High Flyers

There are several challenges international athletes have to deal with in traveling the world.

Published February 22, 2012 07:51

High Flyers

Professional athletes clock up thousands of frequent flyer miles every year, and visit many exotic and distant locations as part of their jobs. Each week, athletes are expected to step off the plane and onto the court and perform at their best, no matter what time zone, climate, nutritional and cultural differences they experience. Smart athletes learn to plan for the changes they will encounter, which include:

• Jet Lag
• Jet Stress
• Heat and Humidity
• Altitude Changes
• Air Pollution

When athletes learn to manage these situations in a healthy way, they will quickly adapt to each new location, no matter where they are in the world. The "road" is a way of life for a pro athlete; ensure that your travels are safe, healthy and successful.

"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life."
Jack Kerouac, poet and author


Travelling across time zones upsets your body's natural time clock. Our bodies have normal "circadian" (daily) rhythms that determine our mental alertness, hunger, body temperature, flexibility, strength and coordination. When you cross more time zones, your rhythms become more out-of-tempo.

Research indicates that west to east travel is more difficult; it can take 30-50% longer to adapt on arrival than east to west travel. Therefore, travel to Australia and Asia from Europe or North America is more unsettling than the same journey in the reverse direction.

JET STRESS: Aircraft travel also involves the interaction of a variety of unpleasant stimuli, including:
• Vibration
• Exposure to noise
• Disruption to normal sleep
• Lack of movement
• Changes to normal diet
• Dehydration (each hour you lose 300ml of fluid!)
• Poor air quality (lower humidity & oxygen pressure)
• Psychological stress


Follow these tips to better manage international flights and arrive in good health:
• Take your own nutritious snacks with you, like fruit, sandwiches and sports bars.
• Order a special meal if you are a vegetarian, lactose intolerant or for religious reasons.
• Take an empty drink bottle on the plane, fill up and Drink PLENTY (8oz/250ml or more) of fluid (water, fruit juices) per hour. Avoid tea, coffee and alcohol. Humidity on board is 10-15%, so you will literally dehydrate as you sit there!
MOVE! Get up every 2 hours and/or stretch and pump your feet as you sit. Prolonged sitting leads to muscle stiffness and circulatory problems like swelling of the feet and ankles. It also increases the risk of deep vein thromboses (dangerous clots in the leg).
• Wear compression garments such as stockings or leggings, to reduce the circulatory risks and improve muscle function on arrival.
• Your lower back and neck are under increased load when sitting. Use a cushion or blanket to reduce lower back strain and discomfort and a neck pillow to provide head support when sleeping or resting.
RELAX! Make the best of an uncomfortable situation—listen to music, watch a movie, read, use visualization or meditation techniques.
• Many people are afraid of flying. This can be overcome by learning behavior modification skills.


Adjust your eating and sleeping times to the local time of your destination. Avoid napping during the day. Have only one light training session on your first day. Focus on range of movement and stretching to improve your flexibility and regain your coordination. Eat a high carbohydrate snack with lots of fluid before bed to increase the brain chemical serotonin, to aid sleep. At your destination, you may encounter some of the following challenging environmental conditions:


During exercise, an athlete's body heats up, even when conditions are cool. When conditions are hot, humid with high radiation from the sun, the body's ability to reduce heat load is challenged. This can cause heat illness and your performance will decrease.
ARRIVE EARLY: Training in hotter conditions helps you acclimatize -your body systems adapt to the heat and you will perform better. Be aware that complete acclimatization may take 10 to 14 days or longer.
TAPER YOUR TRAINING: Reduce the amount of training and avoidable heat exposure (like sitting in the sun) before competition
WEAR APPROPRIATE CLOTHES: Light-colored clothing reflects solar radiation and helps reduce the heat load. Wear loose fitting, lightweight "wicking" fabrics - these pull the sweat away and reduce heat load. Wear a light-colored cap or a visor.
HYDRATE WELL: Drink plenty of fluids (water, juice, milk, sport drinks) during the day. In hot conditions, muscle glycogen use is higher; sports drinks with 6-8% carbohydrate can help to fight fatigue and enhance muscle endurance.


Cities in high altitude pose special challenges for athletes. In any altitude over 2000 meters (6500 feet), there is less oxygen. Your body adapts to this with increased heart and breathing rates, both at rest and during exercise. Your recovery will be slower at higher altitudes, and if you do not prepare well, you may experience altitude sickness. Symptoms include: headache, tiredness, leg cramps, under-performance, poor sleep and loss of appetite. There is higher ultraviolet (UV) radiation at higher altitudes and sunburn is also a risk, even on cooler days. Preparations for altitude conditions should include:
ARRIVE EARLY: The first day, REST as much as possible. If you do practice, make it a short and light hit. Gradually increase practice time & intensity each day. It can take 7 to14 days to acclimatize fully.
EAT MORE CARBOHYDRATES: An acute response to altitude is increased energy expenditure. Increase your carbohydrate intake until acclimatization, even if you do not feel hungry. This helps you to perform well.
HYDRATE WELL: Mountain air is low humidity, so you lose fluid at rest. Consume an extra liter of fluid/day until acclimatization.
PROTECT FROM SUN: use sunblock & a hat and avoid being in the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The contents of the Health site are for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice. The materials herein are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

Share this page!

Related news

To The Top