When it comes to inflammation, production of free radicals, wrenches in your recovery process, and an inhibition of everything from muscle-building protein synthesis to muscle-repairing circadian rhythm, not much beats airplane travel.
And it doesn’t matter how many body weight squats and calf raises you do in the back of the airplane–the jet lag can still hit you hard.
When you’re on an airplane, you’re inside a tiny metal tube bombarded by solar radiation and completely disconnected from the planet Earth’s natural magnetic field. This is compounded by WiFi signals, people talking on their phones and checking e-mail inside that metal tube (which happens for the entire gate to takeoff and landing to gate phase), dehydration from altitude and dry filtered air, toxin-laden airplane food and bad water, and germs and airborne pathogens in tight spaces.
I don’t know about you, but as a competitive triathlete and exercise enthusiast who also speaks at health events around the globe, I simply can’t afford the loss of fitness and health that can potentially occur every time I hope on a flight. So what do I do about?
Here are 11 ways to keep airplanes from destroying your fitness.
Table of Contents
Grounding (also known as earthing) is exposing your body to the natural magnetic frequencies released by Earth. To delve into the science of grounding, watch this free grounding film.
At no time does grounding become a more effective strategy than when you’re traveling in an airplane, since hurdling through space 40,000 feet above the planet in a metal tube is about the most disconnected with the earth you can get. The basic idea is that you aren’t able to discharge all the positive ions that build up via cellular metabolism, so you get net body acidity and inflammation.
How do I personally ground?
As soon as I land in my destination I make it a point to either A) put on a pair of Pluggz or Earthrunners as fast as possible, or B) go outside in my barefeet (yes, I’m the guy in the grassy lot behind the airport hotel doing morning barefoot yoga). I also take an Earthpulse everywhere I go.
Multiple studies have shown that exercise can regulate circadian rhythms – but this doesn’t mean you have to do a monster workout when you get to your destination.
However, as lousy and miserable as you may feel training after a long day of travel or a long few days of international travel, the sooner you move after arriving at your final destination, the sooner you can bounce back from jet lag and normalize your circadian rhythm and sleep.
The top three choices if you’re feeling a bit blah are: walking in the sunshine, swimming in somewhat cold water, and outdoor barefoot yoga.
It’s a relativel common recommendation to see the consumption of caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants discouraged for managing jet lag, and I 100% agree.
Aside from the trace amounts of caffeine in the Chinese Adaptogenic Herbs and 85%+ dark chocolate I occasionally consume while traveling, I simply do not go near caffeine or any other central nervous system stimulant while in route to my final destination.
I do not use melatonin unless I’m traveling, in which case I take 1-3mg of a liquid melatonin 30-60 minutes prior to bed can be useful for re-booting the circadian rhythm upon arriving at the final destination. Melatonin is also a potent anti-inflammatory, which will help decrease the loss of fitness and presence of inflammation.
I discovered No-Jet-Lag at a Chinese herbal store in the Hong Kong airport when traveling home from an Ironman triathlon, and upon inspecting the ingredients to verify there was nothing in it that would kill me, I trialed it – following the instructions to take 1 tablet upon take-off, 1 every 2-4 hours while on the plane and then 1 upon landing. And the stuff works wonderfully, both east-to-west and west-to-east.
There are five homeopathic remedies listed as the active ingredients in No-Jet-Lag: Arnica Montana, Bellis Perennis, Chamomilla, Ipecacuanha and Lycopodium. I’m no homepathic expert, but both my wife and I now use this stuff when we are traveling internationally, and have found it to be extremely effective in eliminating jet lag symptoms, especially when combined with the other strategies in this article.
Remember – the better you feel when you get where you’re going, the more likely it is that you can keep up your fitness routine.
You’ve no doubt heard that you lose more water flying in the dry air at altitude – so you need to drink more water to stay hydrated and beat jet lag.But I’ve been going beyond the normal recommendations and experimenting with very high water intake – and finding that this helps out quite a bit.
Try to drink closer to 12-16 ounces of water each hour (nearly a full water bottle), and make sure if you’re seated in a window seat that your aisle-based airline partner is spry and willing to move every time you need to pee – or just ask to switch spots with them.
Curcumin – which is found in turmeric and curries – is a very strong antioxidant which helps tremendously when taken on an empty stomach both before and after flying.
It is a potent brain anti-inflammatory and may also boost testosterone and growth hormone. I’ve been using about 1000mg of natural curcumin.
Cold showers decrease inflammation and cause a rebound hormone response (release of adrenaline) quite favorable to fitness gains.
I’ve been going so far as to actually go into the airline lounge in the airports I’m at if I have a long layover for a 10-15 minute cold shower, and/or doing that same cold shower in the hotel when I finally get where I’m going.
Splashing lots of cold water in your face is OK, but not quite as effective as immersion or showering. Cold showers also have very good blood vessel expanding properties (they release more nitric oxide into your blood vessels) which dramatically helps beat jet lag.
I mean completely eliminate them. That includes seeds and nuts, stir fries, boxed foods and just about anything else with canola oil, soybean oil, or any other oils, as “healthy” as the food may be advertised to be.
These are some of the best foods to cause full body inflammation, which you especially don’t want when flying.
So while the 80/20 rule may work most of the time, I follow the 100/0 rule with these foods when traveling – they make up 0% of my diet (and yes, that usually means no airplane food for me, and lots of raw seeds, nuts, chlorella, spirulina, raw fruit, etc.!).
Sulfur-containing foods are very good antioxidant precursors, especially for the type of inflammation that can occur when you’re on an airplane, and include compounds like broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onions and Brussels sprouts.
Supplements containing “MSM” or “DMSO” are also effective, but can have a nausea producing detox effect, so be careful with them. I don’t recommend more than a teaspoon, max.
If you opt for the garlic and onions route, you may need to brush your teeth afterwards if you plan on talking to your seatmate on the airplane, but if you squeeze in a few meals with these foods in the days leading up to the flight, you’ll feel much better when you land!
Finally, oxytocin is an extremely powerful hormone that acts to lift your mood, but also acts as a potent antioxidant, antidepressant and antinflammatory.
Although it’s most commonly known as a hormone that is released after sex, one of the interesting things about oxytocin is that you can get your hormone fix anywhere and at any time – including when you’re traveling. To do this, all you need to do is simply hug someone or shake their hand. The simple act of bodily contact will cause your brain to release low levels of anti-inflammatory, mood-boosting oxytocin.
So find the first person who’s OK with it when you get to your final destination and give them a big, loving bear hug – or do some partner carries up the stairway in the hotel (incidentally, that’s a great travel workout).
Ben Greenfield is an ex-bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, Spartan racer, coach, speaker and author of the New York Times Bestseller “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life” (http://www.BeyondTrainingBook.com).
In 2008, Ben was voted as NSCA’s Personal Trainer of the year and in 2013 was named by Greatist as one of the top 100 Most Influential People In Health And Fitness. Ben blogs and podcasts at http://www.BenGreenfieldFitness.com, and resides in Spokane, WA with his wife and twin boys.