Dear coach: I’m traveling out of my time zone for a race. What’s the best way to adjust to the time change?
Ideally for every hour of time change, you should arrive an equal number of days ahead of the race, but that is usually not practical. Once on the plane, set your watch or phone to your destination’s local time. Sleep as much as possible on the flight, and also make sure to eat and drink. Some people say to skip the meals, but mealtime on a plane is usually loud and bright. Eat if you are up; it is important to get in calories.
As soon as you land, get on the local schedule. Eat meals at normal times and snack when needed. Most importantly, do not nap for the rst three days. A study in Sports Health on jet lag in athletes has shown that long naps in a new time zone during the old time zone’s bedtime can delay adjustment.
Get into your exercise routine right away, and do not be afraid to do a hard workout the rst or second day—though studies have found that it may not speed up adaptation to the new time zone, it’ll keep you up and in your routine. Finding natural ways to encourage the adaptation of your circadian rhythm (internal time clock) is very important.
I’ve found that walking barefoot or sitting on the earth, swimming in the ocean, and being in the sunlight can help. The Sports Health study also suggests that eating on the new schedule is more important than what you eat once you arrive.
When it’s time for bed, do not turn on the TV or computer or even your phone. The lights from devices can keep you up and slow your body’s acclimatization. There is evidence that bright light in the evenings can delay the body’s clock—a bad thing particularly for eastbound travel. To help with sleep, there are also a few portable sleep tracker devices on the market from brands like EmFit, FitBit, Sleep Shepherd, and My Motiv that will help you dial in your rest. For busy hotels, a portable white noise generator like Marpac’s Rohm is also a good investment.
Jarrod Shoemaker is a coach with Boulder, Colorado-based Apex coaching. He is a 2008 Olympian, a former under-23 world champion, and the only male U.S. athlete to win an ITU World Triathlon Series event with his victory in Hamburg, Germany in 2009.