When Should You Eat Before Flying?

The Four Percent


With the holiday season upon us and vaccination rates climbing, it’s no secret more people are flying more lately. On Nov. 19, the Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 2.3 million people at airport security checkpoints ― the highest volume since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, it’s important to be mindful of COVID-19 travel precautions, like wearing a face mask in the airport and on the plane, washing and sanitizing your hands, and keeping your distance from others when possible. But flying can also be tough on your stomach at times, so it’s helpful to be mindful of eating and drinking on air travel days.

The low humidity and dry air in the plane’s cabin tend to have a dehydrating effect on passengers, and the atmospheric pressure doesn’t exactly aid with digestion. Still, there are ways to help keep things in check. Below, experts share their advice for properly timing your pre-flight eats and choosing the food to keep you fueled for the journey.

When To Eat

“It’s wise to eat a meal at home ― of course, time permitting ― before a flight,” said Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian based in New York City.

That way, she noted, you can steer clear of foods and drinks in the terminal that are often bad for digestion and promote further dehydration. Plus, you’ll be less likely to munch on the plane, Beckerman added. (Who wants to remove their face mask around a bunch of strangers anymore?)

If you aren’t able to eat at home, try to have your pre-flight meal about an hour before your departure, advised Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and media spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“This can allow your body some time to digest your food and use the restroom accordingly before boarding,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vanessa Rissetto, a registered dietitian in New Jersey and co-founder of Culina Health, emphasized paying attention to your body’s natural rhythm and sticking to routines if possible.

“I would eat at the normal cadence I usually eat ― being mindful at how my G.I. tract reacts prior to flying,” she said.

If you are going to remove your mask to snack or drink on a flight, there are some more advantageous options.

Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm via Getty Images

If you are going to remove your mask to snack or drink on a flight, there are some more advantageous options.

What To Eat

When it comes to flight-day meals, preparation goes a long way, especially if you have any dietary restrictions or sensitivities.

“People should consider their own personal eating and snacking habits before flying,” Beckerman said. “If you know you love eating on a plane, bring a snack along that you enjoy, like fresh fruit and peanut butter or hummus and whole grain crackers.”

Other portable snacks that can be great for travel include celery and carrots (which you could also dip in the aforementioned peanut butter or hummus) and packets of nuts like almonds ― ideally, without extra salt.

If you want to avoid lifting up your mask on the plane, Beckerman recommends loading up ahead of time with a balanced and nutrient-rich meal that contains carbohydrates, protein and fats to keep you satiated.

“The duration of your flight, foods offered on your flight, motion sickness (if that’s an issue), and your personal dietary considerations should be a part of planning your flight day meal,” Valdez noted. “Some foods to consider eating are fruits such as an orange or banana, lean protein such as chicken or fish, yogurt, smoothie, oats, crackers, or a piece of ginger candy or tea to alleviate any nausea or motion sickness.”

Going back to that whole issue of dehydration, try to avoid sodium and drinks with diuretic effects like coffee and alcohol.

“Drink plenty of water before your flight and during your flight to combat any water loss and assist in digestion,” Valdez said.

You might want to avoid seltzer given the carbonation (and therefore potential gas and uncomfortable bloating), but a bottle of coconut water from the airport can be nice and hydrating.

Of course, there’s no one correct way to approach flight-day food, so if you’re concerned, try to make informed, smart choices that feel satisfying to you. And have a safe trip!


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