Let’s be honest guys, being fit and healthy as an airline pilot can be a challenge. Dealing with low humidity, disturbed sleep rhythms, fast food, fatigue and little to no exercise. Combine them and it’s a heart attack waiting to happen. This is exactly why, especially as an airline pilot, you should take care of your health. It all starts with your eating habits.
It can be hard to eat healthy when you are away from home. Fast food is always readily available, at the airport, in the hotel or while on a sightseeing adventure during a layover. So what to do? How can you resist meals that come with added sugars and other stuff your body can do without? Allow me to share some insights as well as my methods: they work!
So what’s healthy?
The term ‘healthy’ is different for everyone. In my opinion, eating healthy is about fresh products which do not contain added sugars or additives. When I talk about sugar, it also includes the other 57 names for sugar of course.
Added sugar is something our body can do without. Sugar is basically poison for your body. It gives you a temporary shot of energy but leaves you lifeless afterwards. Not a problem if you only fly a couple of hours per day, but it’s a different story when your average duty is in excess of 10 hours. It becomes hard to stay focussed. And to provide some perspective for the ones who tell you that ‘our body needs sugar: just one banana contains enough sugar for the entire day.
Let me just start by mentioning that not every airline is the same. Most airlines enable the crew to choose what they want to eat while working. This means that you can decide whether you want to eat healthy that day or not. At least, that is what you would think right? Remember that most food which is made to be preservable, comes with a lot of extra ‘ingredients’. Apart from that, when being offered a Mars, Twix or muffin on a hourly basis, it’s only a matter of time before you can’t resist anymore. And that’s just one example. I’ve had many flights during which deep fried snacks like chicken nuggets, onion rings and fries were available for the crew the entire time. I guess you can imagine how hard it becomes to resist those treats.
Also, while flying, the ability to taste food is affected by the cabin pressure. That’s why catering companies add additional sugar and additives the food in order to enhance the taste. These ingredients are not healthy. The craziest thing I have seen, was a crew lasagna with an expiration date of 5 years in the future.
Why is eating healthy so important?
Well, did you know that a lot of pilots are losing their medical because of diabetes or heart problems? Just to give you an idea, nowadays 1 in 10 adults has diabetes. I know you probably don’t care about this right now but this is a huge problem amongst pilots, especially for men round their 40’s/50’s. Don’t believe me? Ask your instructors, a lot of them lost their medical due to diabetes and are now working as an instructor in the simulator.
A few years ago I started to feel tired on a daily basis. I also noticed I had cravings all day. After a while I figured I had to stop eating food that contained added sugars and… gluten. I have to be honest with you, it wasn’t easy to just quit from one day to another. I had headaches and even worse cravings all day! But those headaches did not last long and I slowly started to feel way better. Every time I did take that sweet piece of cake because I could not resist it and everyone else was eating it, I immediately regret it. Ever since I completely detoxed from these unhealthy habits, I have felt super fit and energetic.
Does that mean I never eat sugar or gluten? No, but I do consciously think about whether it’s worth to eat it, or not. Apart from feeling fit and healthy, my body weight has been stabilized. Before, I would go to the gym, cycle, walk and do all kinds of exercises. Nowadays I barely exercise compared to that time, while my weight remains the same, regardless of how much I eat or what I eat (except sugars and gluten :P).
How I stay fit and healthy as an airline pilot
I always bring a lot of food from home wherever I go. I make sure I have at least a few pieces of fruit with me, like mandarins, a banana or an apple. And I also bring almond nuts, a vegetable/fruit juice and sometimes an egg. When I feel like I need a bit more energy, I prepare a lemon shot or a healthy juice with a Juicer.
My favorite fresh juice is the one which contains a big chunk of ginger, carrots and apples. Another veggie juice I recommend is the one with carrots, beetroot, cucumber, celery and parsley.
The day before my duty I make a huge dish which I can divide into meals. I use aluminum containers which I can put into the airplane oven. I love chicken with with gluten free pasta & pesto for example. A really good combination, trust me haha! 😉 Another favorite of mine is baked peppers with potatoes. Every day I grab a container out of the fridge and by the time I want to eat something, I ask the cabin crew to put it in the oven or I do it myself.
Sleep is very important as well and it is often forgotten when it comes to being fit and healthy. Nowadays I try to sleep at least 8 hours a day and make sure I gain some sleep throughout the day when I have had a shorter night the night before.
A little exercise during the days off and this is how, I think, you stay fit and healthy as an airline pilot!
I hope you learned something new today! Are you paying attention to your health while at work and what are you doing about it? Do you have some tips? I would love to hear what you have to say. Now that I have your attention, if you want to know more about medical requirements to become an airline pilot, I made a video about it which you can watch below. Interested to learn more about the pilot salary? Check out this article.
11 thoughts on “Fit and Healthy as an Airline Pilot – My Struggles”
Very good advices Michelle. I didn’t realize that the flight itself, the altitude and the cabin pressure can have such nocive impact on the body. I also didn’t know that there are so many pilots suffering from diabetes and losing their licenses because of this.
“just one banana contains enough sugar for the entire day”.
I don’t want people to be scared when you read this. Banana can be high in high sugar, the more brown it is the more sugar, but they are not “added sugar”. Plus the fiber in it eliminates high sugar like in all fruits. People please eat banana if you were misguided.
Thx for the info.
It’s a very interesting article to dive in to.
I’m struggling with my health at this moment so it’s nice to read that you’ve been there too.
I think I will read this article a view more times so I won’t forget it.
Thx aggain for sharing.
Very Nice! I’m still young but aviation and astronomy are my go-to areas. Hope to see more of your splendid articles!
Hi Michelle, I totally agree about eating healthy. Eating out to often has to be the worst thing to do to your body. I have a long story to share with you for another time, maybe via email. Restaurants and fast food places add so much salt and sugar to their foods and this makes people wanting to go back. Not to mention the ease of just eating out. I try to cook big meals a few times a week when I have time, and like you mentioned, make smaller meals for the week. I am not a calorie counter, but I stopped drinking my calories. I generally drink water with lemon or lime. I am a little bit older than you, alright much older, lol. But I am in better condition now then when I was much younger. I feel bad for the younger generation. It is a way of life to eat fast food and junk food, and not making home cooked healthy meals. Do get me wrong I love to eat, and my problem is I like everything. I do have a sweet tooth, but I try to limit my treats. Moderation is the key, I guess in everything.
Keep safe, stay healthy,
HOW ARE YOU WITH YOU PANDEMIC,? , BE HAPPY DONT WORE FRANK
You are fantastic Michelle!
It is a great pleasure to look your videos!
(Since 12 years I don’t eat sugar and feel very well).
Love you and miss you!!!!!
Good day to see you capt.michelle you lookin sharp and beautiful as always thanks for sharing about health very much appreciated i love you
Very interesting! Gluten and sugar are a real battle for me. Taking heart from your experience and advice! Thank you again for an informative article and sharing your experience. Take care , ma’am. Veilig wees. SA 🇿🇦
You’re welcome! All the best!