How top athletes deal with jetlag | Pocket Sky

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How top athletes deal with jetlag

How top athletes deal with jetlag

Jetlag feels bad. But it doesn't only feel bad; it actually does affect your performance measurably. Top performing athletes, their coaches and consultants know that. Cardiovascular efficiency, muscle strength, blood pressure and many other bodily functions are absolutely tied to the circadian rhythm, which gets distorted when traveling trough time zones. So how do athletes deal with this? Let us learn from the best.

The problem

Everybody who has travelled across time zones knows the feeling: Jetlag can be uncomfortable. Jetlag can be annoying. Jetlag can be devastating. Even if you manage to get into and out of bed at a “normal” local time, you still feel weird, tired, maybe irritable, not performing at your best any way.

Maybe you now think “Oh well, whatever, I just sit through that slump and try to chill until I’m back to normal.” You may think that. Unless you are a frequent traveler with the need to perform. At your job, at your hobbies... or at your athletic career.

The NBA as an example

Have you ever thought about how they do it? I mean seriously, how do you play a basketball match on the absolute highest level with thousands, nay, millions of dollars (literally) at stake while suffering from severe jetlag? Interesting question? Luckily the Guardian has asked it!
In an article from October 2018, the Guardian explored the troubles of top performing NBA stars when playing their 41 road games a season. No team in any other professional league spends more time in the air than the ones in the NBA, covering over 40.000 miles (64.300 km) each year.

Do cardinal directions matter?

One must always be careful with statistics but the ones we have say “yes”: An NBA team travelling eastward had a winning chance of 45,4% vs. only 36,2% when travelling westward. This make sense: When you travel eastward, you are “behind” time: The clock says 6p.m. in New York but for you, coming from L.A., it’s still 3p.m. and you’re sort of ok. The other way around has more effect on your performance. When the game starts at say 6 p.m. in L.A., your inner clock tells your whole organism that it is 9.p.m. – time to wind down, to relax and to go to bed rather soon.

The science

Jetlag is caused by the disruption of the circadian rhythm, our inner clock that tells our bodies when to sleep and when to wake up. But the circadian rhythm does much more than that! Body temperature, blood pressure, bowel movement, hormone secretion, overall alertness, muscular efficiency and reaction time are among the bodily functions controlled by our biological rhythm.

(Just in case you’re asking yourself, your greatest cardiovascular efficiency and muscle strength is around 5 p.m. So if you’re trying to beat someone at arm wrestling, try 5 p.m. when the other guy just came back from a holiday somewhere far in the east.)

The solution

Back to the NBA players.
Since there is a lot at stake, doctors and scientists have thought about
alleviations and solutions to the problem. Some of the recommended strategies are quite simple: Stay well hydrated and have a good ol’ power nap. Some teams have applied a more sophisticated strategy. Coloured lights. Blue in the morning and red at night. This resembles the natural spectrum of sunlight during the day and helps the body adjust faster to the new time zone. Sounds easy? Bill Burgos, a performance consultant and former head strength and conditioning coach for the Orlando Magic is quoted in the Guardian saying that lights can be effective but it’s tough to get players to use them.
So if you’re affected by jetlag and need to perform, you should drink a lot, try to nap whenever you feel tired and keep your eyes open for a mobile, lightweight solution when it comes to light therapy wearables.