Q&A: Maintaining a Healthy Biological Clock

06 May 2020

Q&A: Maintaining a Healthy Biological Clock

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In the second part of our nutrition series, we spoke to Lead Performance Nutritionist at Team INEOS, Javier Gonzalez, to discuss why maintaining a balanced routine is key to maintaining a healthy biological clock.

Can you explain what is a biological clock and why is it so important to our wellbeing? 
Almost every cell in our body has a rhythm, which much of the time is in synchrony with our daily life. Keeping our biological clocks in rhythm is extremely important for our health. We notice the effects of our biological clocks when we are forcing our body to shift to a new time-zone and you can experience jetlag. This is the issue we associate most with our biological clocks, but sleep quality is also key and as a team we aim to help riders and staff align their body clocks so they can perform optimally in both training and race days. 
With travel being such a key part of professional cycling, how do you help riders prepare and adjust to changes in their body clocks?
The main thing we advise the riders is to try to reset their body clock to the time zone they are going to be traveling to relatively early. It’s probably most relevant to those travelling from South America to Europe, we’re not sure when they will next do that yet, and making sure that when they land they can adapt more quickly and the jetlag doesn’t last too long.
To prepare before the flight we would advise the riders to set their watches to the destination they are travelling to before you set off and they can start changing meals at that time too. So if the riders were on a transatlantic flight coming from South America, they would switch to European timings and have their breakfast, lunch and dinner at European times.  Sometimes on a flight they would turn down some of those meals when they provide them and stick to their watch to keep their body clocks on European time, aiming to minimise jetlag.

Javier Gonzalez

Overall, It all comes down to routine, making sure you go to bed at a similar time each day and ideally get bright light exposure early in the day and stick to regular meal times.
The current situation has seen many people’s lives and routines change. What are the challenges to maintaining a healthy biological clock? 
The same principles apply to everyday life, but in lockdown we lose some of our normal cues, for example it can be easy to forget which day of the week it is (!), and our routine changes. Also, our mealtimes move out of sync and we might sleep more - which can be a good thing, but sleeping at different times to usual can also affect our biological clock, so it’s important to stress the importance of having a regular bedtime and for the riders, trying to keep regular meal and training patterns as we would normally do.
What else can people do to maintain that balance?
During lockdown, many of us may lose our normal daily routine, which has the potential to impact on our biological clocks and health. Our body clocks are set by three things; light exposure, the food we eat and physical activity. 
Exposing yourself to some bright light early in the day can help, ideally you’d want to have access to daylight, but bright artificial light is also helpful early in the day. At the end of the day, try to avoid bright lights, such as those from laptops and phones, but if you need to use your phones and laptops in the evening, then use a blue light filter. 
In terms of your nutrition, try to eat at regular times and avoid snacking, especially late at night. Making sure you have a substantial period overnight where you are fasting, such as between 10 and 14 hours, can result in greater fat burning and ensure that you are not providing your body with an inappropriate stimulus for that time of day; and therefore keeping your biological clock aligned.