The Meal That Keeps You Flying High
With a long nonstop and lots of work ahead of you, don't opt for the goopy chicken. Reach instead for your brown bag—and food that won't bring you down.
By Gretchen Reynolds

(Business 2.0) – It's not just the planes you board that constantly require fuel: Without food, the levels of blood sugar needed to keep your mind humming can drop precipitously after just three hours. And where, midway through a no-frills cross-country flight, does that leave you and the unpolished PowerPoint presentation you have to deliver upon landing?

The best way to stay sharp on that nonstop is to bring your own food. When packed intelligently, brown-bag fare provides necessary calories while keeping you much sharper than the rubber chicken that may—or, nowadays, may very well not—be served on the flight. Along with a few other high-altitude dining essentials, here's a Ziploc-enclosed meal that travels well and keeps your brain moving at the speed of sound. — GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

1 Start by seasoning. It's a scientific fact that a pressurized cabin reduces taste-bud sensitivity. Tote along salt and pepper, soy sauce, or Tabasco to give your meal some spark.

2 Water for life—and your tie. There's more humidity in the Sahara than in an airplane cabin, so ask the attendant if you can have two or three bottles of water, and drink at least 8 ounces per hour to avoid dehydration. Sparkling water does double duty: The carbonation can help scrub out spills.

3 Load up on constructive calories. Yes, an avocado packs more calories (300) and fat (30 grams) than a Snickers bar. But you can burn 425 calories working five straight hours—and the avocado's unsaturated fat guarantees a slow release of carbohydrates into your blood, which avoids the energy spikes you get from candy bars. That other eminently packable fruit, the orange, provides only 50 calories.

4 Meat is your friend. Protein, not carbohydrates, delivers long-lasting energy. A quarter-pound serving of lean red meat, like leftover grilled sirloin, will provide you with 28 grams of protein, half the recommended daily allowance for an adult male. Another good protein source is egg salad, as well as tofu, which now goes down easier thanks to several well-seasoned options. If you're hankering for a sandwich, pack one slice of whole-grain bread and eat your meal open-face.

5 Leave the potato chips behind. Almonds, walnuts, cashews—you name the nut—all make for better snacks than chips. Nuts are rich in vitamins and minerals and, unlike a stack of Pringles, won't bog down your brain with saturated fat. Buy them unprocessed (look in the baking aisle at the grocery store) and eat 1-ounce servings to satisfy your between-meal hunger: 24 almonds, 18 cashews, or 14 walnut halves, to be precise.

6 Dessert to chew on. A stick of peppermint gum is superior to a mint: The gum freshens your breath, pulls out food stuck between your teeth, and helps your ears to pop during descent. As for those complimentary and sugary Oreos, dish them off to an unknowing—and unproductive—seatmate.