One aspect of elite sport that is often overlooked is the effect of travel on the human body. Being able to cope with jet lag has been normalised, despite the often sickening effects it has on the rest of us. So how do the best athletes in the world do it?
So how do the best athletes in the world do it?
First off we need to understand what jet lag is and why it happens. The human body has numerous physiological processes that tend to work to a 24-hour cycle. This cycle is controlled by our exposure to sunlight and guides our sleep patterns.
When the relationship between sunlight and sleep is consistent, the body’s rhythms have better coordination. A regular sleep pattern is already a key part of most athletes’ training, but the introduction of travel immediately unsettles this.
Crossing three or more time zones makes these internal processes (or our clock) move out of sync from the time outside. For example, if you flew from London to Delhi, your body would still think it is in London when you arrive in India.
For athletes who are wanting to function to the absolute peak of their abilities, the symptoms of jet lag are an absolute nightmare. Sleeping becomes difficult and disrupted, mood swings can occur and the digestive system can struggle, resulting in a loss of appetite and sometimes difficulties in holding food down. General discomfort and displacement occur, which also mentally affects an athlete who needs to be in the right state of mind.
General discomfort and displacement occur, which also mentally affects an athlete who needs to be in the right state of mind. A greater distance travelled means a greater level of discomfort.
Jet lag only became an occurrence once passenger jet planes were invented. Humans could now cross time zones quicker than their bodies deemed possible. This coincided with the true globalisation of sport, including Formula 1.
Drivers of the day, such as Sir Jackie Stewart, were often seen jetting off across the planet as part of their playboy lifestyle. However as sports science had a relatively nonexistent presence research wise, there was little understanding of how dilapidating flight was on performance.
And unlike how driving an F1 car builds up your neck muscles, flying more frequently does not reduce the jet lag effect.
Sports science has changed beyond recognition since its conception, and international sports stars now have programmes that dictate when they should be resting and training to reduce the effect of jet lag on their performance. Most importantly, they have time for their body to become accustomed to the crossing of time zones. Traditionally it takes one day to readjust for every time zone traversed.
For Sebastien Buemi, Jose Maria Lopez and Stephane Sarrazin this is not the case. The three Toyota team-mates will be flying straight from the World Endurance Championship Prologue tonight after having completed several hundred miles at the high-speed Autodromo Nazionale Monza, to Mexico City where the fourth round of the Formula E season is taking place and a massive eight time zones away. Between leaving the plane and stepping into their cars for the first time they will have a precious few hours to
Between leaving the plane and stepping into their cars for the first time they will have a precious few hours to acclimatise to their new environment.
The flights themselves will be over 14 hours long, and will be used for sleep, despite the general consensus that exposure to light on westbound flights helps with jet lag. This is because the physical effort exerted while driving an LMP1 car at 200mph down the front straight at Monza is no easy feat.
Luxury quarters will also be used rather than a regular airline seat to prevent the bloating, stiffness and fatigue that results from long journeys sat down (although racing drivers technically do this for a living).
The drivers have had to receive a nod from the FIA to do all this, despite it being partially the FIA’s fault in the first place.
A gentleman’s agreement between the WEC and FE not to clash was broken, and once the FIA approved the calendars of both, it meant Mexico City became the first of several times this season where the two will collide on the diary.
The later clashes don’t offer the same freedom of drivers being able to compete in both as Mexico City has, and unfortunately for FE the contracts drivers have in the WEC means that that championship comes first.
Venturi and DS Virgin have managed to source replacements for Sarrazin and Lopez for the Shakedown today, but a separate calendar clash has meant e.Dams have been unable to get another driver to replace Buemi. They have resolved this problem by letting regular race driver Nicolas
They have resolved this problem by letting regular race driver Nicolas Prost shakedown both cars, but with a lap restriction so as not to gain an advantage on the revised Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. As Formula E events are restricted to one day of action the learning curve is very steep, meaning missing the trick in first practice is going to have more of an effect on your race than it would in
As Formula E events are restricted to one day of action the learning curve is very steep, meaning missing the trick in first practice is going to have more of an effect on your race than it would in F1. With shakedown drivers Tom Dillmann and Alex Lynn both different heights to the regular drivers, small compromises will have to be made to the car by the team, and data feedback must be extremely efficient from the two drivers who have never sat in an FE car on a race weekend before.
What Buemi, Lopez and Sarrazin will be attempting has the potential to go very wrong, and even the best pilots would normally take three to four days to fully acclimatise to such a leap across the planet. This weekend’s action will become a fascinating case study for clinical sleep research in sports science, and hopefully an equally as fascinating chapter in the 2016-17 season of Formula E.
The rest of the field don’t care for the academics though because they’re all focusing on one thing: beating Buemi.