THE SECRETS TO BEATING JETLAG
What (and how!) you eat before, during and after a long flight affects how you deal with time-zone changes
A study by Harvard Medical School showed that arriving HUNGRY at our destination – ready to IMMEDIATELY sync with local meal times – is one of the best ways of readjusting our circadian RHYTHMS
BEFORE THE FLIGHT
The key to avoiding jetlag can largely be described in a single word: Preparation. Which is to say that success in staying fighting fit postflight depends hugely on what we eat before it.
‘This is a very difficult subject to give general advice on because, obviously, what and when you should eat depends on the flight you’re catching,’ explains Christopher James Clark, a Dubai-based dietician and author of the award-winning book Nutritional Grail. ‘A three-hour afternoon hop east to Mumbai is a very different proposition to a 16-hour middle-of-the-night haul west to Los Angeles. But, as always with food, there are some good universal rules that can help.’
Perhaps most important of all, experts reckon, is staying well hydrated in the days leading up to the flight.
Nadia Bornman, a dietician with the Beyond Nutrition wellness centre in JLT, Dubai, says eight to 10 glasses a day should be standard.
‘When you fly, your body and its natural rhythms go through a lot of disruption so it’s vital they are in optimum condition to cope with this, and the best way to do that is by keeping hydrated beforehand,’ she explains. ‘It means your body is better able to deal with the fatigue and stress that flying inevitably causes.’
For similar reason, she recommends avoiding caffeine, alcohol and salty foods in the run-up to travelling – because they cause dehydration. ‘Swap them for herbal teas and water-based fruit snacks.’
Another key tip is to have a good, preferably home-cooked meal before leaving for the airport. ‘What you want is something rich in protein and complex carbohydrates,’ says Chris. ‘So that would be something like a piece of salmon or baked chicken with lots of leafy fresh greens and perhaps a portion of brown rice.’
These foods work well because they are easily digested and release sugar slowly into the bloodstream, meaning energy levels are kept constant while in the air. That means avoiding fluctuations between restlessness and fatigue, which can come after high-fat and high-sugar meals. ‘In an ideal world, you should be boarding the flight with a satiated appetite but entirely relaxed and comfortable,’ says Chris.
DURING THE FLIGHT
Iairtight t is a relatively well-documented fact that at 30,000 feet, in an
can, a person’s senses lose their sharpness. Taste and smell no longer function at their optimum.
What’s less well known, perhaps, is that many airlines take this into account when producing inflight meals. To ensure the food doesn’t seem bland to our numbed senses, they add extra salt and sugar.
‘Not to overstate things but those meals are basically a tray of jetlag waiting to happen,’ says Chris. ‘They are filled with the stuff you should avoid. My advice is, if possible, don’t eat them.’
It is advice supported by a groundbreaking study carried out by the Harvard Medical School in the US in 2014. This research showed that arriving hungry at our destination – and ready to immediately sync with local meal times – is one of the best ways of readjusting our circadian rhythms.
‘We discovered that a single cycle of starvation followed by refeeding... effectively overrides the circadian rhythms and places them onto a new time zone,’ wrote lead researcher Dr Clifford Saper. ‘So simply avoiding any food on the plane and then eating as soon as you land should help you adjust – and avoid some of the uncomfortable feelings of jetlag.’
If going the full flight without eating isn’t realistic, think snacks rather than meals. Pack them before leaving home if possible. Nuts, peanuts, seeds, veggie sticks, yogurt, prunes and granola bars are all recommended.
‘Again, anything that’s high in protein will help keep energy levels steady,’ says Chris. ‘High-fibre foods are useful for helping your digestion system stay nice and regular.’
Nadia goes further and recommends, if you feel you need more than a snack, packing your own light meal. ‘A grilled chicken sandwich on wholegrain bread is easy to make beforehand and tasty once travelling,’ she says.
If it’s a super-long-haul where avoiding some plane grub is too difficult, she advises ordering a low-sodium option ahead of the flight if the airline offers such a service. If not, avoid any sauces and look for key words: Grilled, baked boiled. ‘These will be the healthier of the options,’ she recommends.
Depending on flight times and length, sleeping on-board might be advisable – and there are foods which can help with this too.
Cherries and cherry juice are one of nature’s best source of melatonin, a relaxant hormone that helps with sleep. So too are goji berries, fresh ginger, lemon juice, camomile tea and – if you dare open a tin on a plane – sardines.
‘Anything like this not only helps you get to sleep but then helps make that sleep more restorative, which is exactly what you need when you’re having to catch a nap,’ says Chris.
AFTER THE FLIGHT
So far, so good. But if you get the arrival bit wrong, all your good dietary work up to now will be for nothing. The over-riding message here is to sync quickly with local meal times. If that means you are arriving for lunch but don’t feel hungry, still have a little something anyway so you can then last through until the evening meal. Conversely, if you’re landing in the middle of the night and are feeling peckish, do see if you can hold off for breakfast for your first proper meal.
‘The quicker you get your circadian rhythms correlating to your destination, the better,’ says Chris.
The problem is that sleep deprivation will likely cause pangs of hunger. ‘In this case, I would go with a banana, which is packed with potassium and vitamins, or a tennisball-sized piece of fruit, an apple perhaps,’ says Nadia. ‘And remember to keep drinking water. Often a glass can quell hunger until meal time.’
Another key food here is eggs. Because they are such a good source of B12, they help maximise our body’s natural response to the daylight and nightfall meaning they actively help our inbuilt rhythms adjust. Along similar lines are crab, soy products and, for the brave perhaps, liver.
Surprisingly, this may also be one of the few occasions when a dietician recommends a cup of coffee.
‘What you don’t want to be doing is landing in the middle of the day and going to bed for several hours – because that will just exacerbate the jetlag,’ says Chris. ‘So if a cup of coffee and a small piece of dark chocolate gives you that energy boost to get through an afternoon meeting or a spot of sightseeing, there’s certainly no harm. Of course, don’t have either too close to bed time, and don’t have more than two cups in 24 hours.’