Travel, Sporting Performance and You: An Expert Guide to Being at Your Best on the Road

The World Cup is in full swing. We’re down to the final eight teams and it’s been an amazing tournament; full of great goals, saves and celebrations.

For the players, staff, journalists and fans in Brazil, it has also involved a lot of travel.

How far have teams travelled in the World Cup?

In the build up to the tournament, German newspaper Bild released an interesting inforgraphic detailing how far each team had to travel during the group stages of the World Cup.

Bild_infographic Between their opening three matches, Jurgen Klinsmann’s United States squad had to travel a massive 14,326 kilometers. At the other end, everyones favourite dark horses,  Belgium, only traveled 1,784 kilometers. A huge, huge disparity. And, though you may not have thought it due to their spirited performance, surely this would have had some affect on the performance of the United States team during their Round of 16 match?

Travel and Athletic performance

Elite athletes and sportsmen have travelled far and wide to perform for decades. None more than the professional teams in the United States’ NFL, NBA and MLB. A study of Major League Baseball over 10 seasons, measured whether teams enjoyed an advantage over opponents who were less in sync with the local time. The results show that teams with a three-hour advantage(the maximum possible within the United States) won 61% of their games. This compares to a 52% winning percentage for both one and two-hour advantages. Another study taking into account 15 NFL seasons also shows similar advantages for teams playing at home; visiting teams that travel less than 1,000 miles won 43% of their games, versus 40% when travelling 2,000 miles or more.

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 12.01.26
Image source: Grantland

Away from North America, Super 15 Rugby teams can travel huge distances for matches, with teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all taking part in the competition. The below graphic illustrates the influence travel can have on performance, and ultimately results.

knock-out-match

Note: this study is from the 5 seasons the competition was Super 14. An extra team has now been added and travel schedules updated to feature more matches between domestic teams and less international travel.

Across the 5 seasons of Super 14 competition 61% of matches were won by the home team. When a team goes overseas, the home team wins 64% of matches. It’s clear that travel affects sporting performance at the highest level.

Of course, very few of the world’s population are high-level, professional athletes, though. So, how does travel affect the rest of us and our every day lives?

Travel and everyday life

If you’ve ever been on a long-haul flight and travelled across a number of timezone in a short period of time you’re probably familiar with the feeling of jet lag – a term used to describe the feeling of being worn out and tired due to a broken routine or sleep pattern.

This feeling, which can last for days after long distance air travel, can lead to fatigue, disorientation, a lack of concentration and lack of motivation.

Circadian Rhythm

Jet lag is brought on by disruption to your circadian rhythms – the bodies built-in clock. Disruption of circadian rhythm can effect body temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate and physiological patterns leading to disorientation, with mental and physical fatigue. The more time zones you cross at one time, the worse you feel the effects.

The below video explains more about circadian rhythms and how to cope with changes in timezones:

8 ways to minimize the affects of travel on your life

Over the years athletic trainers and coaches have developed a number of techniques to help athletes minimize the affects of travel. Here’s a few that can help us all fight jet lag and feel at our best when traveling:

  • Avoid alcohol during and prior to travel: Alcohol may be 2-3 times more potent at flight altitude.
  • Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated at all times
  • If you’re trying to sleep, avoid your smartphone, tablet and laptop for an hour before attempting to get some rest. The blue light emitted by these devices can stimulate your circadian clock
  • Avoid over-eating during flights. And try not to eat in-flight meals if they don’t coincide with your ‘normal’ eating times
  • Remove shoes in-flight to reduce discomfort 
  • If you have to transfer to connecting flights try to exercise, stretch, walk or shower before getting onto your next flight. This will help to increase circulation and reduce post-flight stiffness
  • Schedule flights during sleep hours (overnight)
  • Exposure to daylight at the destination will usually help you adapt to the new time zone faster. The cycle of light and dark is one of the most important factors in setting the body’s internal clock

Jet lag advisor

British Airways have teamed up with leading sleep expert, Dr. Chris Idzikowski to develop a really useful jet lag advisor.

The app asks a few simple questions about your routines and travel plans, then suggests the optimum time to expose yourself to light and optimum time to avoid light.

Questions asked by BA's jet lag advisor
Questions asked by BA’s jet lag advisor

On seeking light, British Airways explain: “Light is important because it is one of the primary cues that the body clock uses to maintain it’s link with the outside world.

When it comes to seeking light, any kind of light will do. Daylight is best, but if it’s not available, simply switching on a bedroom light is sufficient to help you minimise the effects of jet lag.”

And on avoiding light: “Avoidance of light at certain times is also an important cue to the body clock to help you recover more swiftly from the effects of crossing time zones.

Avoiding light can be achieved by drawing the blinds or curtains in the room you are in, or wearing an eye mask. If there’s nothing else you can do, then simply wearing dark glasses will help.”

Check out BA’s jet lag advisor here.

Over to you

Do you have any tips for beating jet lag and staying at your best while traveling? Leave a comment below or send us a tweet – we’d love to hear from you!

Image Sources: Sports Scientists, Grantland, Bild

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