11 ways to beat travel fatigue when flying for a race

Few things are more glorious than a racecation. But getting there isn’t always a breeze, and the stresses of travel can wreak havoc on your bod and thwart your dreams of achieving that PB in paradise.

“A fresh body and fresh legs in and around air travel go hand in hand,” says Dave Scott, a six-time Hawaii Ironman Champion and running coach. Here, Scott and four other experts share their top pre, during and post-flight tips to keep you feeling healthy, rested and ready to race.

BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT

1/ Investigate your accommodation

Call your hotel and ask about the noise and light levels in your room. “It may be worth paying a little more for a room away from a busy street or a room with blackout curtains,” advises Sarah Schlichter, a marathoner and registered dietitian, adding “it’s more difficult to sleep outside of our own habitat, but we need to try to make any small change we can.”

Consider packing a sleeping mask and earplugs if you’re an especially light sleeper. (Just be sure that you’re still able to hear your alarm clock!).

2/ Nourish well

The night before travel, Scott recommends consuming a bit more fibre than usual - primarily from healthy, non-starchy vegetables (think carrots, beetroot and peppers). This can combat the dreaded in-flight bloat. After dinner, drink a cup of herbal tea that contains four of the following: licorice, turmeric, coriander, spearmint, peppermint and lemongrass. The combo aids digestion and slumber, says Scott. On his “no-no” list: more than one serving of alcohol (it can disrupt sleep) and excess carbs (may cause next-day gas and bloating).

DURING YOUR FLIGHT

3/ Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

“The air on the plane gets dry and it will dehydrate you more than you’ll notice,” says Jamey Harris, head coach for Cross Country and Track & Field at UC Santa Cruz. “Plus, the drink service won’t come fast enough to really keep you topped up on fluids.” He beats this by purchasing a bottle of water in the airport after making it through security.

Amanda Shannon Verrengia, a personal trainer and USATF/RRCA run coach, stays hydrated by drinking one glass of water every hour that she’s in transit. She also leans on nuun, an electrolyte enhanced drink tablet. “It comes in a convenient canister that you can stow in your bag,” says Verrengia.

4/ Wear compression socks

These specialised stockings will keep your blood flowing and minimise the “tired legs” feeling that often comes after a long flight, says Verrengia. Try CEP and 2XU as your go-to sock brands.

5/ Snack smarter

Don’t eat the airline snacks, warns Scott, as they’re often high in simple carbs and trans fats that will spike your blood sugar. Instead, pack your own healthy eats. His go-to fare: walnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts, plus coconut shavings and a piece of fruit.

Schlichter wards off mid-flight munchies with citrus fruits (e.g. oranges, tangerines and grapefruits) as they pack hefty doses of Vitamin C, an antioxidant and immune booster.

6/ Move often

Book an aisle seat so that you can easily - and often - get up to move around the cabin. “Anything you can do to avoid spending hours with your body forced into the shape of an airplane seat will help prevent feeling stiff, stale and heavy when you toe the line,” says Harris. He stays limber by walking to the back of the plane every 30 minutes. If you get a chance, try these moves to ease out your legs.

AFTER YOUR FLIGHT

7/ Stretch your limbs

Your back and hip flexors are shortened and tight during the flight, says Scott. So once you’ve arrived and settled in at your hotel, spend about eight minutes stretching those two areas, along with your quads and calves. Throw in a few arm swings to loosen up your rotator cuff as well. Then, walk backwards for two minutes to dynamically stretch the Achilles, soleus and hamstrings.

8/ Do a shakeout run outside

“It’s tempting to get off the plane and onto a bouncy, air-conditioned hotel treadmill,” says Amanda Dale, ACE-certified personal trainer, AFAA-certified exercise instructor and endurance running coach, “but your post-flight shakeout run will serve you better if you actually do it in the conditions in which you'll soon be racing.”

9/ Elevate your legs

Follow your usual post-run stretching routine, and then lie on your back and extend your legs up the wall so the backs of your legs are fully against it. This position will help to relieve tired legs by encouraging the movement of any stagnant fluids that built up during travel, says Verrengia.

10/ Book a foot massage

If your feet tend to puff up after long flights, consider booking a 30 to 60 minute foot reflexology treatment or massage for later that day, advises Dale. “It’s your best bet for working out that minor edema [swelling] as well as encouraging better blood circulation throughout your body,” she says. “Plus, it feels amazing.” 

11/ Do some yoga

The evening before your race, Dale recommends loosening up your joints and calming pre-race jitters with a short yoga practise. Try this yoga for runners routine for a series of no-nonsense, effective assisted stretches that target runners’ specifically tight areas in a purposeful sequence and flow. Just be sure to take it easy and light on the stretches so that you’re not straining or pulling any muscles.