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Fuel For The Ride: What To Drink On Long Flights

by Andrew Brown Oct 19, 2007

It’s only three hours into your eight-hour flight and the little kid sitting behind you has howled non-stop since take off.

Your head is throbbing and you’re ready to smother the brat with a pillow.

A drink would really hit the spot. Maybe two.

Problem is, most drinks available on planes leave you thirsty, tired and a frequent visitor to the tiny aircraft bathrooms.

Except for water, virtually every drink the flight attendants offer, alcoholic or not, will contain a truckload of sugar. The sugar hit from these drinks will send your insulin levels soaring.

As soon as your body brings its insulin back under control, your energy levels fall away, leaving you feeling even worse than when you started sipping.

Normally I would be on the “Drink Lots of Water!” bandwagon, but most of us want something a little more robust to help us reach the end of the journey.

If you’re keen for a beverage more inspiring than spring water, try some of these:

1. Bloody Mary

1 1/2 ounces vodka
1/2 cup tomato juice
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Worcestershire sauce (to taste)
Tabasco (to taste)
1 celery stick for garnish

Unless you’re lucky enough to be in business class you’re unlikely to get a cocktail made on the spot. Instead, see if the flight attendant will give you the ingredients to mix your own.

Avoid the pre-mix packets like the plague; they contain high fructose corn syrup that is even worse for you than the sugar in other drinks.

Salt And Fiber, Hold The Sugar

So why a Bloody Mary? Mostly it’s the tomato juice.

Tomato juice, assuming that it’s of reasonable quality, doesn’t spike your blood sugar in the same way as soda or orange juice. This will give you a smoother dose of energy.

It also contains salt, which will save you from endless trips to the tiny bathroom. Tomato juice also has a decent serving of fiber, which will help keep you satiated until you can get a proper meal.

The Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces give your palette a bit of interest, and the spiciness of the Tabasco will help kick start your metabolism after sitting still for so long.

2. Virgin Mary

All the wholesome goodness of the Bloody Mary with none of the downsides, the Virgin Mary is literally the same drink without the vodka.

I find this version of the Bloody Mary a little bland, so I recommend extra Tabasco sauce to help make the drink more interesting.

Remember – the real benefit from these drinks comes from the tomato juice (which also contains a cancer fighting phyto-chemical called lycopene) so make sure you’re not skimping on the red stuff.

3. Ginger Ale

Feeling ill? Ginger ale could be your savior. One of the best drinks for turbulence affected flights, the ginger will soothe your stomach and prevent nausea.

There is a downside though; most commercial brands of ginger ale have high levels of sugar, which leads to the dreaded insulin spike and energy crash.

Try a diet ginger ale, or ginger beer if you’re given the option. If you can’t get either of these, follow your ginger ale with a large drink of water to help dilute the sugar rush.

4. Brandy and Ginger

This drink makes a good post turbulence nightcap. Usually made with elderflower cordial, which can be hard to come by (especially at 36,000 feet), you can use lemon juice instead to give the drink an extra twist:

1 shot of brandy
1 shot of elderflower cordial (or squeeze of lemon)
fill with ginger ale

The brandy will give you a little warmth in your throat while the ginger ale works its magic, soothing your stomach. Unfortunately, this is another high-sugar drink so try to limit yourself to one or two for the duration of the trip.

5. H2O is still the King!

No matter what you are drinking, you should still be drinking water like you won’t get any after you land.

The air conditioning on all aircraft will dehydrate you much faster than usual. This goes double if you are having alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, as these will dehydrate you even more.

This is why getting drunk on a plane is a real risk. Your abused, dehydrated body can’t take the same punishment it can handle on the ground.

So next time the drink cart trundles by, ask for a Bloody Mary and a bottle of water. That way both you and the screaming child have a chance of making it to the baggage claim alive.

Andrew Brown is a freelance writer and fitness enthusiast working out of Christchurch New Zealand. You can check out more of his writing at Fighter’s Review or at his blog.

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