When are the best times to eat while traveling?

Sep 30, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Whether flying for business of pleasure, there is rarely a shortage of food along the way. The minute you arrive at the airport you are bombarded with food offerings, which are often consumed in excess before boarding where you then continue to continually graze for the length of your journey.

This may not be a problem for some but others may find it difficult to stick to their health goals, lose weight, perhaps recover from jet lag or just want to be as healthy as possible when traveling. For this reason, it’s important to know when best to eat when flying. Below we have a simplified guide explaining when are the best times to eat while traveling.

Eat before you board

Usually people are at the airport two hours before take off — a perfect time to eat something before boarding. Plane food often is less desirable than the food you can buy at the airport so it’s a perfect chance to find something healthy and balanced before you fly. As a rule of thumb, if your flight is less than three hours, then eat at the airport and not on the flight. Sample healthy meal options can be a chicken salad at Pret with some dark chocolate almonds or Itsu salad box with some dark chocolate rice cakes.

Plan meals according to your flight schedule

For general health, it’s good to eat every four to five hours and not to snack if you can. You don’t need to graze to support your metabolism, and in fact eating constantly can actually accelerate aging in the body. When it comes to flying, you need to work out when is best to eat according to your flight time:

  • For flights less than three hours: eat a meal when you get to the airport
  • For flights less than five hours: eat a meal at the airport and a snack on board
  • For flights more than five hours: eat a meal and optional snack on board
  • For flights more than eight hours: eat two meals on the plane

Factor in direction of travel

It can be of benefit to eat to match your intended circadian rhythm. So, your eating patten might depend if you are flying east or west:

  • Flying west: This involves going back in time, so often you will arrive for lunch or dinner. The idea here is to eat so you will complete the full day having had three meals. For example, if you arrive for dinner in L.A., then you would have had breakfast, lunch and a snack before you land.
  • Flying east: This involves going forward in time, so you tend to arrive either in the morning or afternoon the next day. So, you would eat to match that. If your flight is in the evening, then you perhaps can skip the dinner service and just have the breakfast (or second) service. If your flight is in the afternoon, then opt for an evening meal and breakfast on the plane.

Intermittent Fasting

Not eating when traveling can possibly help you recover from the flight and minimize jet lag. The process of intermittent fasting can be beneficial to cellular repair, weight loss, insulin and blood sugar management and also increase growth hormone.

Eat according to your health goals

Whatever advice you read or listen to, it’s important to keep things individual and do what works for you when traveling:

  • If you’re trying to lose weight: The golden rule here is to eat when you actually feel hunger and not when think you feel hunger. Keep yourself limited to three main meals in a 24-hour period and a snack if you need it.
  • If you’re trying to gain weight: This can be an unusual one and often reserved for those who are trying to gain muscle. While a plane journey won’t do much to interfere with your fitness goals, you may need to bring your own food as the airplane food may be sub-optimal or not be enough for you. For bulking, you would eat at the airport and of course each serving offered when flying. There could be a whole post on what to eat for the athlete, but the main consideration is to hit your protein and carbohydrate goals for the day. With all of this said, one day of traveling won’t do much if you take a break from your food intake unless you’re a competitive athlete.
  • If you’re trying to minimize bloating: Bloating is a very common side effect of plane travel and it’s usually due to the cabin pressure. Timing of meals may not matter too much here as some can get bloated no matter what and when they eat. The most common sense option is to minimize eating when on the plane and if you do, consider taking a probiotic the day of your travel and a digestive enzyme when eating a meal, whether before flying or on the plane. If you’re still getting symptoms of bloat, then you can perhaps ask the airline for a peppermint tea, which can also help.
  • If you’re trying to maximize energy: Energy is a complex one as there can be so many factors at play. These include how you eat, when you eat, what you eat as well as biochemical factors and lifestyle factors (stress, sleep, exercise). When traveling, a proposed way to maximize energy is to eat according to the time zone you are traveling to. So, it can be a good idea to set your clock the day of departure to the destination time zone and eat accordingly. You may also want to look at what you are eating, as loading up on sugar and alcohol will do little for your energy scores. Instead, pick protein-rich food options or take them with you and limit the amount of carbohydrates you are consuming.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.