Circadian disruption and remedial interventions: Effects and interventions for jet lag for athletic peak performance

S. Forbes-Robertson, E. Dudley, P. Vadgama, C. Cook, S. Drawer, L.P. Kilduff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


Jet lag has potentially serious deleterious effects on performance in athletes following transmeridian travel, where time zones are crossed eastwards or westwards; as such, travel causes specific effects related to desynchronization of the athletes internal body clock or circadian clock. Athletes are particularly sensitive to the effects of jet lag, as many intrinsic aspects of sporting performance show a circadian rhythm, and optimum competitive results require all aspects of the athletes mind and body to be working in tandem at their peak efficiency. International competition often requires transmeridian travel, and competition timings cannot be adjusted to suit individual athletes. It is therefore in the interest of the individual athlete and team to understand the effects of jet lag and the potential adaptation strategies that can be adopted. In this review, we describe the underlying genetic and physiological mechanisms controlling the circadian clock and its inherent ability to adapt to external conditions on a daily basis. We then examine the fundamentals of the various adaptation stimuli, such as light, chronobiotics (e.g. melatonin), exercise, and diet and meal timing, with particular emphasis on their suitability as strategies for competing athletes on the international circuit. These stimuli can be artificially manipulated to produce phase shifts in the circadian rhythm to promote adaptation in the optimum direction, but care must be taken to apply them at the correct time and dose, as the effects produced on the circadian rhythm follow a phase-response curve, with pronounced shifts in direction at different times. Light is the strongest realigning stimulus and careful timing of light exposure and avoidance can promote adjustment. Chronobiotics such as melatonin can also be used to realign the circadian clock but, as well as timing and dosage issues, there are also concerns as to its legal status in different countries and with the World Anti-Doping Agency. Experimental data concerning the effects of food intake and exercise timing on jet lag is limited to date in humans, and more research is required before firm guidelines can be stated. All these stimuli can also be used in pre-flight adaptation strategies to promote adjustment in the required direction, and implementation of these is described. In addition, the effects of individual variability at the behavioural and genetic levels are also discussed, along with the current limitations in assessment of these factors, and we then put forward three case studies, as examples of practical applications of these strategies, focusing on adaptations to travel involving competition in the Rugby Sevens World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Finally, we provide a list of practice points for optimal adaptation of athletes to jet lag. © 2012 Adis Data Information BV. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-208
Number of pages24
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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