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Jet-lag and Sport: how is performance affected?

Jet lag, or circadian desynchronization, occurs due to a mismatch between the body’s circadian rhythms and the external 24-hr light–dark cycle. This is the result of rapid transmeridian travel across multiple time zones and is influenced by both the number of time zones crossed and the direction of travel


Travel from east to west produces less problematic jet lag.

Traveling from west to east produces a much heavier jet lag.

Some symptoms of jet lag are:

  • difficulty falling asleep;

  • daytime sleepiness;

  • general malaise;

  • impaired physical performance;

  • intestinal problems.

The severity of the symptoms, the duration and the return to normal conditions depend on and are influenced by the direction of travel and the amount of time zones crossed.

When it comes to jet lag and sports, we can adopt some useful strategies that can help us cope with this problem.


Changing your habits just before a flight allows you to better adapt to jet lag and ensure a shift in circadian rhythms.


A protein breakfast allows you to increase wakefulness during the day, as well as a meal rich in carbohydrates at dinner induces sleep.

The Argonne diet (alternating days of high-protein intake with fasting/low carbohydrate [CHO] foods, including a fast before arrival and a high-protein breakfast at the destination) may mimic the studies in animal models and the peripheral clock > it appears that such a diet is effective for jet-lag symptoms between 9 time zones.

Limiting the use of caffeine and alcohol in flight and staying well hydrated would ensure a shortening of the symptoms of jet lag.


Short naps or sleeps would allow for quicker adaptation to jet lag, as well as short naps during sleep.

Getting good sleep prior to travel, remaining hydrated during travel and getting into the new destinations time zone is very important.

Insufficient information currently prevents clear recommendations regarding meal composition and sleep; however, it is an area that has potential to mitigate some of the symptoms of jet lag.


It does not seem particularly effective in reducing the effects of jet lag, although its effect has been investigated.

Jet lag drug treatment

Among the jet-lag pharmacological treatments we find:

Melatonin: uncertain effect, but widely used to counteract the effects of jet lag.

Zolpidem: minimal effects on performance and could lead to drowsiness.

Modafinil: considered doping by WADA and could decrease performance at certain dosages with an increase in anxiety episodes.

Obviously, even one's own personal experience remains fundamental in choosing the solutions to be taken!

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