Over the past ten years I have taken a lot of trips to training camps and competitions throughout the world; Melbourne, Korea, Pretoria, Seattle and Venezuela to sum up a few. As a swimmer with the Dutch National Team, you always want to be as fit as possible — especially after a long flight. If not, it will affect your training. The 2008 Olympic Games were held in Beijing. We travelled to Hong Kong four weeks in advance so we had enough time to get used to the change in time zone and climate. This strategy was part of a jet lag protocol developed by our light doctor.
A light doctor doesn’t prescribe Diet Coke, but is a specialist on the effects of daylight (or lack thereof) on the human body. The protocol he develops gets you fit in a different time zone as quickly as possible. When you travel across time zones it about takes a day for every hour of difference for your body to get used to the new time zone.
The jet lag protocol starts by adjusting the time rhythm at home to the new time zone. When we travelled east to Hong Kong, we started two days before our trip going to bed and waking up one our earlier than normal. In this way we managed to get a few hours ahead of the time difference.
We used fancy sunglasses with red glasses in the plane. The sunglasses to create a darker environment. When it gets dark, the body makes the hormone melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy. You can fool your body by wearing sunglasses, so you get sleepy at the new time. Wearing these sunglasses made my teammate Femke and me feel like James Bond.
Once we arrived in Hong Kong, we adjusted to the new time zone immediately. Food can help as well. Carbohydrates make you feel sleepy and proteins make you feel alert and awake. So for diner we ate more pasta, and for breakfast we had milk products. As you can see, it’s very important to focus on details.
French fries and milk
Sometimes you cannot control all the details, though. In 2006 I was participating on the world cup circuit. For the competition in Daejon in South Korea I arrived just a day before the competition started. We took part in a wide variety of festivities in honour of our visit. The people put a lot of effort into making us feel at home. They even served a western breakfast, or at least what they thought was a western breakfast — French fries and milk — not the ideal preparation for a competing athlete.
South Korea gave me more special experiences with food. In 2007 I travelled with the Dutch team to Chuncheon, South Korea to prepare for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. When we had time to go sightseeing, the only place that was open on a Sunday was the buckwheat museum. Well, I can tell you all about how to cultivate and prepare buckwheat now! After the buckwheat museum we went to eat the national Korean dish, Kimchi. Before we could eat it, we first had to prepare it which, as an enthusiastic cook, I loved doing.
My trips as an athlete have given me a lot of experiences to remember with joy. I kissed a dolphin in Venezuela, snorkelled in Curacao, went on a safari in South Africa, and sang karaoke in South Korea.
Summing up these experiences almost make me forget the main reason for travelling: training for medals. Luckily the light doctor gave me back my red sunglasses when I travelled home, to get me back into the real world.
Marleen’s how-to-stay-fit-in-a-different-time-zone tips:
- Adjusting your time rhythm by one or two hours in your home situation can make the time difference a little smaller.
- Drink a lot of water, in the plane and once you arrive at your destination.
- Eat carbohydrates at night and proteins for breakfast; this can help you adjust better to the new time zone.
- Eat buckwheat, it is supposed to be very healthy.