Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bag Jet Lag with Nutrition & Activity

The following is our latest post by April Davis, our resident travel nutrition blogger. Enjoy! - Mike

Jet lag is a common problem when traveling across time zones and may potentially occur during your child’s experience traveling abroad. The great news, however, is that there are several ways to combat or lessen the effects of jet lag through diet and activity. By sharing and heeding to the following information with your child leading up to their departure, you can help prepare them for the best experience possible with People to People Student Ambassador Programs.

Jet lag results from a disruption of the body’s rhythms and sleep-wake cycle. Studies have shown that a child’s prime functioning can be lost after crossing as few as one or two time zones. Symptoms of jet lag are generally more severe when traveling from west to east rather than in the opposite direction.

Typical Symptoms of Jet Lag

  • Fatigue
  • Disturbed sleep pattern
  • Poor concentration
  • Digestive problems
  • Irritability

Both the type of food consumed and timing of meals are important considerations in helping your child adapt to time zone shifts. Although the light-dark cycle is perhaps the most important signal involved in setting the body’s internal clock, the timing of meals and exercise are also vital. The types and amount of food eaten also have some impact. High-protein foods (beans, meat, dairy, fish, nuts, eggs, tofu) stimulate the adrenaline pathway and increase alertness, while helping to stabilize blood sugar and slow down absorption. High-carbohydrate foods (pasta, rice, bread, fruit) aid in serotonin production providing a feeling of drowsiness following ingestion of meals high in carbohydrate. Thus, what and when your child eats may influence the severity and duration of jet lag symptoms.

High-protein foods should be eaten whenever possible at breakfast time and higher-carbohydrate meals at night to help avoid jet lag. Stimulants, such as caffeine in tea and coffee, may be beneficial when taken in the mornings on arrival at the new destination, but are best avoided in the later part of the day. Drinking an adequate amount of fluids is also extremely beneficial, as dehydration can aggravate the symptoms of fatigue and jet lag.

[Image credit: Olastuen via Flickr]

Timeline to Minimize Jet Lag

Months Prior to Travel: Start moving and toning-up. Active individuals usually suffer less from the effects of jet lag, so be sure your child becomes and stays physically active in the months leading up to travel.

1 Week Pre-Travel: Get extra rest. Eat well-balanced meals at times closer to the destination meal times. Have your child begin to sleep, wake, and eat at hours a bit closer to that of the People to People Student Ambassador Program destination time zone. You can help adjust your child’s sleep-wake cycle over 6 days. Make half-hour increment changes each day, for a total adjustment time of up to 2.5 to 3 hours.

1 Day Pre-Travel: Pack healthy, light snacks and exercise for 60 minutes at a moderate intensity level. Save the snacks for the airport and between meals on the plane to maintain energy levels. Good, easy choices include trail mix with dried fruit, sports bars, peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, or veggies with hummus dip. By engaging in moderate activity the day before departure, your child will be much more likely to get a good night’s sleep and feel fresh and alert for the journey ahead.

During Flight: Immediately adjust eating and sleep schedule to destination time zone. Keep hydrated and move around as much as possible. Let your child know that he/she should drink no less than 8 ounces of water every hour while flying to maintain hydration. While awake, get up and walk around at least once every 2 hours. Stretch and tap feet as frequently as possible. Set watch to destination time upon take-off. If your child consumes caffeine, only do so according to the destination time zone.

Upon Arrival: Eat high-protein meals for breakfast whenever possible and lunch and foods higher in carbohydrates and fiber for dinner. Spend time outdoors and stay active during the daylight hours. Attempt to keep the same hours as are typical of the new destination. Carry out as much of the usual home pre-bedtime routine as possible. Continue to drink lots of water and stay hydrated.

Safe travels!

By April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

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