posted by Tim Marsh

Why and How to Avoid the Bad Food on Long Haul Flights (and What to Eat)

Why You Should Eat Well on the Plane

Long haul plane trips are not a healthy experience. Your immune system will be compromised, you don’t sleep well, don’t eat well and are exposed to everyone else’s germs. Not a nice way to send you on your way for your dream cycling trip.

You’ll likely arrive groggy, with your immune system operating sub optimally, and not ready to start smashing rides out.

If you want to avoid such a bad experience, read on to find out the proven methods I use that allows me to land and basically continue on as if there was no long haul flight.

Why Plane Food is Bad

I know it’s really easy to get excited about a full service economy flight (not as exciting as business class, mind, but exciting nonetheless). Whilst the promise of seemingly delightful pre-packaged plane food and endless movies (unless you’re on an old Qantas or rickety old Aeroflot plane) is enough to send some of you into hysterics (much like Homer Simpson in this clip), caution is advised.

Aside: I don’t want to go into diet too much here (feel free to send me an email to find out how I lost 25kg [88kg to 63kg] though – very simple) except to say the best diet day in, day out, for you is a small roster of meals high in protein, low in processed carbs and sugar, with some natural fat. Think lean meat, vegies, nuts, eggs and so on. Minimum bread, pasta, wheat, soft drink – all poison. Read more about proven methods to lose fat via Marisa Peer and a VeloNomad post on losing fat here. The less variety the better.

At the end of the day it’s a case of shutting the pie hole to cr*p food and riding more.

But I digress!

Processed carbohydrates and food are generally cheaper to produce and last longer than fresh food (remember, if it doesn’t rot, it’s probably bad). For that reason, much of the “food” served to you on the plane is designed to be low cost and low nutritional value (Neil Perry meals in Qantas Business and Economy aside!). It’s often very starchy (or has starchy components) and is anything but fresh.

I prefer to eat anything fresh that is served (like salad) and snack on nutritious whole foods and drink loads of water (and yes some alcohol – usually Bacardi or Scotch and cola) – this way you arrive alert, primed and lean.

What Not to Eat

Do your best to avoid the following foods on your plane trip.

  • White bread rolls (heart grenades)
  • Warm croissants and pastries
  • Very spicy food
  • More heart grenades disguised as “Gnocchi”
  • Processed meats (sausages etc)
  • “Eggs”

What Food to Pack for Your Plane Trip

Here’s my basic food list for every long haul plane trip.

  • Tuna or Salmon Cans – 1 per meal
  • Avocado – 1 per entire long haul flight (e.g. Melbourne to London)
  • Clif Bars – 3 or 4 (Clif Bar and Clif Luna Bar Review here)
  • Kapai Puku – enough for 2 breakfasts – here’s how to make your own Cycling Cereal
  • Mixed nuts – brazil, cashew, almond, macadamias
  • Some cinnamon powder
  • Protein powder and shaker
  • Bananas (you will not be able to take these off the plane usually)

This list of food will cover you for all meals.

What to Eat at Each Meal


If you are offered fruit, yoghurt and milk at breakfast, snap that up!

Add some Kapai Puku (or other cereal) to milk and yoghurt and POW, you have a wholesome brekky.


For snacks, I usually drink more water, have a Clif bar, then have some nuts or a banana. A protein shake is also a very viable alternative.

Snack on the Plane

Snack on the Plane


Eat any vegies you are offered. Try and opt for meat/vegies.

If rice is part of any meal, add tuna and avocado et voila, a super healthy meal.

Healthy (sorry about the poor quality photo)

Healthy (sorry about the poor quality photo)

As I mentioned earlier, spicy food can be a recipe for disaster, so caution is advised.

Special Needs Eating

Many airlines provide for various special needs diets like vegetarian, halal, no gluten/dairy/wheat (which Qantas manifestly fails at) so be aware of that when booking. If you are not vegetarian, you might benefit from asking for a high-protein meal which should limit processed carbohydrates and ramp up the meat and vegies.

The thing is, there is not going to be any perfect meal for you on your trip if you are picky at all, which is why it makes sense to pack your own food to augment what you are served.

What About Alcohol

The detrimental effects of alcohol are amplified on a plane. I usually have a few Bacardi and Coke or Scotch and Cokes on a flight, but always make sure I load up on water. For every drink of alcohol, I have two big drinks of water.

So, don’t feel bad about having some alcohol, just be aware it needs to be balanced with a lot of water. This is where an aisle seat helps (I always book an aisle seat on long haul flights) in terms of access to the toilets.

Why Go to So Much Effort?

Depending on why you’re flying (hopefully for Etape, the Tour or some other most-excellent cycling adventure!), going to this sort of effort will help ensure you support your immune system on the flight, support sleep (where possible) and allow you to hit the ground running without felling horrible.

I’ve eaten loads of airline food, and followed the advice above, on numerous long haul flights, and without a doubt each time I ate well, I landed with a clear mind and felt a million dollars. I hope you’ll see the value in this and try it too.

It might help you avoid the below catastrophe (an Etape 2010 blow-up on the Tourmalet).

Blown Up - Tourmalet, Etape 2010

Blown Up - Tourmalet, Etape 2010

Got email? Become a travel expert!

Get all the freebies, expert tips, premium content, latest posts, discounts and direct to your inbox!

comments powered by Disqus