For the modern traveller, jet lag is a very real and often unavoidable reality. It is characterised by our body’s internal clock becoming out of synch with the local time, often thanks to traveling across a few times zones within a short period of time. Although it is extremely difficult to prevent, through proper nutrition it is possible to reduce the toll it takes – giving those who travel regularly or over great distances a little respite.
The way to achieve this jet lag equilibrium is with what is known as the ‘anti-jet lag diet’. This special diet is consumed for a few days before traveling, and has been shown to have significant results. It has been developed by biologist Charles Ehret at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and has already improve the lives of the hundreds of thousands of us that fly on a regular basis.
Research into the diet has found that it can make the likelihood of experienced jetlag 7-16 times less likely, depending on what direction you are traveling in.
So how does it work? Well according to Dave Baurac of the Argonne labs, "The Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag Diet uses the same natural time cues that nature uses to maintain our healthy cellular rhythms, such as meal contents and timing, light and dark cycles and daily activity cycles."
Basically, it runs on the principle that what you eat and when you eat it is just as important as sleep when it comes to jet lag; and by preparing and conditioning your body with a feast/fast cycle, it is possible to minimise and even prevent jet lag’s effects.
The diet itself must be planned very meticulously, and followed precisely. This is because what we eat sends signals throughout our body, and gives the internal click a good idea of what time of day it is. When you arrive at your destination, you can reset your body clock by giving it the precise nutrition it has gotten used to at receiving at a precise time of day.
It begins three days before departure (with your flight on the fourth day). The first day is a with a feast day. This means you need to have 3 full meals and hearty meals. You need to eat these meals at regular times, at the same time each day. On a feast day you need to eat a breakfast and lunch high in protein (almost exclusively), followed by a high carb meal at dinner. Note: don’t eat any meat with dinner – you don’t want any more protein at this point. This helps the body produce the chemicals it needs to go to sleep.
After the feast day comes a fast day. As the name implies, very little is eaten during a fast day. Avoid protein and carbs, allowing yourself only salads and thin soups. This will deplete the body’s carb reserves, and help it get ready for the body clock switch. Ideally, you should consume no more than 700 calories on a fast day.
The third day is another feast day, where you do exactly the same as the first feast day, followed by another fast day – the day of the flight. The day of the flight must always be a fast day.
For each one of these days, you need to drink a coffee or some other caffeinated drink between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. each day (and only at this time). This is the only time of day where caffeine has been shown not to disrupt the body’s natural rhythm.
Next comes the body clock switch, which occurs during the flight. To make this as easy as possible, it is best to take an evening flight. Once you are in the air, you now begin your next feast day, but based on the time at your destination. This means you need to go to sleep and wake yourself up at breakfast time at wherever you are going. This will help shift your body clock onto the new time zone. Have a high protein breakfast and a cup of coffee. The protein and coffee will help your body wake up and synchronise with the time at your destination.
You now need to keep yourself awake and active until you land, be it by working on your computer, taking the occasional walk up the aisles and talking to people. You need to continue the feast day ritual, and have a high protein lunch, followed by a high carb dinner at your usual times (based on the time at your destination). At some point you will have landed, but this shouldn’t change the eating schedule – you need to eat in accordance with the time at your destination.
Once you have landed, make sure you head to bed sometime in the early evening. You should wake up refreshed and with minimal jet lag.