Nutrition for air travel

What you eat and drink on an airplane can be of vital importance for avoiding jet lag and malnutrition.

When it comes to considering how we should eat during the excitement and rush of air travel, we usually give it a miss. Nevertheless, what we eat and drink on a flight are the basic factors that determine how we feel at the end of it. Since domestic flights are usually short, no special nutritional strategy is necessary. But on long-haul flights we need to pay attention to everything from how we sit to what we eat.

On long flights it’s useful to find out in advance what’s on the menu so as not to suffer any nutritional deprivation. If you’re a vegetarian, for example, or if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, keeping this in mind when you order your food will make your trip pass more pleasantly. The biggest drawback on long-haul flights is dehydration. An increase in the amount of fluid your body loses due to low cabin air-pressure can cause fatigue and lethargy at the end of the journey if the right measures are not taken. Therefore, we must be sure to consume enough fluids during the flight. If you want to maintain your body’s fluid balance, you can drink either water, or ‘ayran’ (buttermilk) or herbal tea in place of water. Fruit juices will also supply the body’s need for fluids, but it’s a good idea to keep your total calorie intake in mind before consuming them.

Enemy of Jet Lag: The Argonne Diet
In addition to nutrition, sitting position and movement become another issue of importance as the total length of time spent on the plane increases. Sitting for a long time without moving can cause a slowdown in the circulation, even a blood clot, due to low cabin air-pressure. On long-haul flights one should therefore change one’s sitting position frequently and take frequent walks up and down the aisle. 

Another non-trivial side effect of air travel is jet lag, which is experienced depending on the time difference at your destination. Jet lag can produce unwanted effects such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating and shortened attention span, or simply a sense of not feeling well. In athletes it can lower performance and reduce stamina.

Following extensive research on the subject, the U.S. Army developed the Argonne Diet, which protects people against jet lag and consists of nutriments that encourage sleep. On this diet, a person needs to start preparing for the flight four days ahead. Easy to follow, the Argonne Diet is of enormous importance for people like soldiers and professional athletes, for whom performance is of the essence.

3 days before the flight
- Eat more high-protein foods. Be sure to have on the table sources of animal protein like milk, yoghurt, ayran, eggs, cheese, meat, chicken and fish. If you’re a vegetarian, dried legumes and nuts are important sources of vegetable protein.
- Consume a complex carbohydrate like low-fat pasta or bulghur pilaff once a day. And choose sandwiches made with whole grain bread

The day before the flight
-           Eat rather light. Low-fat foods, soups, and fruits and vegetables are ideal choices.
-           Be sure to eat your three main meals.
-           Drink as much water as possible  (2 to 2.5 liters).
-           Limit intake of caffeinated beverages to between 9 and 11 in the morning.

During the flight
-           Limit your intake of caffeinated beverages.
-           Choose light foods. Stay away from fried foods.
-           Add light and juicy foods like fresh fruit to your between-meal snacks.
-           If possible, drink a glass or two of water every hour while you’re awake.