Brazil, but I was sensible with what I was lifting and how hard I was pushing. It took me much longer to recover from workouts (several days in some cases), possibly due to the muscle hypertrophy from plane trip over, so I was mindful of this when choosing how much to lift and how hard to push.
We all know that we should sync up our sleep to the time of our destination, but sometimes it’s just so hard. Like, I arrived in Brazil at midnight, or midday according to my body clock, so sleep wasn’t it’s first priority. I mentioned the melatonin dosing above, but in addition to this, I was militant in going to bed when the Brazilians did – providing there was no soccer games on. If I was nodding off early, I’d go for a walk, catch some sun, do a workout, or organise something that would get me away from my bed.
* Though perspective is important
6. Hydration and Avoiding Caffeine:
Some chose to knock themselves out with beer and wine on the plane trip over, but this was never going to end well for me. The air in the plane is incredibly stale and will easily leave you dehydrated. Throw alcohol and/or caffeine on top of this and you’re going to be even more dehydrated, have sore eyes, throat and possibly a sore head. Water and herbal tea was the only good option for my time in transit, I also avoided caffeine for most of my adjustment period (difficult in Brazil).
7. Sunlight (most important)
I woke up with the sun, and made sure I watched the sun go down – this was a treat with the sunsets in the North of Brazil (pictured). The reason I did this was to reset my circadian rhythms….. i.e. telling my body when to wind up or down. I found this particularly beneficial for my energy and sleep, and whenever I needed to slap my brain and say, DAYTIME DAMMIT! Importantly, I made sure that I was sleeping in a pitch black room and stayed off the computer after 9pm…. Melatonin cannot be produced in the presence of light so I avoided this when possible. Also, getting a good amount of sun throughout the day will help increase melatonin production when it’s time to sleep (7) – ever had a great sleep after a day at the beach?!
Picture: Sunset from Salvador, Brazil. Credit to Leticia Meira Maia.
“Okay, this seems like a lot of work, what did you actually get out of it?”
Well, I only had two weeks in Brazil, which was packed with catch ups and events with my girlfriends family – Brazilians are a social lot, especially when there’s soccer on. Fact is that if I didn’t do all of this stuff, there’s no way that I would’ve been able to fit in what I did and be of any value to be around. Such is the value of keeping HEALTHY – you’re just able to do so much MORE. You can climb that mountain, take those stairs, match that energy of the younger kids. Living this way really does pay off in everything that you do and is well worth taking on.
(1) Immune system of cold exposed and cold adapted humans. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8925815
(2) Polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation, and inflammatory diseases. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/83/6/S1505.short
(3) High fructose consumption combined with low dietary magnesium intake may increase the incidence of the metabolic sydrome by inducing inflammation. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17402291?dopt=Abstract
(4) Anti – Cancer effects of Circumin: Cycle of Life and Death. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2572158/
(5) Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jetlag. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12076414
(6) Essential Fatty Acids In Health and Chronic Disease. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/70/3/560s.full#sec-12
(7) Benefits of sunlight, a bright spot for human health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/
Steve is a Personal Trainer, Health Coach, and owner of Barefoot Health.
He is currently studying Health Sciences/Chiropractic at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia.