The Sherwood Report

Air Travel (Issue No. 17, Part 3)


Studies have shown elite performance begins to be affected after just six hours at altitude–thus athletes plan for acclimatizing when going to somewhere like Mexico City or Johannesburg.

Airplanes' pressurization is akin to spending time in those cities, and many athletes are traveling anywhere from 10-20 hours for a competition, yet researchers couldn’t find any evidence that coaches or athletes include time on an airplane as time spent in altitude during pre-competition planning.

The research suggest that’s a mistake. Particularly since there's a common view that the second day at altitude is more difficult than the first. People don't realize Day One was on the plane.

Also, effects of air travel persist for days after the journey. In a study of two national skeleton teams, the teams had poorer jump performance and neuromuscular control for a day or two after travel. Similarly, for a 2016 UConn study, scientists had athletes travel cross-country twice in a 3 day period. The athletes had slower times in a 40 yard sprint, poorer performance in an agility drill, and a decreased vertical jump during a simulated competition, and their underperformance continued for two days after they’d returned home. 

Ashley Merryman