"The Pilot Diet"
For some reason it's been tougher than I had originally thought to maintain a good diet and exercise while on The Flight for the Human Spirit. My original plans were to begin each flight day by being up at five o'clock and going for a brisk walk around the airport property. Then I would have a nice breakfast of yogurt, eggs, orange juice, and a half cup of coffee, (we don't want to put too many fluids into the system before climbing in to fly a three hour leg).
During each flight day, I imagined that I would stretch at each stop, have a sandwich along the way, and end the day with a nicely portioned dinner, followed by a walk around the hotel property, (again stretching and relaxing as I prepared for the next flight day). In reality the days are long, with flight planning, follow-up e-mails, and downloading photos, the day usually ends between midnight and one.
Well, there is no one to blame but me...but I haven't been living up to that plan...not at all. And this experience has caused me to name my food choices, my hydration routine, and my exercise, "The Pilot Diet." I know that it's not the typical pilot's diet, of which I'm sometimes envious....but instead adapted out of the crazy routines that this amazing flight has demanded.
Instead of five in the morning to be up and walking at the airport, each flight day begins at around six o'clock with checking the weather, taking about fifteen minutes to get ready, then having a simple breakfast, (hopefully) of Yogurt, Orange Juice, and a half cup of coffee. Depending on the hotel that I'm starting at, this may or may not be the case...sometimes it may simply be a cereal bar, or skip it all together. No walk at the airport is in store for me when I arrive. Most of the time, the routine at the airport is simply to pre-flight Hope One, call to get the updated weather briefing, then off into the sky for a full day of flight.
When we first began The Flight last spring, the only sandwiches on board Hope One were those that had been graciously provided by an FBO when we stopped for fuel, otherwise it typically was nothing. Seeing how this wasn't a healthy approach for the type of duration that I'm demanding from this body, I've begun to carry an apple in my flight bag. This has been such a nice and welcome part of The Flight, more than once.
Before I took off last April I had a great phone call with a Nutrition Coach. He said that pilot's have a demand placed on their bodies unlike most other professions. First of all, we are typically operating in a higher elevation, which means that our heart and lungs have to work harder. Second, we have a stress level that keeps us constantly on guard as we look for other traffic, navigate, and prepare for landing. He said that the typical pulse rate of pilot's is equivalent to maintaining a walking pace for the entire flight time.
He's right, my pulse right now is 72 beats per minute, when I'm flying I'm typically measuring 102 to 115 beats per minute. During these recent longer legs of The Flight, I'm happy to report readings of the mid nineties, which indicate that my stress levels have dropped significantly from what they were for the first half.
He also said that simply counting calories aren't the most important element of body fuel to maintain...instead to concentrate more on protein. At his suggestion, I now carry a small jar of peanut butter in my flight bag, a few spoons, and some very high protein energy bars that I picked up at Costco in Atlanta.
This approach has been MUCH better! The protein feeds the muscles, and really takes the hunger away quickly. I'm finding that I have no energy drains through the day, and that it's actually easy to get to the evening meal where I tend to load up the system with whatever fuel is around to partake in. My evening meal hasn't been as regimented, as typically it's a highlighted restaurant in the area, (or Appleby's, Taco Bell, or another chain restaurant that's easy and convenient).
Fluids have been the most challenging to manage, particularly in the hotter regions of the South and Southwest. Of course I don't want to drink a 16 oz bottle right before climbing into the sky for several hours. My own tests show that I'm good for about an hour and fourteen minutes, then it's time to set down, or keep shifting in the seat for the duration of the flight leg. But hydration is so vitally important, it can't be taken lightly or neglected either. I've found that it is a thought continually on my mind, even on weather delay days or promo stops.
I'll start each day with a nice BIG drink of water, I usually set it right on the nightstand so that it's there for me when I first wake up. This gives my system a good healthy boost and replenishes the water content that I lost through breathing. I've found that I'm not in the sky until about two hours from my waking moment, so it gives me plenty of time to get the system reset and ready.
After I take off for the day however, I'm sipping water constantly. This helps me to be replenished without over doing it. If it's the last 30 minutes of the final flight leg of the day, and it looks like I'll land on time without having to divert I'll begin to drink rather than sip in order to begin my re-hydrating cycle that lasts up until an hour before I go to sleep. This routine isn't the best for a system, but it is required for comfort and safety. I watch for the early signs such as chapped lips, dry skin, or feeling nauseous. Fortunately, these have helped to keep me on the right track early in The Flight so that I'm not rebounding to get fluids into the system after I end up behind the curve.
Exercise is what I am still focusing on. It's become more a matter of discipline that anything else. I find that it was easy to exercise at home, but traveling at this pace and living in hotels every night just don't spark me to get out there and sweat. But I miss that energy, exhilaration, and positive attitude that comes from a good half hour routine. So I'm now granting myself that time to stretch, breathe, clear my mind, and condition my muscles for the demands that these last 8,500 miles will bring...and it once again feels really good!
Keep in mind that I'm writing this not as a suggestion for you, but instead to let you know what I've found from my own personal experience. Don't adopt these practices in full until you talk to your own doctor. My routines and diet are stemmed from necessity and experience. An experience that I'll be glad to release to history, and settle down for eight hours of solid sleep and a life without a peanut butter jar by my side.
Michael Combs is currently flying a Remos Light Sport Aircraft into all fifty states for a total distance of 25,000 miles and 150 stops. For more information on The Flight for the Human Spirit, log on to www.FlightHS.com