Some food items may help you deal with travel stress and frequent body clock changes. Celebrity nutritionist Ryan Fernando offers the ideal meal plan for regular travellers
Even if you are among those travellers who have their bags constantly packed and feel flying is part of their routine, you can’t avoid travel stress. This stress releases a hormone called cortisol, which makes you break down muscle for energy and store any meal you eat as fat. The human body cannot differentiate between mental or environmental, and physical stress. And as our mental stress increases, our body stores more fat.
A large part of travel stress can be attributed to jet lag, which messes up your body’s circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm can be defined as physiological and behavioral changes in the body that occur on a roughly 24-hour cycle, sometimes called the body clock. The body clock relies on sunlight to keep you synchronised with planetary time. It makes your body temperature and blood pressure rise before you usually awaken in the morning, and also triggers the release of the “get up and go” hormones you need to start the day. Your body clock makes you predictably alert in the daytime, sleepy at night and hungry when you habitually eat. It also controls cell division, bone growth and other basic body maintenance.
How jet lag affects your body clock
Jet lag occurs when travellers suffer from disrupted circadian rhythm. When you pass through different time zones, your body clock will be different from your wristwatch. For example, if you fly from Bengaluru to Bangkok, you lose three hours. So, when you wake up at 7 am, your body still thinks it’s 4 am, making you feel groggy and disoriented. Your body clock will eventually reset itself, but the process often takes a few days.
Diet and jet lag
The human body can be guided to reset quickly. Over the years, I have used certain foods in my clinical practice at our nutrition clinics. Whatever your profession, it’s difficult to get a week just to align your body. That’s why we are happier travelling for vacation than for work. The effects of shift work or jet lag on the body clock can be reduced simply by changing the times at which we eat. Our findings suggest that changing meal times as well as sunlight exposure may help your master and peripheral clocks shift at the same speed. This can reduce desynchronisation of the body clock and, therefore, reduce health problems.
Foods to avoid
Caffeine: It is a stimulant that works by blocking the action of hormones (that make us feel tired) in the brain. A strong dose of caffeine can stimulate the mind for a short period but can cause an alertness crash as the effect wears off. The best way to benefit from the stimulating effect of caffeine is to consume small amounts, frequently, throughout the day. Don’t drink more than three cups and limit your quantity six hours before your new location bedtime.
Alcohol: A glass of wine might sound like it’ll help you relax and fall asleep, but studies have found that alcohol causes frequent waking at night. Alcohol reduces REM sleep (the deep dream state). Without alcohol, you will sleep deeper and be more at rest. So stick to just one glass, no more than one to two hours before bed, to avoid a rocky night.
Fluids: Water is great for weight loss and staying healthy, but can have the unfortunate side effect of waking you up for middle-of the- night bathroom breaks. And not only do 2 am restroom runs interrupt your sleep cycle, but they can also cut into your REM sleep. Try to avoid drinking fluids 60-90 minutes before your usual bedtime to make sure you actually spend all night in bed.
Aged and fermented foods: Tyramine, an amino acid found in aged and fermented foods, stimulates the brain and, as a result, could keep you up at night. Aged cheese, smoked fish and cured meats, all contain it. So if you must have a cheesy snack before bedtime, stick to the fresh stuff like mozzarella. Avoid yoghurt at night.
Tomato-based products: Anything with a lot of acid can cause heartburn and discomfort during the night, and that includes tomato-based foods and spicy dishes. To prevent tossing and turning, have a light meal at least three to four hours prior to your bedtime. You can have a simple clear soup or hot chocolate milk with a banana an hour before you go to sleep, in case you are really hungry.
Salmon: A concentrated source of omega-3 fatty acid, it does wonders to help rebuild brain cells and slow down cognitive decline. But a late-night meal with salmon should be avoided. Instead, eat your fish for breakfast or lunch to help you pull through the day.
Green tea: Green tea contains caffeine but in more modest amounts, which is balanced by the amino acid called theanine. Theanine sky-rockets your mental alertness and focus. So avoid it before bedtime.
Foods to have
Chamomile tea: Research has shown that this tea induces deep sleep. It may not help you sleep quicker but helps you sleep soundly, which allows you to build up your energy and feel-good factors within one or two days at your new location. It works best if consumed with warm water (no sugar or honey) two to three hours before bedtime.
Walnuts: Most of my frequent flyer clients love their travel diet plans, which include a slice of banana walnut cake every day. Two whole kernels of walnut are known to make an adult snooze like a baby. Walnuts mimic melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone triggered by darkness) naturally, inducing a sleeping pill effect. Consume walnuts regularly for two weeks to see the difference.
Yoghurt: Dairy products like yoghurt andmilk boast healthy doses of calcium — andresearch suggests that being calciumdeficientmay make it difficult to fall asleep.Also, calcium calms the muscles after a hecticday. Dairy products are best consumedduring the day rather than closer to bedtime,to help induce sound sleep.
Whole grains: Bulgur, barley and other whole grains are rich in magnesium. Consuming too little magnesium may make it harder to stay asleep for long, reports the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. A magnesium supplement will help you beat jet lag quicker. A dose of zinc (found in oysters, flaxseed, kidney beans, watermelon seeds and spinach) will also boost your immune system to tackle erratic sleep timings.
Kale: Dairy products are well-known calcium-rich foods. But green leafy vegetablessuch as kale and collards also boast healthydoses of calcium.
Bananas: Bananas, well known for being rich in potassium, are also a good source of vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin, says an article published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. The article also suggests having chickpeas (chana) for the same reason.
The writer is an award-winning sportsnutrition coach and the views expressedin this article are his own