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4 Ways Air Travel Affects Athletic Performance

How to avoid the fatiguing effects of flying and ensure peak performance on race day


Planning a “runcation” provides the extra motivation to train year round with the reward of not only a race, but a well-deserved vacation.  However, air travel elements like noise exposure, immobility, sleep loss, dietary changes, and even breathing poor-quality air can impact performance in ways that many may not realize. On top of everything, travel is often psychologically stressful due to delays, security and worry over potential lost luggage containing race gear.

Use these tips and tricks to combat some of the most common-stressors of air travel and reduce the risk of jeopardizing race performance.

Deter Dehydration
Aircrafts typically maintain a 20% humidity level, which is well-below the body’s required 30%.This means travelers should hydrate even more than usual. This is extremely important because many people tend to drink less during this time, which results in dehydration prior to the race. Sipping water with electrolytes consistently throughout the day will ensure that the body continues to flush out toxins from recycled air and maintain a balance since the low humidity can also cause a loss in sodium and electrolytes.

Steer Clear of Stomach Discomfort
Race day stomach pain can quickly derail a great run.  Air travel could be a contributing factor unless you follow a few rules to prevent bloating and disruption to digestion.

Intestinal gases expand with increase in altitude, which can lead to bloating and pain. This problem is exacerbated by drinking soda or carbonated beverages because the fizz creates more volume.  Additionally, although chewing gum or sucking on candy may help relieve ear pressure, both habits can also contribute to bloating.

Once again, water plays a pivotal role in performance, as remaining hydrated will ensure that the digestive process continues to flow smoothly and help prevent constipation.

Nix the Noise
A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) revealed that consistent exposure to air travel noise can cause sleep disruption, increase stress and raise blood pressure. Try using ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones to add a little more peace to your travel.

Avoid The Evils of Jet Lag
The International Federation of Sports Medicine states that a change in multiple time zones could potentially impact performance due to a shift in circadian rhythms, or to put it more plainly, a disruption in normal sleep and wake cycles.  The following are a few of their recommendations for combating jet lag:

  • Exposure to bright light
  • Light exercise in the days before your event
  • Gradually shifting sleep patterns prior to travel

Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Science in 2008, suggested that fasting for about 16 hours before a long flight may actually help to fend off jet lag by resetting hunger levels. It turns out that light is not the only factor that contributes to the tick of our “body clock,” which helps our bodies and minds understand time.

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