Elite athletes often have to travel long distances to compete, and many times have to perform with little time to recover. This review looked at the research regarding the effect of long haul travel on athletic performance.
14 studies were identified relating to soccer, skeleton, gymnastics, wheelchair basketball, rugby league and rowing, and assessed psychometric markers, physiological markers and performance markers.
Whilst most athletes reported feeling jet lagged following long haul (LH) flights, measures such as wellness, mood and recovery-stress questionnaires were not affected.
Some studies showed disturbances in heart rate variability, salivary cortisol and melatonin levels, blood pressure.
In regards to performance metrics, measures of strength (grip test) and muscular power (countermovement jump) appear to be more significantly affected when compared to running assessments and competition output (more ecologically valid measures), which in some cases were actually seen to have improved.
Most studies showed a greater impact of eastward travel compared to westward travel.
Despite inducing jetlag, and altering some physiological measures and performance outcomes for between 3-11 days post-flight, it appears that due to the mutli-faceted nature of sports performance, athletes are often able to compensate and perform at their optimal levels. The research in this area, however, is still inconclusive. Optimal preparation for competition following long haul travel likely needs to be tailored to the individual athlete based on their personal responses.
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Rossiter, A, Warrington, GD, and Comyns, TM. Effects of long-haul travel on recovery and performance in elite athletes: asystematic review. J Strength Cond Res