What (and how!) you eat be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter a long flight af­fects how you deal with time-zone changes

Friday - - Well-being -

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


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.


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.


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.’



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