The key for eating and being healthy when traveling is to do the opposite of what everyone normally does! Often travel, especially long haul and/or business travel, means arriving at your destination suffering from dehydration, rich food and sleep deprivation. This is followed by meals out, consisting of more rich food, often alcohol, no exercise and if travelling on business, sitting in meetings all day. Never mind the fact that you might have travelled into a different time zone, if you did this at home you would soon struggle. Whether you are travelling for business or leisure, with or without children, here are my five tips for staying healthy when travelling:
- Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine, but drink lots of water
Avoid drinks containing alcohol and caffeine for the few hours before and during the flight as these can dehydrate you as well as affect your sleep. A big part of your jetlag will be constant dehydration, so top up on water whenever you can. Take a water bottle so you can keep hydrated on the flight and after. Don’t be afraid to ask the flight attendant to fill it up or worry that you might have to keep disturbing your neighbour to get up whenever nature calls. You will be grateful you kept hydrated at the end of the flight. Getting children to drink water at take off may help with ear popping.
- Snack healthily
As tempting as it is to tuck into those salty snacks, they will dehydrate you. Plan ahead and check the food restrictions of the country you are flying to before you go. If permitted, take a range of healthy non-perishable snacks both in your hand and hold luggage to see you through any delays on the plane and at the other end. If you are travelling with children, a well timed snack can help to prevent meltdowns (from both the children and parents!). I always take an assortment of oat cakes, unsalted nuts and seeds when I am travelling. Packed full of nutrients and slow release energy they are perfect sustenance if you are hanging around. If you find your digestive system is very sensitive to travelling, then small packets of dried fruit such as prunes, figs or apricots can be great travel companions. Taking small snack packets are better than one large packet as you can better control your portion sizes and just open and consume one small packet at a time. Avoid sweetened dried fruits such as dried banana, tropical fruits and cranberries as these contain added sugar.
Fresh fruit is always refreshing to have after waking up from an overnight flight, but can cause havoc in your hand luggage and may not be allowed on many flights. If you can take fruit on board, stick to hard fruit such as apples or invest in some snazzy containers.
Factor in a trip to a local market or supermarket on arrival to stock up on healthy snacks to keep you going on day trips or in meetings if there is no time for lunch. Local fresh and dried fruits (you may want to avoid durian in Singapore!), unsalted nuts and seeds can be bought in most countries. Find some local high fibre breads such as rye or seeded breads. Again, it can be useful to travel with reusable containers to keep your snacks fresh.
- Plan meals carefully
Think ahead regarding the timing of your flight. For some mid-length over-night flights (6-8 hours for example London to Dubai), I advise having a hearty meal at home before you leave, or in the airport if it fits better and you allow enough time, then go straight to sleep on the flight, missing any in-flight meals, to maximise sleep time and minimise unnecessary meal times.
If available, choose porridge for the breakfast option with skimmed milk, avoid adding syrups and simply add fruit for some natural sweetness. As a slow-release energy source porridge is the perfect choice to keeping you going until lunch. Avoid pastries or greasy cooked breakfasts.
Wherever you are going to, try to stick to eating three meals a day around four to five hours apart and if travelling for more than two to three days, try to get into the new time zone as soon as possible, even if it doesn’t seem right to be eating breakfast when your body thinks you should be eating lunch. If it is only a short trip (two to three days) you would be better off trying to stick to your original time zone.
- Find time for exercise
If you can fit in an early morning walk/run/swim each day the exercise will help kick start your day and will likely help you adjust to being in a new time zone.
- Eat well to get a good night’s sleep
To sleep well we need to consume all the building blocks that are combined within our body to make sleep inducing hormones melatonin and serotonin. This includes low-fat protein sources such as fish, chicken and eggs which are rich in the amino-acid tryptophan.
It is also important to consume high fibre sources of carbohydrate such as brown rice, wholegrain pastas and breads where possible. When travelling and eating out a lot, it is often difficult to get enough vegetables, so make a point of ordering side dishes of fresh vegetables. Enjoy the wide variety of different foods on offer wherever you are to make the most of the full range of nutrients at your disposal, although avoid indulging in greasy, salty delicacies.
There is not enough evidence to support taking melatonin supplements to help with jet lag.1 Melatonin has been found in a range of foods with mushrooms, grapes, strawberries, cherries, tomatoes, peppers and pistachio nuts containing relatively high levels.2 Some small studies have found that consuming fruits such as kiwis3 and cherries4 may help with sleep disorders due to their melatonin levels. Whether the melatonin within foods helps with your sleep or not, eating a healthy balanced diet rich in a range of foods will give you a helping hand to making the most of your trip.
Dr Rachel Allen
- NHS Choices website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Jet-lag/ (Accessed 21/12/2018)
- Meng X, Li Y, Li S, et al. Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin. Nutrients. 2017;9(4):367. Published 2017 Apr 7. doi:10.3390/nu9040367
- Lin HH, Tsai PS, Fang SC, Liu JF Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2011;20(2):169-74.
- Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, Perlis ML. Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food. 2010;13(3):579-83.