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Travelling as an Athlete

20 Oct 2016
Randall Cooper
I’ve been fortunate to have travelled all over the world in my role as a sports physio with elite sporting teams, but also with my business. The cliché is that it’s more about the journey than the destination, but when you’re travelling to participate in a sporting event the travel bit isn’t all that much fun. More importantly, if you’re looking to perform at your peak it’s critical to not let the journey ruin your performance – which it can if you’re not prepared. Here’s 5 key tips on how to travel well as an athlete;

1. Plan your sleep

If you’re travelling to a new time zone, remember it will take approximately 1 day to adjust to every 1 hour difference in time. You can start adjusting before you leave, either by gradually getting up earlier or later depending on which way you’re going. Your body will naturally peak at certain times during your circadian rhythm so it’s important to completely get over any jet lag before the gun goes.

The other thing to consider is where you’ll be sleeping. Hotel rooms are frequently over-air conditioned and lack natural airflow, making it easy to dehydrate quickly. Keeping the room cool and comfortable with natural air will better approximate your home environment and likely to give you a better night’s sleep. These days I use mainly use Airbnb for this reason (that’s not an endorsement by the way!).

2. Move as much as you can

Whether you’re travelling by plane, train or automobile, travel is generally a sedentary activity in reasonably awkward positions. If you’re normally active, the sudden change can upset the apple cart. The most common areas people have trouble with when travelling is stiffness in the spine and tight hip flexors. As much as you can – move and stretch. If you’re travelling by plane walk up and down the aisle, and rather than sit around in the lounge or departure gait keep walking around whilst waiting for your flight. Many athletes go straight from the airport into a light training session (no matter how tried they feel). It helps the body get over the insult of travel quickly.

3. Watch your hydration status

I’ve already mentioned dry hotel rooms, but access to your ‘normal’ water and foods can put people off their fluids. Plan on buying plenty of bottled water if the water supply at your destination is not up to scratch. Sometimes the water is fine, but the difference in taste can put people off, so be prepared. Altitude can also dehydrate quickly, so if you’re staying above 1500m or so keep an eye on the colour of your urine. Yellow/orange = dehydrated. I won’t name the studies, but dehydration significantly reduces athletic performance.

4. Be cautious with different therapists

Take caution with getting treatment from someone new close the big event. Unfortunately I’ve seen it far too many times where people end up very sore or feeling ‘out of whack’ by getting a different kind of treatment which affects their performance. My advice is to be as self-reliant as possible when you’re on the road, and talk to your usual therapist about self maintenance strategies weeks/months before. However if you’re in real trouble with pain or a new injury, you need to roll the dice, see who you can, and hope for the best.

5. Don’t get sick

Obviously! But there’s two places where you’re going to come in contact with heaps of bugs and germs – hospitals and public transport. Hopefully you can steer clear of the hospitals, but public transport when travelling is almost unavoidable. Just be conscious of good hygiene. Wash your hands well, don’t touch hand rails and door handles, watch out for people who are coughing and spluttering etc. It’s easy to say, but when you’re somewhere new it’s easy to forget. Travel, stress, and tapering from a high training load also make you vulnerable.

I hope these tips help, and good luck!




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