In this insightful article fitness and conditioning guru, Dr Craig Duncan, tells us how to overcome the negative effects of travel on performance.
It’s suggested that playing at home gives a significant advantage to a team. Home crowd, familiarity with conditions and minimal changes to normal life appear to be the major reasons for this advantage. Alternatively, these positives for the home team are the negatives for the away team. But what can we do to manage these issues?
In a country as large as Australia, travel is a major issue that must be overcome for a team to be successful – and the mode of travel matters. A three-hour bus trip can have as many issues as a six-hour plane trip. Depending on the mode and length of travel the effects may include sleep deprivation, dehydration, muscle stiffness and loss of appetite.
International travel and travel that requires changes in time zones appears to have the most negative effect. It is believed that these issues are related to a person’s circadian rhythms being out of synch. For instance, a human may be at their best in respect to strength and cardiovascular endurance at 3-5pm and this may be the time of kick-off at the travel destination. However, 3pm at the destination might be 3am at the player’s home base, which coincides with when the player would normally be asleep. Thus, it is easy to see how performance can be affected.
To negate the effect of travel, every club must have a travel plan for each destination. This plan should be formulated with input from the players, coaching staff and human performance team and it is vital there is a person completely focused on this plan during the season. Once the plan is formulated it must be monitored and adjusted if required. The plan must also allow for individual differences as players can be affected in different ways and must focus on pre travel, during travel and post travel.
One major issue during travel is hydration. I will test hydration levels prior to flying and then ensure players know exactly how much they should be drinking pre, during and post flight. I will also test hydration levels when we arrive at our destination. Caffeine and caffeinated drinks should not be consumed before or during flights as they will have a negative effect on hydration and may also disrupt sleeping patterns.
Players should also be encouraged not to over-eat during the flight. It is best to organise with the airline specific meals if required and to have healthy snacks available. It is also important to have in-flight flexibility programs so players can avoid muscle tightness.
On arrival, I encourage a team walk or group stretching. The first training session post-arrival should be light and focus on flexibility and mobility. Massage and pool work can also enhance flight recovery and should be implemented. There are also a number of products that can be beneficial, including compression garments (reduction in muscle soreness), Gastrolyte (electrolyte replacement), Synthetic Melatonin (help in regulating internal clock – not presently available in Australia) and humidifier masks, which help to decrease risk of airborne disease and dehydration.
Whatever the mode or length of travel, you must have a travel plan for every destination. In professional sport, travel is a major part of preparation and more attention should be given to getting this part of the preparation right. Having a travel plan can decrease the disadvantages of playing away from home so players can perform to their maximum potential.
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Dr Craig Duncan, http://www.drcraigduncan.com/wp-content/uploads/travel-article.pdf