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I've recently started pilot training and Im searching for some advice regarding eating habits. Typically I fly for ~3 hours, however I limit my eating until after I am finished, as in my first day of training I felt very nauseous and became sick. So to avoid nausea typically I eat half a banana/ few biscuits at most to carry me till around 3pm.

It has been a few weeks and I now realise my habits are unsustainable as I become too exhausted and tired to revise my day's practice and churn through theory study. I understand I need energy so I can remain functional but I am anxious that I won't be able to keep my food down. I haven't been travel sick in the past while driving or in a commercial flight.

I would appreciate advice or things you may have learned through experience as I fear my eating habits thus far are limiting me with my concentration and keeping up with my studies.

Thank you for your time to read this

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    $\begingroup$ Whatever you do, don't eat the fish! $\endgroup$
    – pipe
    Aug 28, 2023 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ Side note: a fighter pilot once told me that bananas are a great food to eat before flying, because they're one of the only foods that tastes the same coming back up as it does going down $\endgroup$
    – StalePhish
    Aug 29, 2023 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ Would it be okay to change "sustainable" to something like "effective" ? I read in the HNQ and thought it was about pilots eating in a ecological sustainable way. $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Aug 29, 2023 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Criggie I've taken the liberty of doing that since OP has already accepted an answer so might not be back immediately. I too had a vision of a grizzled 747 pilot worrying that it was his snacks which were causing climate change. $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2023 at 6:15

2 Answers 2

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A lot of new pilots get motion sickness starting out in light aircraft, and it goes away with repeated exposure. So, it's just a matter of toughing it out until you get used to it, or if you're unlucky, you don't and eventually you will have to quit. It's like sea sickness, which is similarly something you have to get used to if spending time at sea (called getting your "sea legs").

Lots of pilots are fine in normal flying, but you can get them upchucking pretty quickly if you subject them to some serious aerobatics, without letting them get acclimatized.

One thing that can help with becoming desensitized to motion is to spend time on a park swing, with the constant exposure to 0 G at each end of the arc of the swing (I've been flying since the 70s and I'll still get a bit nauseous after 15 minutes on a swing).

As far as eating goes, the biggest enemy of pilots is the sudden blood sugar drop from eating a high carb/low fat meal in the morning. The archetypal coffee and donut breakfast, for a pilot doing something intense like IFR flying, can be quite dangerous when the sugar/caffeine buzz wears off. Make sure breakfast and other meals have a good amount of fat and protein.

While getting desensitized to motion, I'd suggest eating smaller meals frequently through the day, every 2-3 hours or so, so you stay nourished and full, but don't have a big load of food on board at any one time. Not high sugar between meal junk snacks, but normal food broken up into smaller intervals.

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    $\begingroup$ A professional driver once said to ne that the biggest mistake a driver can make is having tea or coffee with a lot of sugar, because first it "pushes you up" quite a lot, but later "it lets you down" just as rapidly. I have my tea without sugar. You have to get accustomed to it, but it works (good coffee does not need sugar, and sugar doesn't make bad coffee any better). $\endgroup$
    – U. Windl
    Aug 28, 2023 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ Tea does not need sugar either. This may be a cultural thing. $\endgroup$
    – sehe
    Aug 28, 2023 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ Ppl like sweet, and in older times adding sugar was too much of a luxury for poorer societies, so it's also a sign of wealth. So culture does come into it a bit. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Aug 28, 2023 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ @sehe well, good loose-leaf tea usually tastes great without sugar. When all I can get are tea bags, and I drink it with no additions, I'd have to lie to say I like it. But sugar isn't the only option; even unsweetened soy milk can make a bad tea much more enjoyable. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2023 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ @U.Windl So you have to drink things that are never gonna push you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna go right through, and dessert too? $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2023 at 16:33
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I've experienced motion sickness a over the years both on boats and in planes that I've been at the helm of. I can offer some general points that I try to follow to mitigate this with diet. If you really want to follow a tight flight diet you can always take your cue from the SR-71 pilots:

When the crewmembers began getting ready to get dressed in their suits, they came down to the dressing room from the kitchen where they had their high protein/low residue pre-flight meal of steak and eggs. The steak and eggs were a crucial part of the flight because of the high nutritional value it contained, which sustained the pilots for their long flights.

The first point I'll make is that you need to experiment and find out what works for you — everyone's diet and tolerance may vary.

  • Avoid greasy foods: I do love a bacon egg and cheese in the morning but that's not a great idea before a day of unusual attitude recovery (I learned the value of Piper's "pilot relief window" the hard way with this one). I generally avoid greasy breakfast meats before morning flying and my $100 hamburgers rarely involve actual hamburgers.
  • Coffee: This is a tricky one. Many people drink coffee every day and subsequently not drinking coffee can be as much as a problem as drinking it. Coffee is a diuretic which can cause issues in light aircraft if you don't have a solution to that problem. You also need to understand how caffeine affects you over a long period of time. Crashing or being too jittery is never good in the cockpit. For flights I try to limit myself to a single 16 oz (or smaller) coffee with a bit of cream. This is a battle between keeping my stomach calm and making sure I don't get a pounding headache from not having coffee.
  • Bring snacks: My flight bag has a standard complement of power bars and the such, in a variety of flavors to keep myself nourished throughout a long flight or if I need something simple and quick right before a flight. I also include things like mixed nuts here and other typical camping style snacks. I generally avoid high sugar things like candy bars if I can, they tend to make a mess on hot days anyways. Be careful with your snack bar choice as some are quite high in sugar.
  • Stay hydrated: In the summer small planes are greenhouses and sweat is inevitable. I always fly with ice water and some kind of sports drink to keep myself hydrated. This is perhaps one of the most critical elements of my complement to staying focused and keeping motion sickness down.
  • The Day Before: Remember if your flying early in the morning your previous dinner is going to play into your nourishment while flying. As will your previous days hydration and general intake. Much like with your pre-flight weather watch happens days before a flight your physical factor prep should as well.

The last thought I'll leave you with is, "don't avoid eating". In my experience getting sick with something in your stomach is way more tolerable than getting sick on an empty stomach.

As others have mentioned, time in the plane will help you adjust and mitigate motion sickness.

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