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.
View Slides: 12 Things to Eat and Drink When Taking a Red-Eye
"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."