“People think you need to up the intensity of your workout to counter the sedentary flight time, but that’s the opposite of what you need,” says Matt Berenc, director of education for the Equinox Fitness Training Institute (EFTI). After a flight, your blood oxygen levels are below average, making breathing more difficult during a workout; your circadian rhythm is off; and your muscular function is below its peak. This is the time to focus on low-intensity exercise that takes you through full ranges of motion, Berenc says. Based on this science, McCaw developed the Fit Flyer workout, which is designed to help muscles synchronize to a new time zone, reduce stiffness associated with travel, and generally encourage the body to reset. You don’t need any equipment for this routine other than a towel, making it easy to perform on the go. McCaw also suggests finding ways to make fitness fun at your destination. Go for a sight-seeing run, for example. “I always end up going farther and logging more miles than my regular, routine runs,” she says. Above all, steer clear of the all-or-nothing mentality. Moving more frequently is more important than sustained activity alone, says McCaw, so multiple 15-minute bouts throughout a day can be equally effective if staying fit and energized during a trip is your priority.
Eating meals on local time helps your body adjust to new time zones and wards off jet lag as well as GI issues, says Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition. For example, when you land around 5:50 p.m. in Shanghai from LA, eat a light dinner rich in high-fiber vegetables and nutrients that will replenish you and help your digestive system operate smoothly.
If you need to snack in between meals, Bethany Snodgrass, operations manager at the EFTI suggests Greek yogurt and a banana, a combo that’s full of both probiotics and prebiotics. Eating other foods with probiotics like kefir and kimchi helps with digestive health and immune function. Prebiotics, like those in bananas, apples, oats, barley, asparagus, leeks, and avocado, help feed gut bacteria, she explains. Choose bedtime snack foods high in melatonin (cherries and bananas, Goji berries, or ginger tea) to reset your circadian rhythm, Snodgrass says.
For short trips, you might want to stay on local hours because there isn’t enough time for your body to adjust before you have to revert back. “For example, when I fly from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., for two days, I try to stay on LA time, or as close as I can,” says Jennifer Martin, Ph.D., an associate professor of medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles and a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board. “I avoid 8 a.m. meetings (which is 5 a.m. in California), I eat dinner late, and I go to bed around 12:30 a.m., which is close to my normal bedtime at home.” For a trip lasting three days or longer, it’s best to shift to your location’s sleep schedule immediately. For example, if you fly from LA to Shanghai and land at 5:50 p.m. Shanghai time, keep yourself up until the time you’d normally go to bed at home. Also key: As soon as you can upon arriving, get outside and let the sunlight help shift your internal clock. Research suggests that taking melatonin before a trip makes jet lag symptoms even worse, so wait until after you land. Take between 0.5 milligrams and five milligrams one hour before bedtime for three nights, or until you feel more adjusted. You can also use an online calculator to figure out when to use melatonin for travel, Martin adds.
Use the advice throughout this guide to help ease your return flight and head home knowing you’ve done all you can to minimize jet lag and maximize comfort and energy.