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Got a Long Flight? Prepare for Takeoff

Close Up Of A In Flight Meal Consisting Of Salmon And Roast Beef


Eating healthy snacks on airplanes can help prevent jet lag.

Whether you're taking a six-hour flight across the country, a nine-hour hop across the pond or an epic journey covering several time zones around the globe, what you eat and drink in the air will affect how you feel when you land. Here, nutrition experts offer advice on how to eat so you'll have more energy.

1. Eat Lean Protein

Airline food offerings can be meager, so bring meals with you for the best options. Include lean protein foods such as boneless, skinless chicken; turkey breast; hard-boiled egg whites; and lean fish such as tuna, says Charles Platkin, Ph.D., editor of "Fat will make you tired and groggy," Platkin explains, while protein will give you energy and keep you feeling full. (Consider using a freezer pack to keep food cool.)

Other good sources of protein include roasted edamame, lean turkey or beef jerky, as well as those peel-and-eat containers of tuna or salmon. (Warning: They can be smelly.) Platkin advises avoiding processed and fried food, sugary items and white bread, because those foods may make you feel tired, unsettled and unsatisfied. 

2. Drink Water

Pack a bottle and fill it after you go through security or buy a bottle on the concourse, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian in Chicago and the author of The Flexitarian Diet. She says travelers should stay hydrated "before, during and after a flight" to ease jet lag and fatigue.

Platkin points out that "skin tone improves with adequate hydration," and that drinking plenty of water will help you look fresh when you land. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Both can be dehydrating and can interfere with your sleep cycle, says Platkin. Alcohol also adds calories and "will make you feel sluggish."

3. Enjoy Fruits and Veggies

Fruit and vegetables are full of water (for that all-important hydration), and fruit has healthy sugars. If you didn't raid your fridge for fresh produce before leaving home, you can find healthy options at many airports, though it might take a few minutes to explore beyond the rows of fast-food restaurants. Blatner says, "I've seen packs of carrots with dip [and] bowls of apples and oranges." Cibo Express Gourmet Market stores, now in several airports across the country (Minneapolis, Chicago and Orlando included), offer great-for-you prepared foods like kale and vegan taco salads, and some even have extensive salad bars.

If you can't find anything fresh, Platkin prefers freeze-dried fruits over dried, because dried have a high concentration of sugar and not a lot of fiber, "so they're not the best bang for your buck."  

4. Snack on Nuts  

On many flights, attendants offer a choice of cookies, pretzels or peanuts for a snack with your beverage. Choose the peanuts, says Platkin, who likes the option for the protein (although he advises watching the salt). Better yet, bring almonds or walnuts from home — separated into small portions, because they're high in calories — for a snack that "really does satisfy your hunger and give you a little bit of energy."

Or you can eat your nuts the way Bonnie Taub-Dix does. The author of Read It Before You Eat It and a nutrition expert in New York, Taub-Dix is a big fan of almond butter: "I don't leave home without it. It's like my American Express card." She says she always brings it on flights and, when she gets hungry, spreads it on whole-grain crackers or bread (she usually stuffs a jar in her suitcase as well, along with plastic knives and a box of crackers).

5. Get Moving 

Those frequent bathroom breaks from all that water-drinking are actually a good thing (for you, if not your seatmates). "It's important to get up and walk around a couple of times during a long flight," says Platkin. "It kick-starts your energy."

He adds that to further wake yourself up after you land, avoid the moving sidewalks and trains between terminals. Walking "gets rid of that groggy feeling" and revs up your body after so much high-altitude sitting.

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