Travel Tips

Jet Lag Diet

Adapted from Overcoming Jet Lag by Charles F. Ehret and Lynne Waller Scanlon

Jet Lag Avoidance Diet


Overcoming Jet Lag has different suggestions for overcoming jet lag according to the number of time zones traveled through. It also interjects the use of strong coffee or strong tea at the beginning of the intercontinental leg. This is a condensed version of the original jet lag avoidance diet which was developed for the diplomatic corps and the military. The JLAD tends to work as long as you faithfully follow the basic principles, even if you start the diet late.

The JLAD basically occurs over a four-day period and into the fifth day after you arrive. The first three days are days before embarking on your intercontinental journey. The fourth day and sometimes the fifth day of the journey are full traveling days. The last day is the day after your first full night in bed at your destination.

Principle #1

Beginning three days before your departure day, you must abstain from the consumption of any beverage or food that contains xanthines (caffeine, theophylline or theobromine), meaning specifically and respectively coffee (and cola), tea and chocolate. Xanthines affect one’s circadian rhythm (your day-night sleeping pattern), and since you are attempting to change your circadian rhythm through the use of the JLAD, this is the single most important aspect of the diet. The morning after your first night’s sleep at your destination, you will use xanthine containing beverages as a drug to help reset your circadian rhythm, but it only works if you have abstained at least four days from consumption of xanthines.

Principle #2: The Diet

This includes all days including the first full day at your arrival site after a night’s sleep. The diet is an alternating high calorie on the first, third and final day, and a very low calorie diet on the second and fourth day (departure day). High calorie days mean 2,000 calories or more, and low calorie days mean 600 calories, if you can do it. But regardless of whether it is a high or low calorie day, breakfasts and noon day meals must consist mainly of protein (for energy), and the supper or evening meal must be mainly carbohydrates (starches like potato or pasta) to facilitate sleep. Then the only difference between the high and low calorie days is the amounts of food (calories) you consume. Practical matters of the diet:

  • It is suggested that you eat eggs for breakfast since they are a very high protein meal. For lunch, on high calorie days, eat a can or half a can of spring water tuna fish. Canned tuna is 100% protein and is very filling. On low calorie days, a Slim-fast like meal is recommended.  Dinner: Pasta is always good, such as macaroni and cheese or a veggie lasagna. Larger portions on high calorie days and smaller portions on low calorie days plus a salad with minimal vinaigrette dressing.
  • Your day of embarkation is a low calorie day. Practically speaking, eat what is served. The evening meal when traveling east should be pasta rather than meat if possible. When traveling west, you should choose a meat dish to give you energy to keep you awake through a daylight flight or carbohydrates if it is a night flight.

Principle #3: Flying Issues

  • Choose a window seat, if possible, so that you can control the shade.  Regardless of which direction you are flying, you need to be well-hydrated before boarding the first flight and throughout your entire journey. Remember that the humidity on a plane is extremely low, 15%, and this will cause dehydration over the long run unless you counteract it with water only. Sodas are not good for you on long flights. Take water with lemon or lime to help cut your thirst
  • Flying west: You must stay awake the entire journey if at all possible. Keep your window shade up so light will strike you. The light affects special receptors behind your eyes that impact your circadian rhythm and is extremely important in rapid resetting of your day-night cycle. It is important to keep the shade open to facilitate the change of your circadian rhythm.  If you feel very sleepy, a 20 minute nap is acceptable and watching the in-flight movies or reading is fine.  You need to avoid a deep sleep until you are at your destination and going to bed if it is night, or staying awake until normal bedtime.
  • Flying east: Once on your intercontinental flight, eat your dinner as early as possible and go to sleep immediately after your dinner (hopefully a pasta or rice). Sleep as long as possible, or simply rest if not sleeping. Take ear plugs and use them to block out the noise. Also an eye mask can be helpful. When the sun comes up the next morning, open the shade and get that light into your eyes.  Eat a big, high protein breakfast.

Principle #4: Breaking Your Xanthine Fast

The first morning after the first full night’s sleep at your destination, break your xanthine fast before 8 a.m. with two or three cups of strong coffee or strong tea. You are using the caffeine as a drug. Then consume no more coffee, tea or colas for the rest of the day. You may have noncaffeinated drinks at any time during the diet.  Then keep yourself active during the daylight hours and avoid naps altogether for the next few days.

This JLAD requires a lot of discipline, but the results are well worth it!