Flying wreaks havoc on our bodies; we all know that feeling of disorientation and dislocation that comes with travelling through different time-zones; it takes time to re-set our body clocks and digestive processes to the rhythm of our new surroundings.
It’s not just about the obvious disturbance to our sleep-wake cycle, which is regulated by the brain’s master clock and gets re-set first. It’s also about the effects on the individual clocks of our body’s main organs- our digestive processes, for example- and these take longer to re-adjust. On average, it takes one day for every time zone you travel to acclimatise fully.
So how can we make this experience less taxing on our brains and frames? People often ask me what they ‘should’ eat before, during and after a long-haul flight; although I am not a nutritionist or dietitian, I am an ‘expert’ traveller, having visited and worked in 30 countries while consciously managing my severe digestive issues.
Our bodies, in the most basic sense, are like the jet engine, which is powering our flight - if we don’t fuel them properly, they can’t function at their optimum level. Therefore, it’s essential to nourish your body by eating nutrient-rich, unprocessed, easily digestible foods (as far as possible) pre-, during and post-flight. When in a confined space for with many people for such a long time, it’s fundamental to boost your immune system to help your body fight off any unwanted germs. Fruits and vegetables with a high vitamin C and water content, such as oranges, watermelon, pineapple, raw celery and cucumber, which make a great potable snack that can be prepared pre-flight. Blueberries are an immune-boosting powerhouse due to their high anti-oxidant content.
Staying hydrated is also essential. I always buy a 1L bottle after security as on the flight the ‘bar service’ often does its first round an hour in to the flight. Coconut water is also incredibly hydrating and is full of potassium and magnesium, which also helps relax our muscles. I always recommend avoiding alcohol and caffeinated drinks as they are massively dehydrating, and will wreak havoc with your body clock. My tip is to bring some herbal tea bags in my hand luggage; peppermint and/or fennel to settle my stomach, chamomile to help me relax and sleep better and lemon and ginger to give me an energising boost for when I land.
With so many flickering screens, it’s near impossible to get REM sleep (deep sleep which we need to recharge properly). One way of helping our bodies relax into sleep is by eating bananas; full of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that triggers sleepiness), these easily available and inexpensive fruits, have been proven to increase sleep time significantly and also help our bodies become accustomed to a regular sleep schedule. Kiwis are also high in serotonin. I always carry a banana, and where possible a kiwi, in my hand luggage.
On arrival I recommend snacking on raw, plain nuts such as almonds and walnuts, as they are packed full of melatonin – the key hormone that helps regulate our sleep/wake cycle – as well as vitamin B6.
As I am usually dying to stretch my legs after being cramped in a chair for hours on end, my tip is to do as much stretching as I can during the flight (when I’m awake) and upon arrival do 20 minutes of yoga to help reset and align my body. (There are some free yoga podcasts at www.yogadownload.com). I try as much as I can to practise yoga, but sometimes I do need that extra confirmation that it really is doing me SO good. Guides such as those by writer Jen Reviews (www.jenreviews.com/yoga/) with a comprehensive list of the amazing health benefits of yoga, as well as tons of practical tips and advice for how to surrender to your inner yogi. :)
If you can also manage to have a hot bath, (or even better a massage) the day or the day after you land, this is a wonderful way of helping your body to readjust and relax into its new environment.
Although it’s near impossible to defy your body-clock, combat jet-lag and avoid a potential upset stomach entirely, you can diminish the effects that long-haul travel has on your brain and frame by nourishing yourself in the right way.