the Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Steering Groups of the British
Olympic Associationand Staff from Northwick Park Hospital
‘The Travelling Athlete’ for national governing bodies. A substantial amount
since and it is now timely to update the booklet for athletes intending to train
climates more extreme than our own. They also give advice on preparation for
travel and on general health precautions.
Individuals can ‘dip’ into the booklet and make use of the sections that are
The staff at the British Olympic Medical
further advice or explanations. Their address and fax and telephone numbers
Department of Health booklet “Health Advice for Travellers” available by
Travelling for competition requires a lot of preparation. If you are travelling as a group make sure
that you know which parts of the trip your manager or coach is dealing with and which you should
organise. For example, you will be responsible for obtaining a passport if you require one, whereas
someone else may be organising the tickets.
Ensure that your passport is up to date.
Buy travellers’ cheques and some local
Apply for a new one in good time. You can no
longer travel on a visitor’s passport. You will need to obtain a full EU Passport.
A good back-up is an international debit
Check whether you need a visa. Apply for
card, which can be used in international
one in good time. Ask your travel agent for
cash-point machines in most countries. Ask
Make a separate note of the numbers of your
passport, travellers’ cheques and credit/debit
Get insurance for both luggage and medical
cards, as well as the telephone numbers that
cover. Costs of medical treatment, especially
you should contact in case of loss. Leave
another copy of these at home with someone
that you can contact whilst you are away.
interfere with training, eating and getting
A cheap and convenient way to call home is
sleep; all of which will affect performance.
by using a telephone charge card. The card
Getting treatment will waste time and can be
is free. Calls made from abroad using one
will be charged to your next home phone bill.
or have other special dietary requirements
remember to tell the airline in advance so that
they can provide you with appropriate food.
Telling them at the check-in desk at the
Check travel arrangements, meeting points
Travelling in uniform can be a great help.
Officials are often more willing to help you
and smooth the way if there are problems.
Take something comfortable to change into
Try to keep together. Looking for people
on a long flight and something warm in case
Equipment and clothing that you compete in.
Official clothing for opening ceremonies etc.
Driving licence (if you are going to have use
of a car or hire one). Some countries require
an International Driving Licence with your
Prescribed medications with a note from your
photograph and your UK driving licence with
Food, drinks and any nutritional supplements
Money, travellers’ cheques, credit/debit cards
you normally use. Check customs if you are
unsure as to what you can take through.
Contact numbers for lost cards and cheques.
Sunscreen, sunglasses (goggles) and a hat.
the place where you are staying or of the
The correct clothing for the climate and the
Make sure that the airline or train company
Allow enough time between connections to
knows that you are bringing large equipment
Make sure that you have sufficient baggage
allowance on all of the aeroplanes you are
travelling on to cover your equipment.
baggage around. Check what the customs regulations are. You
equipment even if it is refunded on your
When travelling carry extra food and drinks with you. If you are travelling by road or rail, food may not
be available or may be costly. Aeroplane meals may not be sufficient. Also, a long period in an
aeroplane causes you to become dehydrated if you do not drink enough fluid.
Allow plenty of time for travel to the airport
Eat regularly. Carry some snacks to eat on
Telephone before to check that the departure
average passenger! Try to stick as closely as
possible to your normal diet on the plane.
hanging around at airports waiting for flights.
Have all essential items of medication with
If a problem arises e.g. flight delay, be
prepared to entertain yourself. Take books or
competition kit (especially shoes) with you in
your hand-luggage in case your bags are lost
games and cards can relieve boredom. Hand
held computer games are surprisingly time-
Do not drink alcohol at the airport or during
Ear plugs (available at most high street
the flight. This will increase the risk of
chemists) can be a great help if you plan on
becoming dehydrated during the flight and
Eat and drink sensibly, taking into account
take your lens case/solutions on board in
Avoid drinking too much tea, coffee and cola;
all of these may increase dehydration as they
contain caffeine which is a diuretic.
Take at least one litre bottle of fluid for
drinking during the flight. Ask the cabin staff
Get up and stretch occasionally to avoid
stiffness and swelling of your legs and feet.
Wear shoes that will be comfortable if your
Travelling in itself can be very tiring and often sleep is lost. Even if you have not travelled
across a large number of time zones, you may be tired the next day. Be prepared to have a few days
of low training intensity. Use this time to find your way around the accommodation and the training or competition venues.
Jet lag, which occurs when you have crossed a large number of time zones, is a result of your
body’s natural rhythms having to adapt to a new cycle of day and night. It may last for some days,
depending on the number of time zones crossed. Most people find that it is more severe when
travelling towards the east as opposed to westwards. As well as a general feeling of tiredness, the
symptoms may include; loss of concentration, loss of appetite, headache, dizziness, nausea and
If possible arrive in the new time zone well before competition.
To adjust fully, most people should allow up to 1 day for each time zone
shift. Readjustment is slightly quicker after westward travel.
The British Olympic Association Medical Committee advises great caution in the use of drugs such as
hypnotics (sleeping pills) or melatonin to help overcome jet lag. Melatonin is not licensed or available in
the United Kingdom and sleeping pills are only available on prescription. These drugs have
unpredictable effects, including prolonged drowsiness in some individuals and they may even slow
Only consider using sleeping pills or melatonin if you have used them before and know the effect on
you. It is essential that your team doctor and other sports science and medicine support staff, such as
team psychologist, are closely involved with your strategy to overcome jet lag as quickly as possible.
Adapt to the local time as soon as possible.
evening after a westward flight. This will help
Alter your watch to the local time on the
plane and try not to keep converting it back
evening after an eastward flight: This will
hour) in the new location should be avoided
help your body clock to adjust in the right
for a few days, as this may act to keep you
Take meals at an appropriate time for your
Adopt local sleep/wake patterns as soon as
Avoid large meals and caffeine containing beverages late at night as this may disturb
When crossing a small number of time zones
(3-5 hours) train at mid-day or early in the
Stay in daylight or bright artificial light during the day.
Your performance may be reduced if you are not used to exercising in the heat. It will be further
reduced if you become dehydrated. Exposure to hot conditions will help your body to adapt or
acclimatise. Undertake light training for 60 to 100 minutes for the first few days that you are in the
heat (or heat chamber). It is important to remember that as you adapt you will sweat more, which will
mean that you need to monitor your fluid intake carefully. Humidity levels in indoor sports halls can
lead to dehydration even when air conditioned.
Your heart rates for equivalent exercise will
be increased until you acclimatise to the
heat. You may need to adapt your training to
together with good advice on its use.
Consult a doctor if you have an illness that
During competition and training be aware of
could be dehydrating such as a fever, upper
respiratory tract infection or diarrhoea and
dizziness and lack of co-ordination. These
sickness. It may be necessary to reduce or
may be an indication of dehydration or heat
low as frequent changes from high to low
that you do not overheat. Warm-up in an air-
temperatures may cause upper respiratory
conditioned environment if possible.
Keep cool at night time so that you sleep
Reduce your body temperature after exercise
well. Do not turn off the air-conditioning.
by finding shade or an air-conditioned room.
Doing so will not help you to acclimatise.
Remember that you can burn even when it is cloudy. Also be aware that when it is sunny, but
also windy, you will feel cooler and not notice that you are burning. Shade provided by hats, trees and
awnings provides only partial protection from sunburn so make sure that you continue to use a high
protection suncream even in these situations.
Wearing a sunscreen with a Sun Protection
Factor (SPF) of 10 allows you to stay out in
before exposure to the sun. This will allow
the sun ten times longer without burning.
A sunscreen with a high SPF should be used.
Sunscreen should be reapplied regularly.
Use SPF 15 - 20 if you are fair-skinned, SPF
exposed skin with light clothes and wear a
Choose a sunscreen which is not oily, so that
sweat does not run into your eyes or make
Black and dark skin can burn so care should
your hands slip if you hold equipment.
burning is increased. Use a SPF of 20 and
wearing eye protection with a UV filter.
burning can occur 3 times faster than in
other hot, sunny areas of the world.
Sun reflects off water and will increase your
When you are beside water, wear sunscreen
chances of burning. Take care while in, on or
and sunglasses to counteract the reflection of
Reapply sunscreen after a swim, even if the
manufacturers claim that their product is
Have a T-shirt ready at the side to put on as
Even a mild reddening of the skin can be uncomfortable
and reduce acclimatisation and may impair temperature
The likelihood of dehydration increases when heat is combined with high humidity. The major way
that the body cools itself is by the evaporation of sweat. When the humidity is high, less sweat will
evaporate so the body temperature rises. In an effort to cool, the body will sweat more which can
quickly lead to dehydration. Dehydration may reduce your performance. If you are thirsty you are
As water is lost from your body you lose weight
This should be replaced with about 1½ times the
quantity of fluid lost (to allow for kidney function).
Look at your urine colour compared to at home.
If you are dehydrated it will be darker and you will
pass less urine. If this is the case increase your
volume of fluid and/or drink more often.
Check that you are not progressively losing
weight. This could be dehydration. If it is due
Check during training and competition how much
A decrease in weight indicates how much water
water you are losing as sweat. Weigh yourself
immediately before and after exercise. Do this
Replace this loss with about 1½ litres of fluid
without clothes both times, or change into dry
kit. Do not weigh yourself wearing sweat-
Drink this amount after competition.
drenched clothes. This will not show your water
Begin all training and competition hydrated.
Before going to bed place at least one drinks
Drink throughout, if your activity allows.
bottle beside your bed to drink from at night.
In conditions of high heat and humidity make
However, it is best to drink regularly through
an effort to drink enough fluid. This may
the day. Drinking too much before bed may
mean drinking more than double your normal
Using drinks designed to replace fluids and
Replace any weight loss that you note in the
electrolytes can help you to remain hydrated,
morning or after exercise by drinking more.
Assess how much weight you generally lose
during exercise and drink this amount of fluid
Before competition in the heat, determine
during training how much you need to drink
Make sure you drink half to one litre of fluid
before, during and after exercise in order to
30-60 minutes before you exercise to help
meal. Regardless of whether you feel thirsty
calories in your drink. It may need to be
or not, it is a good idea to drink at least half
diluted when you are using it for rehydration
a litre of water, diluted fruit juice or squash
that you do not take in excessive calories.
WHICH DRINKS OR STRENGTH OF DRINKS TO USE
The oxygen composition of the air is the same all over the world, but at altitude the pressure is
lowered. This reduction in pressure has little effect on someone who is resting, but greatly affects
people when they start to exercise. This applies especially above altitudes of 2000 metres (about 6000
feet), although you may notice a difference above 1800 metres and your performance and/or ability to
train can even be affected at 1500 metres.
The reduction in performance at altitude is greater in endurance sports which require more
oxygen, than in events that require power e.g. weight-lifting. The maximum rate at which the body can
use oxygen (the VO2 max) decreases with altitude and endurance is impaired. Both will improve with acclimatisation over a period of 2 to 3 weeks. At first you may suffer from tiredness as you exercise,
headaches and occasionally a feeling of nausea and difficulty in sleeping. These will pass as you acclimatise to the higher altitude.
On subsequent visits to altitude you may acclimatise faster. However, adaptation varies
between individuals and whilst some athletes will adapt quickly others may not.
You will easily become tired if you attempt your normal
You should be fit and healthy prior to visiting
Protect yourself from the sun which will be
more intense than at sea level. (See section
Training intensity should be reduced.
on ‘Protecting yourself from the sun’ for
Have longer rests and recovery periods.
Too great a volume or intensity of training
will result in symptoms of overtraining; such
altitude so ensure an adequate fluid intake.
as headache, loss of appetite, inability to
(See section on ‘Dehydration’ for advice).
sleep, general fatigue, and aching muscles
Eat more iron-rich foods before going to
constipation, so do not take iron tablets
unless advised by your GP, sports dietitian or
glycogen than the same activity at sea level.
before the trip to check iron stores. If these are low, your doctor may advise taking iron
supplements, and a further sample is then
recommended 2 weeks before departure. If
iron stores are still low, it would be best not
Exercise performance is reduced when the body is cold. The maximum rate at which the body
can use oxygen (VO2max) is reduced. Also lactic acid will appear in the blood at lower levels of activity. Both of these will reduce performance.
Several layers of thin clothing are better than
Try to select the correct clothing to avoid
one thick one. This will insulate you better
sweating. Damp clothing will increase the
from the cold and layers can be removed as
rate at which heat is lost from the body.
Avoid alcohol as this dilates the blood vessels
Choose your clothing relative to the intensity
which will increase the rate of heat loss.
of exercise. It is better at the beginning to
You will use more energy exercising in the
feel slightly cold as you will quickly overheat
cold than normal. Plan a snack every 2 hours
when training or competing in the cold.
The hands and feet should be well protected
to prevent chilblains or in extreme cases,
Sun at altitude and sun reflected off snow
Hypothermia is an extreme condition, but
signs of vagueness and lethargy should be
watched for in fellow athletes if they are very
‘Protecting Yourself from the Sun’.
Protect eyes from the wind. Cold wind can
freeze the surface cells of the eye.
Appropriate eye protection should be worn to
safeguard the eyes against light reflected
When travelling abroad always check with a
Have vaccinations as long as possible before
travel clinic if you need specific vaccinations.
competing, as some vaccinations can have
All athletes travelling abroad should have a
Hepatitis A vaccine. You can now have one
Find out if you need anti-malarial tablets.
vaccination of Havrix monodose which will
Check well in advance as the course has to
booster 6 months later. Check with a travel
continue to take them for 4 weeks after you
get back home. You may develop malaria after your return if you do not.
Athletes with a fever, higher than normal
heart rate at rest, severe muscle aches and
dehydrated if you have diarrhoea or have
Athlete’s foot should be dealt with quickly. It
If you have an illness which is chronic (e.g.
can lead to severe infections if left untreated.
asthma) or prolonged (e.g. glandular fever)
To help prevent catching infectious diseases
make sure that your training is appropriate,
you are clear about the treatment and follow
To reduce the risk of catching HIV or other
Some vaccines require a course of injections over a number of weeks.
Anti-malarial tablets have to be taken in advance of entering the country
where they are needed and continued for 4 weeks on leaving it.
Some countries do not have very good sanitation or clean water supplies. If you suspect this is the
case then follow the guidelines below.
Do not eat food from stalls on the street or in
markets. The hygiene may not be good. Also
showering, washing your face and shaving.
Be wary of salads and raw vegetables they
Eat in places well-known or recommended by
Where possible choose food that has been
Do not have ice in drinks. This may be made
Avoid spicy foods unless you are used to
Do not eat ice-cream in hot countries where
Do not drink the tap water. Stick to bottled
water. Check that the seal on the cap is
intact, as some places refill the bottles with
Remember to use bottled water to clean your
Remember that your health and recovery are vital to the success of your team, so
it is just as important for you to follow the advice in The Travelling Athlete on
travel and speeding adjustment to new time zones as it is for competing athletes.
You should consider travelling out before the main team departs in order to adjust and recover before the arrival of your athletes.
Get fit and as near to your ideal weight as possible. If in doubt how to do this,
refer to the BOMC or to the position statement of the American College of
Sports Medicine* for advice. If you have any medical condition that could be
dangerous or might interfere with your performance, such as heart or lung
disease or are on any regular medication, you must discuss this with your
team doctor or the BOA’s Chief Medical Officer.
The physiological challenge of travel, including adjustment to heat, altitude
and general travel fatigue as well as jet lag and crossing time zones, is greater
Read and use the Well-Being in the Air programme on British Airways. This
gives sensible advice on light eating, rehydration, relaxation, stretching and
gentle exercise. Heed the advice in The Travelling Athlete on sleeping pills,
There may be an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and subsequent
pulmonary embolus after long haul flights. If you are on hormonal treatment,
such as the oral contraceptive pill or HRT, there is an increased risk of DVT.
Regular stretching and exercise will reduce this risk. Follow the advice in the
Well-Being in the Air, particularly exercising your calves by moving your feet
up and down. A paediatric aspirin (75mg) may also reduce the risk but should not be taken if you have a history of stomach ulcers and medical advice should
be sought if you have a history of asthma.
* Position statement of the American College of Sports Medicine in Med Sci
Sports Exerc 1998 30:975-991 “The recommended quantity and quality of
exercise for developing and maintaining cardio-respiratory and muscular fitness
and flexibility in healthy adults”.
We acknowledge the substantial contribution made by the following individuals:-
Dr Richard Budgett, Richard Godfrey, Paul Davies, Rachel Ramsay and Steve
Professor Geoffrey Pasvol, Department of Infection and Tropical Diseases.
Members of the BOA Acclimatisation Working Party
Dr Richard Budgett, BOMC; Lynn Booth, Chairman of the BOA Physiotherapy Committee; Professor Ron Maughan, University of Aberdeen; Professor Tom
Reilly, Liverpool John Moores University; Mr Brian Miller, BOA Consultant
Psychologist, Mr Nick Fellows, BOMC; Mr Richard Godfrey, BOMC; Mr Malcolm
Arnold, British Athletics Coach; Mr Kevin Hickey, BOA; Mr Richard Simmons,
BOA; Mr David Flower, British Airways.
Members of the BOA Exercise Physiology Steering Group
Professor Tom Reilly, Liverpool John Moores University; Greg Whyte, University of
Wolverhampton; Professor Neil Spurway, University of Glasgow; Professor Tudor
Hale, University of West Sussex; Professor Colin Boreham, University of Ulster;
Dr Richard Budgett, BOMC; Mr Nick Fellows, BOMC; Mr Richard Godfrey, BOMC;
Members of the BOA Nutrition Steering Group
Professor Ron Maughan, University of Aberdeen; Dr Paul Greenhaff, University of
Nottingham; Dr Richard Budgett, BOMC; Jane Griffin, BOA Consultant
Nutritionist; Peggy Wellington, Consultant Nutritionist; Gill Regan, Consultant
Nutritionist; Mr Nick Fellows, BOMC; Mr Kevin Hickey, BOA.
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