Let’s examine what happens to your body when you fly. Basically, within minutes you’re catapulted to an effective altitude one and a half times the height of Denver. That’s because the cabin is pressurized to simulate an altitude of 5,000 to 8,000 feet, although the plane itself may be cruising at 25,000 to 40,000 feet.
How does that affect you? The decrease in atmospheric pressure and the decrease in available oxygen wreak havoc on your body. The decreased pressure causes gases to expand and your body tissues fill up with these expanding gases. That why your shoes become tight. You are blowing up like a balloon just like the bags of chips and peanuts on board. I know from my own experience that it can take me a couple of days wandering around like a Teletubby before the bloat starts to come down. However, I’ve now found a way to deal with it which I’ll share with you shortly.
First, let’s look at dehydration. We all know we get dehydrated on our flights but did you know that the average passenger can lose up to two pounds of water in a three-hour flight? Instant weight loss! However, it doesn’t mean that you get off the plane super skinny because you’ve got the Michelin man bloat going at the same time.
We know that the air in planes is very dry and that’s why sometimes our eyes can feel scratchy and our nose itchy when we’re flying. But did you know how dry it actually gets? Typically the humidity in planes ranges from 8 to 12 percent, but it can drop as low as 2 percent. And the longer the flight, the drier it gets. And – I hate to tell you this – most of the humidity is actually from the sweat and breath of your traveling companions. It’s enough to make you don a mask next time you fly!
So we know to hydrate while we’re flying but what stops us? What stops us from constantly downing water while we’re in the air? Well, I know what stops me and I’m going to hazard a guess that I’m not the only one that’s thinking this way. You don’t want to be getting up and down and going to the toilet. We all know that airplane toilets get stinkier throughout the duration of the flight. And it doesn’t matter what class of service you’re in. Then there’s the fact that you might be sitting in a middle or window seat and you don’t want to constantly disturb the person next to you. Then there’s the darned seat belt sign that has a habit of going on right when you want to get out of your seat.
Let me give you some compelling reasons why you need to hydrate on your flight. Hopefully they will be enough to have you booking an aisle seat not too far from the toilet.
1. Dehydration causes your cells to become less efficient and that contributes to fatigue and poor performance. That cellular imbalance will worsen if you eat the salty foods and snacks you’re offered on board.
2. It takes only one percent fluid loss for your body to become dehydrated – ONE percent -and you can’t depend on thirst to tell you that it’s happening.
3. As your cells dry out, they pull water from your blood, reducing your blood volume. Your heart has to work harder to circulate the smaller amount of blood to every part of your body, which means your muscles don’t get oxygen and nutrients, and it’s harder to eliminate waste. (There’s another reason you bloat up).
If I’ve convinced you to drink more water before you fly, know that you should drink what you can before you board, then have at least one 8-ounce glass for every hour in flight. What else can you do? Here are some tips for what to do while you’re on the ground to lessen the effects of the beating your body is going to get in the air.
• Eat a salad before you fly. It helps avoid bloat. I promise you this. It is my new trick. I did this twice recently before trans-Atlantic flights and I didn’t get the puffed up feeling I usually get for two days after.
• Another good reason to eat a salad is that leafy greens oxygenate the blood. They’re an excellent antidote to dehydration. Try to get a variety of greens in your salad. I know that airports can make this hard but you can find them. Of all places, the Irish pub at Chicago O’Hare’s American Airlines terminal has one and it saved me on my last trip to the UK. Eat the salad dressing to help absorb the micronutrients on the lettuce. Iceberg letter is the lowest on the nutritional totem pole, romaine is better. Best of all is a mixed greens variety. You might even find spinach. If anyone out there knows of an airport restaurant that offers a kale salad, let me know so I can send them a virtual hug.
• Choose a meal that is high in fiber with lots of veggies and whole grains. Keeping everything moving and regular will ease the bloat… So, if there’s a Mexican eatery in the terminal, a side of black beans and a corn tortilla will be a good option.
• Stock up on fruits that have a high water content, such as apples and melons. You can get containers of chopped fresh fruit at most airports now. The quality of water in fruit is the best there is. It’s better than any spring water or alkaline water you’ll buy.
• Drink plenty of water with your meal and take your own liter bottle on board. You should never drink anything but bottled water, no ice, on planes. Don’t rely on inflight service to bring you as much as you really need unless you’re in First Class.
• Drink hot water with lemon. This is my other favorite trick. I start my day with it and sometimes drink it all day long. It stimulates the digestion and helps the liver detox. The steam from it moistens dry sinuses. You can have a mini facial while you fly!
To balance all of this, I’m afraid there is a list of things to avoid.
• I’ve already mentioned the salty nuts and snacks which mess with cellular water content.
• Watch out for salt in drinks like tomato juice and V8.
• Caffeine, whether it is in coffee or soft drinks, will dehydrate you.
• Avoid soda and sparkling water. These can cause discomfort as gas expands in your body.
And what about alcohol? We all know the answer to this. It’s not a great idea to mix drinking and flying. I would say it’s better to have a drink with your pre-flight meal while you’re able to drink lots of water with your meal too. This will lessen the effects of dehydration, help you digest your food and relax you before your flight if you’re a nervous flyer. Just don’t overdo it.
If you do elect to drink in-flight, as I do occasionally, understand that the effects of alcohol are multiplied two to three times in the air and that the alcohol will dehydrate you. My client Bill who flies over 100,000 miles a year in first class, doesn’t touch the stuff while he’s flying, even though he’s a wine connoisseur with a valuable collection. He promises himself he can have whatever he wants when he lands. As long as he’s not on his way to a meeting, of course.
A word about jet lag and food. It’s pretty simple. The lighter you eat, the better. Overeating and drinking will contribute to the lethargy you may already feel. Plus heavy food will really slow down your digestive system which means that you’ll be zapped of energy and even more bloated. Your digestive system is already going to be dysfunctional from the time change as your body clock is so messed up. The less you can do to exacerbate this, the better.
Simple food combining can help. Eat good quality proteins such as fish and eggs earlier in the day, and save your heavier meals for the evening. This would include pasta or rice-based dishes. Of course, you’ll continue to stay hydrated with lots of water and fruits with a high-water content.
So there you have it. Give these tips a whirl next time you fly and let me know how it goes.