Improve Your Performance When Traveling Abroad by Gary Miller Olympic Ski Coach, Founder, and Host

March 03,2023

Gary Miller Skiing in the Alps

As a competitor, coach, and businessman for the past 40+ years, I’ve crisscrossed the globe at least a hundred times – maybe more. No matter how many times I traveled “over the pond,” I suffered the ills of Jet Lag. Some trips I didn’t feel too bad upon arrival, and others were just plain miserable – with symptoms lasting for days. You cannot escape it. The only thing you can do is minimize the effects.

Today, there are lots of “so-called” remedies for Jet Lag. Trust me, I have used most of them at one time or another. Some work a little, and others don’t work at all. Amazingly, I finally found a “system” that works well and doesn’t involve taking some funky concoction of vitamins, herbs or whatever.

Let’s first delve into the root of the problem. Crossing multiple time zones, from light to dark (or vice versa), while sitting in an aluminum tube at 36,000 feet, your circadian rhythm will be affected. We’ve known this for a long time. However, most people who travel internationally just seem to accept that Jet Lag is a fact of life.

Huh? Yep, it’s become a forgone conclusion that you’re going to get Jet Lag on your overseas trip. However, it shouldn’t be this way. Why? For two reasons:

  1. If you’re an athlete or a business executive, performance is paramount for success, why take the risk?
  2. If you’re an average Joe or Jane and paid top dollar for a week’s vacation in Europe, why waste the first few days feeling miserable?

Consider these scenarios that occur each and every day:

What about the businessperson who has spent hours, days and weeks preparing for a major presentation that is crucial for his or her company? Putting all that effort into something, only to feel Jet Lagged and sub-par when you have to deliver? Crazy!

What about the elite sports team that flies all the way to Europe or Asia for a major sporting event, where a win would move them up in the overall standings, yet they show up feeling like they had already played the game? We saw it with the Green Bay Packers who played in London this season. They played ok in the first half but fell apart and lost the game in the 4th quarter. Jet Lag catches up with you. Double crazy!

Folks – scenarios like this happens every day, all over the world, and after so many years of international travel, you would think we would know better. Nope. Still happens, all the time. I’ll give you another example:

It’s 2014, and I’m coaching the U.S. Ski Team, Women’s World Cup Tech (which means the ladies who ski the technical events – slalom and giant slalom). We have the best female skier in the world on our roster, and the second World Cup Slalom race of the season is in Levi, Finland. It’s the end of November and we’re training on snow at Copper Mountain, Colorado. We have to fly from Denver to Boston to Stockholm and on to Levi (which is a very long journey), and our head coach wants to leave three days prior to the race. Remember, when flying to Europe, you jump into tomorrow quickly. I begged him to make it 5 days (as I was well versed on the effects of Jet Lag), but he was convinced we would lose valuable training time in Colorado for one race. Well, as you can imagine, the head coach makes the decision, and I lost the argument.

Levi, Finland is a stunning location, about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. However, not a climate paradise from November through February, where the sun comes up around 10:00am and cruises along the horizon until around 2:00p. Therefore, it’s cold and dark most of the time – which is in stark contrast to Colorado where we had sun from around 7:30a until 4:30p. You see where I’m going with this, right?

So, we depart three days prior to the race and encounter weather issues in Boston (because it’s winter), and our flight is delayed. Long story short, we arrive late on the night prior to the race. Our athletes are exhausted and Jet-Lagged from not only the long flight, but also the delays. In 6 hours, they have to be up and on the slopes in Levi, in the dark and expected to perform at their peak. Our best athlete? Sadly, it was probably one of her worst performances in that event. This situation could have been avoided with proper planning, in addition to utilizing a system to combat Jet Lag.

Je Lag experts will tell you that for a 6-hour change in time zones, the normal recovery time to reach 100% performance would be 12-24 hours per time zone or 3-6 days. The following season (2015), and going forward, the U.S. Ski Team now makes every effort to give their athletes a minimum of 3 days to recover and acclimate when traveling abroad. This past season, the Women’s World Cup Tech Team spent the week prior to the aforementioned World Cup race, training in Levi. The result? Two victories in two races.

Fortunately, due to advances in science and technology, we are getting better at finding systems that can not only mitigate the symptoms of Jet Lag but come close to eliminating the problem almost entirely. Just this year, I met the CEO of Uplift – a company at the forefront of providing travel performance, recovery, sleep, and well-being to travelers. A few weeks later on a trip to Switzerland, I was able to implement their Uplift system to overcome Jet Lag and it worked brilliantly!

As the owner of a travel company, having Uplift in my travel quiver is a huge advantage for a couple of reasons. One, as a host and ski coach, I arrive fresh and am “on my game” from day one, making sure our guests arrive safely and get settled. Two, if our guests implement Uplift, they arrive and can ski, bike or golf with normal energy levels the next day vs. feeling sleepy in the afternoon. When you come to Europe for sports, the last thing you want to do is waste the first 2-3 days feeling drained of energy.

You would think after a century of international air travel, the airlines would have evolved enough to better help passengers overcome Jet-Lag. No such luck. They are still following the same old protocol by serving drinks, then a meal service and then lights out for a few hours. With food service quality at an all-time low, why would you want to eat their food anyway? Unless you’re in Business Class or First Class, the food is not worth feeding to your pet.

For maximum performance on any overseas trip, whether it’s for business or pleasure, you need a Flight Plan – which is designed by the experts. It’s no different than competing in a sporting event, manufacturing a widget or running a management meeting – paying attention to the details is paramount to optimum performance. You or your company just spent a lot of money on an international flight, so don’t piss it away by following outdated airline procedures and end up feeling janky for a couple days.

Here is a simple and effective Flight Plan developed by the experts at Uplift:

  • Time your caffeine for when you need to sleep during travel and for your new time zone – it will better allow you to reset your circadian rhythm (I am never going to give up my caffeine.  I would suggest that starting the day that you travel, you time your caffeine intake to before noon local time at your destination.  That way caffeine does not interfere with your new sleep schedule.)
  • Plan to eat at home or before you board the flight, something easy to digest – I prefer a salad with protein and a fruit drink.  If you can’t eat at home, stick with something simple and healthy like a yogurt parfait.
  • Reset your watch to the destination time zone and DON’T LOOK BACK!
  • After take-off begin to shut down and use your Eye Shades, Ear Plugs or Noise Cancelling Headphones (these are great ways to reduce the stress that flying puts on your body)
  •  If you’re able to sleep on planes – go for it. If not, then active reset is important and will help you get thru the next day. (Once on the plane try to sleep only during the normal sleep times of your destination.  This will help your body clock adjust.  If you are on a day flight going East, do NOT sleep, because it will disrupt your ability to sleep when you arrive that night at your destination.)
  • Wear compression socks to eliminate swelling in your feet and prevent blood clots.
  • Bring your own neck pillow – vs. using the standard airline pillow.
  • Dress comfortably – I prefer wool zip-turtlenecks and a light sweater or vest over the top.
  • Skip the Dinner served in the middle of the night and stay hydrated. Do not drink alcoholic beverages on the flight – the air at 36,000 ft. is very dry and can enhance dehydration.
  • (The Aerospace Medical Association recommends that you drink .25L (or 8 ounces) of water per hour on a flight.  I personally find this to be too much water, but I drink at least .25L every 2 hours. )Drink a 1L bottle of water with your meal prior to boarding and bring a 1.5L bottle of water onboard.
  • Watching movies, scrolling your phone for hours etc. will expose you to light and make it harder to adjust, minimize this. Just takes a little discipline. You can catch that Netflix on the other side.
  • Be liberal in using a saline solution to keep your sinuses from drying out.  In addition to helping keep you hydrated, the saline helps disinfect what you breath.  Hand sanitizer is also suggested.  

Now the fun part! For the ultimate in Travel Performance, fire up your Uplift app and begin utilizing their recovery system. Seriously – it works!

  • On arrival take 5-10 minutes to relax and use Uplift prior to getting exposed to too much natural light or sun. You are now on local time, do everything on local time with special attention to the following.
  • Day One
    • Stay hydrated, limit alcohol especially if you are going to altitude.
    • Get natural light and watch Sunset / Dusk the first two days.
    • The Food is great but try to go easy the first 24-36 hours to give your digestive system a chance to adjust.
    • Do everything in your power to stay awake until at least 10:00p that first day.
    • Go to sleep in a totally blacked out room.
  • Next Days
    • Stay on local time and get natural light each day prior to 10am (15 minutes if sunny and 30 if cloudy)
  • Return Trips from Europe to USA - Long Day as you are up in the middle of the night at home to return.  Follow the tips for flying with a nap or rest earlier in the flight if you are tired so as not to interfere with your sleep after you return home.  Reset to your home time with Uplift when you land, if you have connecting flights and long layovers then when you first land in the USA.  You are now back home in good form and will rest well in your own bed.

Follow these simple tips and incorporate the Uplift system and you’ll not only experience more energy upon arrival, but more importantly perform as your best at sports and/or deliver the best presentation ever! Safe travels!

#jetlag #travelperformance #skiing #adventuretravel #sleep #recovery #jetlagged #resilience #skiingislife 



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"Lost Time is Never Found Again" Ben Franklin

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