Amazing Places

This Military-Tested Diet Is Designed to Prevent Jet Lag

When the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, they accidentally invented a new ailment, too: jet lag. Flying across multiple time zones can leave people sleepy during the day, wide-awake at night, and unable to concentrate ever, really. Luckily, there's a military-approved solution, developed in the 1980s and still in use today: the Argonne diet.

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Why the Military Loves It

The Argonne diet was created by Charles Ehret, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, back in the 1980s. So although it was initially pitched as a lifehack for vacationers, detailed in Ehret's book "Overcoming Jet Lag," it started in a government context, and it's since been formally tested by the military.

Soldiers do really need to minimize their jet lag — they're often deployed many time zones away and have to land ready for combat. So in 2002, the researchers ran a controlled study of the Argonne diet with 186 soldiers. Those who didn't follow the diet were between 7.5 and 16.2 times more likely to experience jet lag symptoms than those who did. The study was small, but the differences are still striking. It's no wonder the Argonne diet has been used by the Army, the Navy, and the CIA.

The Argonne Diet

The diet hinges on alternating feasting and fasting for the four days leading up to your flight. It also hinges on breakfast, which is surprisingly important to your internal clock — it tells your stomach the day has officially started.

Before you even start your diet, figure out when it's breakfast o'clock at your destination. That's when each of the diet's "days" will start and end. For example, let's say you're flying from Berlin to Seattle. Since 9 a.m. in Seattle is 6 p.m. in Berlin, each 24-hour "day" of the diet would run from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m., Berlin time.

(You'd still eat at normal Berlin mealtimes, though — each "day" of the diet would start with start with dinner, and end with lunch.)

Then, eat like this:

Day 1: Feast! This means high-protein meals like bacon and eggs for breakfast and lunch to keep your motor revved, and a high-carb, low-protein meal like pasta with red sauce for dinner to make you a little drowsy. You should only consume caffeine between 3 and 5 p.m. in your home time zone.

Day 2: Fast! This means eating only light foods — broths, salads, toast, et cetera — for every meal. Again, you should only consume caffeine between 3 and 5 p.m. in your home time zone.

Day 3: Feast a second time!

Day 4: Fast a second time! This is the day of your flight, so you'll fast at least partially on the plane. When the clock strikes breakfast time in your destination — so at 9 a.m., Seattle time, to stick with the Berlin to Seattle example — eat a high-protein breakfast. Then stretch, surround yourself with as much natural (or unnatural) light as possible, and above all, stay awake! When you land, you should be feeling fresh as a daisy (that just took a transatlantic flight).

If you're traveling for pleasure instead of a life-or-death work trip, though, you can try a modified version of the Argonne diet It's basically just Day 4, but with a true, albeit shortened, fast. You can't eat or drink anything but water for 15 or so hours. It hasn't been as rigorously tested as the Argonne diet, but anecdotally, it checks out.

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Check out the book where the diet first appeared: The 1987 edition of "Overcoming Jet Lag" by Charles Ehret and Lynne Waller Scanlon is available on Amazon. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mae Rice October 19, 2018

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