Travel fatigue management: designing a personal travel profile for players

Jan 3, 2022 | Home News, Performance

Travel in Euroleague competition

The Euroleague season 2021/22 is played in 11 countries and 16 cities. Common transportation vehicles for teams are airplanes (charter or commercial), trains, buses. When traveling, players spend most of their time on an airplane, combined with bus transportation (distance from hotel/arena to airport or vice versa). Air travel can be short-haul (<6 h) and long-haul (> 6 h). Air travels in Euroleague competition are mostly short-haul trips. The distances between cities vary from 4153 km (Madrid-Kazan) to 238 km (Milan-Monte Carlo). Air-travel time varies from 5h10′ (Madrid-Kazan) to 59′ (Kaunas-St.Petersburg). The greatest distances between the Euroleague cities and the distances between the cities where NBA teams play are very similar. Madrid and Kazan are far apart 4153 km with 2 time zones (in the summer time 1 time zone), while Boston and Los Angeles are distant from each other 4169 km with 4 time zones. Due to these facts it is necessary to seriously and systematically approach the organization of travel in order to protect the health of players and improve their performance. Recently, upon ELPA’s initiative, the game/travel schedule for Euroleague teams has been optimized to shorten the overall travel distance, while opportunities for improvement remain.

Picture 1: Map of the Euroleague clubs and cities

Travel fatigue

What is the difference between jet-lag and travel fatigue?

Jet-lag is happening after rapid transmeridian travel (air travel across three or more time-zones) or trans-latitudinal travel including crossing of three or more time zones, when the circadian system cannot immediately adjust to the light–dark cycle in the new time zone. This causes internal desynchrony, between both the master and peripheral clocks, as well as with sleep homeostasis (1).

Travel fatigue refers to short-term exhaustion and tiredness associated with any long journey following trans-latitudinal travel (north–south/south–north) or transmeridian travel. It is a complex summation of physical, physiological and psychological factors that accrue during an individual trip, and could accumulate over a competition season (1).

Air travel across three time zones has been reported to induce susceptibility to travel fatigue, increase injury risk, and reduce game performance (2). Limited data is reported on the acute effects of short-haul air travel on physical performance, physiological and perceptual responses, and ensuing game outcome or technical and tactical performance indicators. After short-haul air travel, symptoms of travel fatigue may include lethargy, confusion, and headaches, resulting from the conditions encountered during travel. It includes exposure to mild hypoxia, cramped conditions with restricted activity, and disruption of routines such as eating and sleeping patterns (3). Frequent air travel can negatively affect players’ hydration status, nutritional behaviors, sleep quality, and sleep quantity, thus extending their time for sufficient recovery between games and/or training (4). As a result, air travel should be considered as an additional stressor imposed on players in conjunction with competition and training schedules (4), especially when less than 72h is experienced between games. One of the main consequences associated with frequent air travel exposure is “travel fatigue”. Travel fatigue refers to feelings of disorientation, light-headedness, gastrointestinal disruption, impatience, lack of energy, and general discomfort that follow traveling across time zones (5). The magnitude of travel fatigue depends on many factors such as regularity, duration, and conditions of travel (5).

Specific causes of air-related travel fatigue include the following (6):

• Prolonged exposure to mild hypoxia.

• Difficulties of standing, walking, and moving around due to limited room inside the   air cabin.

• Reduced air quality in the cabin, which may impair immune function.

• Dry cabin air and low hypobaric pressure potentially causing dehydration.

• Prolonged sitting in a cramped position reducing mobility and flexibility, and ankle fluid retention.

• Disruption of routines (e.g., eating and sleeping).

• Noise and vibration of plane and cabin (e.g., sleep disturbance).

• Formalities and processes of air travel (e.g., check-in, security check, boarding, baggage claim) may induce additional fatigue and negative mood states.

Designing a personal travel profile

Based on a large amount of scientific researches (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) but also on expert and players experience, it is possible to create interventions that can help players face demanding and frequent travels. Interventions can be divided into pre-travel, during travel and post travel.

Table 1, shows the contents and methods for the prevention and management of travel fatigue according to travel duration. The application of the presented contents and methods is of course strictly individual. Therefore, this table can be used to create a travel profile for each individual player.

Table 1: Player personal travel profile (application of appropriate content and methods for prevention and managing travel fatigue according to travel duration).

Notes:

*Special attention should be paid to the organization of the trip when playing two Euroleague games per week. To optimize game schedule it should be considered that after matches with longer trips the next match can be played after a minimum of 72 hours.

** Melatonin should not be used routinely but in case the player has sleep disorders.

***In addition to the coffee itself, some energy drinks also contain caffeine which contains  higher doses. WADA also monitors caffeine doses, so caution and systematic use is required.

When creating personalized travel profiles, it is necessary to take into account the following factors:

  • player’s current state of health (e.g. injuries, illnesses, acute inflammations, immune status)
  • body size (e.g. securing special status for players higher than 2.05)
  • seating and laying mechanics
  • mental profile (e.g. fear of flying)
  • travel experience (e.g. special attention and care to young players)
  • nutritional habits (e.g. some players have no appetite during the flight)
  • sleeping habits (e.g. some players cannot sleep during the flight)

Such profiles can be modified with new content and methods over time. Any changes should be based on precise and detailed monitoring of the player’s behavior and reactions (before, during and after the trip) and in particular of his performance in the game.

TRAVEL FATIGUE EXISTS. ACKNOWLEDGE IT. SPORTS SCIENCE CAN HELP.

References:

  1. Van Rensburg, D.C.J. et al. (2021). Managing Travel Fatigue and Jet Lag in Athletes: A Review and Consensus Statement. Sports Medicine (2021) 51:2029–2050. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01502-0.
  2. Huyghe, T., Scanlan, A.T., Dalbo, V.J., Calleja-Gonzalez, J. (2018). The Negative Influence of Air Travel on Health and Performance in the National Basketball Association: A Narrative Review. Sports 2018, 6, 89; doi:10.3390/sports6030089.
  3. Fowler, P., Duffield, R., Vaile, J. (2014). Effects of Domestic Air Travel on Technical and Tactical Performance and Recovery in Soccer. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2014, 9, 378 -386 http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/IJSPP.2013-0484
  4. Leatherwood, W.E.; Dragoo, J.L. Effect of airline travel on performance: A review of the literature. Br. J. Sports Med. 2013, 47, 561–567. [CrossRef] [PubMed].
  5. Reilly, T. Ergonomics in Sport and Physical Activity: Enhancing Performance and Improving Safety, 1st ed.; Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL, USA, 2010; pp. 75–95.
  6. Huyghe, T., Calleja-Gonzalez, J. (2020). Long-Distance Traveling in Basketball: Practical Applications Based on Scientific Evidence. L. Laver et al. (eds.), Basketball Sports Medicine and Science, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-61070-1_74
  7. Duffield, R., & Fowler, P. M. (2018). Domestic and international travel: Implications for performance and recovery in team-sport athletes. In M. Kellmann & J. Beckmann (Eds.), Sport, Recovery, and Performance: Interdisciplinary Insights (pp. 183–197). Abingdon: Routledge.

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