12 things to eat and drink when taking a red-eye (and 6 things to avoid)

Taking a red-eye flight definitely has its advantages: flying overnight means that you don’t lose a day traveling, which means more time to see everything your destination has to offer (or that you can extend your trip to the last moment). But nothing puts a damper on a trip faster than jet lag. What if we could counter the effects of a red-eye with what we eat? After speaking to several nutritionists and scientists to find out what to eat when taking a red-eye, it’s evident that the connection between sleep and nutrition is powerful.

"The most important part of surviving a red-eye is planning ahead," says Brooke Alpert of B Nutritious. If you put as much thought into what you eat before and during a red-eye as you do planning the food to try during your travels, you might just be able to skip the grogginess and head straight for that first restaurant on your list.

Across the board, much of the advice was the same (and unfortunately, you’re not going to like it). Stay hydrated, and use caffeine wisely. "Caffeine intake depends on the timing of the flight and time zones," says nutrition consultant Pam Stuppy. And as tempting as it is to have that pre-flight martini, avoid alcohol, because "it interferes with a good sleep, which is not easy to do on a plane as it is," advises Charles Platkin, editor of Diet Detective and professor of nutrition at Hunter College. The experts also recommend staying away from foods that are salty, processed, sugary, or spicy, which can contribute to discomfort and bloating.

Right. Like that’s going to happen. Of course, indulging in junk food during travel is, for most of us, inevitable, so Alpert recommends a "clean eating day" the day before and after your trip "to compensate for those traveling slipups."

Interestingly enough, the most effective thing that you can do to avoid the effects of a red-eye may be to not eat at all. Dr. Patrick Fuller at Harvard Medical School has done extensive research studying the effects of nutrition on sleep cycles. "The pattern of feeding can change regulation of your system in some cases more potently and rapidly than light," says Fuller. How does this apply to someone whose internal clock is disrupted during travel? Fuller recommends fasting for a 16- to 18-hour window before and during your flight, then resuming eating at the first local mealtime of your destination. According to Fuller, more than 120 people have tried it and claimed, "I’m doing this forever."

He stresses the importance of staying hydrated and points out that "While fasting seems hard to do, all you’re really sacrificing is airplane food." The theory hasn’t yet undergone a rigorous clinical study, but Fuller has plans to create a free website soon that will help travelers determine the best time to stop and resume eating during cross-time-zone travel.

For those travelers with less self-control than the recommendations above (ahem, most people), there are definitely some things that are better than others to "indulge" in. Raw vegetables and salads, lean proteins, dried fruits, and seeds are some of the suggested snacks that give you a better chance of hitting the ground running once you arrive at your destination.

At the end of the day, keep in mind advice from Christine Tseng of Be Well Nutrition, "Comfort is key."

What to Avoid: Coffee

Use caffeine wisely. "Caffeine intake depends on the timing of the flight and time zones," says nutrition consultant Pam Stuppy.

What to Avoid: Processed Foods

Processed foods can contribute to discomfort and bloating. There are definitely some things that are better than others to "indulge" in. Raw vegetables and salads, lean proteins, dried fruits, for example.

What to Avoid: Spicy Foods

Like processed foods, spicy foods can contribute to discomfort and bloating. When traveling, as hard as it might be to resist the indigenous spicy street food, at least try to counterbalance with some of the following recommendations.

Natural Relaxer Dietary Supplement

Instead of resorting to a sleeping pill, Alpert suggests a natural relaxer like Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm. "It’s a magnesium supplement powder that you mix into hot water and drink like tea. It helps you relax to go to sleep, aids with speeding up your digestive system which slows down on a flight, and won't make you groggy or have strange behavior à la Bridesmaids."

Soy Chips and PopChips

Those soy chips or popcorn chips like the PopCorners popcorn chips found on Jet Blue flights (http://www.jetblue.com/flying-on-jetblue/snacks-and-drinks/) or Popchips are good snack options that are low in calories and high in fiber.


A sandwich is the easiest thing for most people to grab in the rush between security and the gate, but it doesn’t have to wreck your nutrition goals. "Chicken, turkey, cold cuts, and cheese (on 100 percent whole-wheat bread) are all great options for sandwiches on the go," Platkin suggests. If you’ve thought ahead well enough to pack your own sandwich, pre-cut it so that you can enjoy it in flight without making a mess.

Dried Fruit

Instead of one large meal, "consume small, frequent meals or snacks," says Stuppy. Dried fruit or all-natural fruit roll-ups are a healthy and easy-to-pack option. Just don’t overdo it: "Dried fruit is high in calories, and should be eaten in moderation," Platkin advises.


Platkin suggests packing fruit like apples and oranges "that can withstand some rough treatment. You can even bring a banana if you put it in a container such as a banana saver." Even the pricey fruit cups in the airport are a better, healthier alternative to what is served on the plane.

Incorporate Lean Protein Into Your Preflight Meal

Lean protein is also a recommended component of a balanced and healthy pre-travel meal. If you’re eating out in the airport before your flight, choose items like boneless skinless chicken breast, egg whites, or fish. Foods rich in protein can also help offset the effects of any sugary snacks you might have succumbed to in the airport, according to Platkin.

See all 12 foods to eat, plus all 6 foods to avoid when taking a red-eye here

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