“That’s when I’m the most productive,” Porzingis said this week as he mimed typing on a cellphone. “I go through my notes, I delete this, I do everything. I organize my life.”
Porzingis will have ample time to get organized when the Wizards fly to Japan this week for a pair of preseason games against the Golden State Warriors on Friday and Sunday. The team’s charter flight took off from Dulles International Airport at 2 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday and is scheduled to land just after 5 p.m. in Japan on Wednesday, meaning Porzingis, his teammates and the rest of the organization’s traveling party of about 100 will spend more than 14 hours in flight.
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Spending that long cooped up and breathing recycled air is a pain for anyone. For Wizards players, how well they weather the dehydration, disrupted sleep and jet lag that comes with long-distance air travel could make a difference on the court — both in Japan and, crucially, when they arrive home and play two more preseason games before the season begins. How well they travel is a matter of competitive advantage.
That’s why Sue Saunders Bouvier, who serves as the nutritionist for the Wizards, Mystics and Nationals, and Mark Simpson, Monumental Sports’ vice president of player performance, have been working for months to plan Washington’s trip to a T.
“We’ve given specific advice on when to put their eye masks on during the flight,” Simpson said.
The overarching message Saunders Bouvier and Simpson have told the players is don’t adjust. The Wizards are only on the ground in Japan for four full days, so any attempts to get on Japan time will do more damage than good on the other side of the trip.
To help Washington’s players trick their bodies into thinking they’re still on D.C. time, Simpson has provided everyone an infographic that details when, exactly, in the course of a 14-hour flight they should be getting up to stretch, eating their meals, opening the shade on a window seat and trying to rest. The team consulted with sleep specialist Chris Winter to determine how much sleep is needed. Before what Simpson and Winter have determined to be the players’ ideal bedtime, the team will lower the temperature in the plane’s cabin and serve food that aids sleep.
“There are a certain set of variables — we call them zeitgebers — that our brains use to figure out where we are in time,” Winter said. “Light, meal timing, social interaction, exercise … it’s really about being thoughtful about those type of sensory inputs and manipulating them so the brain doesn’t actually feel like it ever went to Tokyo.”
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Meal planning from Saunders Bouvier can help with that.
A successful trip, from a nutrition standpoint, starts from the moment players board. Players will be surrounded by food from then on to make sure their bodies are adequately fueled both on the long flight and on long bus rides they will have once they land in Tokyo. Saitama Super Arena, where the games are being played, is roughly a 25-mile drive away in Tokyo traffic.
“The theme of this trip is ‘snacks on a plane,’ ” said Saunders Bouvier, whose planning began five months ago with the simple question, “Is there Gatorade in Japan?” (No, but there are alternatives.)
Saunders Bouvier is trying to keep everything except the sports drinks the same.
“It’s very much routine based. It’s not just the time that you eat the meal, but it’s the makeup of your meal — it’s a little bit Pavlovian,” she said. “Eating breakfast at dinnertime might actually work in Japan because it’s dinner back in Washington, D.C., and having a little bit of a more savory breakfast that coincides with when we’d usually be having dinner, those are things that reduce the disruption of being on a completely inverted clock for seven days.”
Think steak and eggs for breakfast instead of just scrambled eggs and crepes instead of rice as a dinnertime starch. But speaking of carbs — watch out for those. Too many at dinner on the flight will energize the body and could disrupt sleep. Saunders Bouvier is encouraging players to eat a protein-dense meal before resting and providing enough options — lobster, shrimp, steak, chicken and vegan choices — to make anyone want to skip the rolls completely.
But even with all the support staff’s meticulous planning, not everything is in its control. Players and coaches will pass time on the plane how they choose, whether it’s Porzingis clearing out his inbox or veteran forward Taj Gibson passing the time his favorite way.
“You may open some wine, just get comfy and start telling stories,” said Gibson, 37, who doesn’t sleep so well on planes. “That’s the whole process of being on the plane. Get comfy, because we’re going to be around each other a lot.”