Finding your vitality in a busy life schedule can be a real challenge. Life and work are often intense and If we add to this a constant schedule of travel, we are often left struggling to feel energized and at the top of our game. The good news is to master our energy while travelling is about having a few key strategies that can make all the difference in keeping our energy in steady supply.
Almost everyone suffers from jet lag – those few days post a flight where you sleep at 4pm, wake at 1am, get hunger pangs in the middle of the night and just can’t face exercise.
Jet lag can occur in any flight that has a 3-hour time change or more. Your body wants to run like a Swiss watch and will take its cues from the environment. So it’s your internal clock falling out of sync with the destination time zone that has you all bleary eyed and far from bushy tailed.
However the good news is that we can reset our body clocks faster to our destination by working on the cues that have the greatest impact.
Some of the best research comes from NASA, given they are the specialists in long haul travel! These techniques are employed by many including elite athletes. By adjusting our light exposure, sleep, meal times and exercise patterns we can dramatically reduce the effects of jet lag.
On the day of travel, adjust your eating times and sleep to the destination time zone.
Plane food is overly acidic so eat lightly and at the destination meal times. Take a Snack Pack of protein bar, apple, nuts and seeds. If flying westward, on arrival eat a protein based dinner with healthy carbohydrates (brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato) to help you sleep more deeply. In the morning get out in the sunshine early and let the light into your eyes to help adjust your body clock.
A classic trait of some busy people is that they don’t make time to eat. When we skip meals our glucose levels begin to fall, putting us on an energy roller coaster for the day.
The central driver of our energy levels is the concentration of glucose in our blood. The brain is totally dependent on glucose as a fuel, making up about 2% of our body weight but consuming more than 20% of the glucose we eat.
Keeping your blood sugars balanced is the most important dietary factor in
maintaining your energy levels. When your blood sugars drop, you are hard wired to eat anything and everything in sight. Your brain will easily over ride will power when it wants to control your behavior.
Two things will help you achieve stable blood sugar are:
Keep a travel pack to hand. Protein is the key here because it controls your appetite and balances your blood sugar over long period of time. Create a Go-To Travel Pack of chicken or fish jerky, protein food bars, almonds, nuts and seeds and squeeze packs of sugar free peanut butter.
Change your breakfast. Cereal is a bad choice for breakfast as it is quick release sugar and will upset your blood sugars sending you on an energy roller coaster all day. Instead, choose a protein based breakfast instead such as eggs.
Managing your mental state
We rarely adjust our sleep or behavior the week prior to a longer haul trip. If anything we are busy cramming in all we can before our trip. By the time we get to the airport we have fought time, traffic, and endless cues through check in and security. Unrested, out of sync, in a state of low-level chronic stress – we board a plane.
The first thing that comes to mind is to calm down. How do we calm down, we exhale. When you exhale you activate the brain, the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of relaxation, and when you breathe deeply you tend to calm your mind. So that would be the first simple practice that I would suggest when you feel extremely agitated.
When travelling its all the more important to find a strategy that keeps you grounded, centered and feeling proactive instead of reactive. This can often mean putting into a practice a routine on waking. Carefully design your routine and fill it with things that serve you well. This routine should be non-negotiable and preserved at all cost.
Do this before opening a single message or email. This will really help you supercharge your brain and body, allowing you to free style the rest of your day with strength and resilience.
Prioritising your sleep is one of the best things you can do for your health.
Most of us sleep an hour less per night than we need with 7-8 hours being optimal. Human sleep is carefully structured and we’re more or less the same. When we stay up late into the evening, the blue light emitted from our cell phones and lap-tops keep us awake, deleting our first cycle of deep sleep. As you put pressure on your deep sleep and get less of it, we get more anxious, less certain and less resilient the next day, leading to worse sleep. This disrupts your hormones, creates hunger and drains your energy.
The best sleep enhancer is to prepare for sleep. Spend about 90 minutes, or take as much as you can get, prior to sleep in a cool down phase. Get cool, drop the temperature and take a cool shower. Eat a light dinner, avoiding caffeine, sugar, alcohol and tobacco after 4pm as these are stimulants and will disrupt your sleep; and avoid that blue light from your cell phones and lap-tops.
Take your rests when you can. Naps are hugely helpful to recharging your energy when travelling. Research shows even a short 6-15 minute power nap improves performance by up to 3 hours.
Now for the hard news. The claim that moderate alcohol consumption is good for you is unfortunately based on poor quality, old science. Alcohol is a toxin and 0 grams of ethanol is the level that is now seen to minimizes your risk of mortality and cancer.
This research from a recent landmark analysis was conducted in 195 countries from 1990-2016 (published in The Lancet, Aug 2018). It is the most comprehensive estimate of the global burden of alcohol use to date and is pretty unambiguous in its findings.
If you do choose to drink it, drink a glass of water alongside your beverage, keep it to an absolute minimum and try abstaining for several days a week. What you are likely to find is that your sleep and energy improve along with overall health. Now why would you want to trade that?
Upgrade the way you eat, move, sleep and calm your body down. All of these factors are your best friends, the best nutrients, in keeping you healthy now and into the future.
Deborah McTaggart is a registered nutritionist with a special interest in high energy demand, high performance, travel health, stress and sport recovery and performance. She works as a Consultant with The Resilience Institute, UK who work with global leadership to sustain high performance and long term health resilience. She practices in Barnes, South West London and global via Skype and Zoom.