Intermittent Fasting on the Plane

Goodbye for now, Europe, and hello from 35,000 feet!

It’s been a lovely ten days of traveling, racing, enjoying the local cuisine and now, as I fly home from Venice, it seemed appropriate to elaborate a little on one of the topics I only briefly mentioned last week: using a flight as a time to implement intermittent fasting.

Think about it, first from a realistic standpoint.

To begin with, there is no end to the complaints one hears about the quality of plane food; despite having enjoyed some nice meals on certain airlines more so than others, I’d still prefer to land at my destination, head to the hotel to shower and freshen up, then enjoy a meal like a human in a restaurant at a leisurely pace, rather than hunched over a little tray with the person in the next pod coughing and sniffling up a storm.

Aside from that, our ability to enjoy even the best quality food at 35,000 feet is compromised.

The atmosphere inside the cabin dries out the nose and as the plane ascends, the change in air pressure numbs about a third of the taste buds, and at 35,000 feet with cabin humidity levels kept low by design, ‘cotton mouth’ sets in, which is why airlines heavily salt their food[1].

Second of all, the practicality of it: while it’s extremely easy to pack up a salad with protein lunch in a thermal tote with an ice pack from home to eat later, the return flight home can be more complex, to say the least.  

Imagine if you didn’t have to worry about bringing anything on board at all, except, perhaps, a couple of servings of healthy fat, such as a packet or two of coconut butter or coconut oil, to tide you over, if need be.

Next, even if you’re like me, a hyperactive person who needs to move all the time, let’s face it: on the plane, you can’t! No matter how much you get up to stretch, move around and use the bathroom again because you’re consuming a liter of water per hour, it’s still not your norm. And as such, there’s no need to scoff down the calories because really, you’re just being still.

Finally, perhaps you’re using the time on the plane to catch up on uninterrupted work, free from distraction, especially if you’re traveling overseas and are wifi-less for a period of time. Wouldn’t it be just the perfect time to create a situation where your mental acuity is as sharp as possible?

Yet another reason to fast: when the brain is using fat as it’s fuel and not carbs you can say goodbye to difficulty concentrating and scatterbrained thinking and say hello to laser sharp focus, leading to greater productivity[2].

Is it risky?

Hmmm… the first time a client asked me whether it was dangerous to fast, I had to pause and think for a beat before replying, only because of the way the question was posed.

He specifically asked if it was more likely that he’d be injured during a workout if he were to run in a fasted state.

While I still don’t exactly know what that was based on, a higher risk of injury due to not eating a meal first, that is, it did prompt me to dig in a little to see if there were any specific recommendations I could suss out for anyone in terms of broad categories of people who should not fast.

Here’s what I found out.

A study done at my alma mater, USC[3], found that fasting for just three days could reboot your immune system.

On the down side, intermittent fasting, if taken out of context or performed too long or too often, could potentially lead to an increased risk of eating disorders, unhealthy reliance on caffeine, food obsession, according to the Huffington Post.[4]

As with everything, there are caveats and if you find yourself already dealing with an eating disorder or any other type of emotional or physical illness, it could well be that IF (intermittent fasting) wouldn’t be something to try your hand at.

But for the average, healthy adult, giving it a go isn’t likely to be an issue.

If you’re concerned, you might opt to try it for a short period of time in a safe place (i.e.- at home where you have healthy food options if needed) before jumping right into a 16 hour flight on empty.

All in all, I’ve got to say that the more I think about it and continue on my paleo plus higher percentage of my fuel coming from fat, both for training as well as day to day living, it falls into place more and more.

Call it low carb living, call it being in ketosis, call it High Fat Paleo or whatever you wish; I’m still going to call it the same thing I always have: eating food and moving.

Also, I’ll keep recommending the other thing I’m always a fan of both for myself as well as for clients: using one’s own body as the gauge for what does and doesn’t work.

If I’m feeling better than ever adding some fasting in when appropriate (and again- can you think of a better place than when you’re in an environment where you’re stuck basically motionless for hours on end with food that doesn’t taste great?), eating high fat, racing well and experiencing better concentration than ever…well, I don’t really think there’s an issue of any kind here.


[1] “Science Reveals Why Airplane Food Tastes So Bad – Slashdot.” Science Reveals Why Airplane Food Tastes So Bad – Slashdot. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Sept. 2015

[2] “Short-term Fasting Induces Profound Neuronal Autophagy.” National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health, Aug. 2010. Web.

[3] Wu, Suzanne. “Fasting Triggers Stem Cell Regeneration of Damaged, Old Immune System.” USC News. University of Southern California, 5 June 2014. Web.

[4] Virgin, JJ. “5 Reasons Intermittent Fasting Could Become a Bad Idea.” The Huffington Post., 9 July 2014. Web. 01 Sept. 2015