9 Best Airplane Snacks for Athletes

9 Best Airplane Snacks for Athletes

9 Best Airplane Snacks for Athletes

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When preparing to travel for competition, it is important for athletes to have an idea of the best airplane snacks to pack. 

Planning ahead can help ensure that athletes have the right foods available to support their sports nutrition needs throughout the trip.

Let’s take a look at airline regulations regarding foods and beverages allowed in carry-on bags. Then we will discuss the 9 best airplane snacks for athletes.

Airplane Snacks: Know the Airline Rules

The first step in planning airplane snacks is understanding the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) rules for what liquids and foods are allowed in carry-on and checked luggage.

Most important, is to be familiar with TSA’s 3-1-1 rule for liquids, gels, and aerosols. 

The 3-1-1 rule requires that liquids, gels, and aerosols packed in carry-on-luggage be:

  • 3: Be 3.4 oz (100 ml) in size or less
  • 1: All liquids must fit in 1 quart size, clear, plastic, zip top bag
  • 1: 1 zip top bag is allowed per passenger

As an athlete, this means you cannot carry full water bottles, sports drinks, or protein shakes through security. 

In addition, certain food items are considered liquids (i.e. nut butter, hummus, sports gels) and must comply with the size requirements.

If you bring items with you that do not follow the 3-1-1 rule, they will not be permitted through the security check-point. 

For a full list of regulations regarding food and beverage items allowed in carry-on and checked luggage, visit the TSA’s What Can I Bring? website.

Airplane Snacks for Athletes: 311 Rule

9 Best Airplane Snacks for Athletes

Now that you are familiar with TSA regulations, let’s explore the 9 best airplane snacks to support the nutrition needs of traveling athletes.

#1 Fresh Fruit

If you are traveling within the continental United States, fresh fruit makes a great airplane snack for athletes. 

Consider fresh fruits such as apples, pears, bananas, peaches, and plums, which can be easily packed in your carry-on bag. 

Be mindful that if you are traveling outside of the continental United States, the regulations regarding fresh fruit differ. 

For example, when traveling from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico to the mainland states, you are not allowed to bring fresh fruit. This is a regulation put in place to reduce the risk of spreading invasive plant pests.

#2 Dried Fruit

Dried fruit is a great airplane snack for athletes. Dried fruits provide a great source of carbohydrates, as well as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (1).

Pack a variety of dried fruits such as pineapple, mango, apple slices, cherries, cranberries, and raisins. 

#3 Nuts

Nuts are a great, easy-to-eat snack for athletes to pack for airline travel. Nuts contain protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them a nutritious option to enjoy on the plane (1).

Choose a variety of nuts to take with you, as different types of nuts provide different nutritional benefits.  

Pack your nuts in individual snack size bags for added convenience on the plane. Also, consider making your own dried fruit and mixed nut blend containing walnuts, almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios and any of your other favorite nut varieties.

#4 Nut Butter

Nut butter is required to meet the liquid size requirements. Packages of nut butter must be 3.4 oz (100 ml) in size or smaller to be allowed through security in your carry-on bag. 

Justin’s® has a variety of nut butters available in a convenient 1.15 oz individual squeeze pack that are perfect for travel. 

Another great option for those with nut allergies are SunButter® products. Their spreads are made with sunflower seeds and are allergen free. Sunbutter® also makes individual 1.1 oz packs that are perfect for airline travel.

If you want to bring a larger container of your favorite nut butter or SunButter® with you, pack it in your checked luggage. 

Also remember, if you plan to bring jelly or honey to go with your nut butter, it is considered a liquid and must be ≤ 3.4 oz in size.

#5 Bars

Bars are perfect, portable airplane snacks for athletes to take in their carry-on bags. 

Pack your favorite granola, breakfast, and sports bars so you have a convenient snack ready when you get hungry. 

Choose bars that are made with whole grains and contain limited added sugars. Some great options include KIND® Bars, Nature’s Bakery® Fig Bars, and Kate’s® Real Food Bars

#6 Pretzels, Pita Chips, and Whole Grain Crackers

Individual bags of pretzels, pita chips, and whole grain crackers are great airplane snacks for athletes. Each of these options provides athletes with carbohydrates and minimal saturated fat.

Grabbing a snack bag of pretzels or pita chips is a better option for athletes than other higher fat chip options. 

#7 Whole Grain Bagels

Taking a few whole grain bagels with you on your trip can come in handy for a quick, high-carb snack

Adding nut butter as a topping to your bagel is not only delicious, but adds protein and healthy fats to your snack. 

Dave’s Killer Bread® has a variety of whole grain bagels available that you can pack for your next trip. If you don’t eat the bagels on the flight, they come in handy for breakfast in your hotel room as well.

#8 Jerky

Beef or turkey jerky is a great way for athletes to add protein to their airplane snack options. Jerky also has the advantage of being a portable snack that is easy to eat without making a mess. 

On average, 1-oz of beef or turkey jerky contains 9-12 grams of protein depending on the brand (23).

Jerky also contains sodium, which can stimulate thirst, thus encouraging athletes to meet their hydration needs.

#9 Trail Mix

Trail mix made with assorted nuts and dried fruit is a great snack for athletes to take with them on the airplane. Before your trip, pre-pack your favorite trail mix into snack size bags to make it easier to enjoy.

You can increase the carbohydrate content of your trail mix by adding in whole grain breakfast cereal, pretzels, or snack crackers.

Some of my favorite pre-packaged trail mixes include Gourmet Nut® Power Up Trail Mix and Nature’s Garden Healthy Trail Mix Snacks (available on Amazon).

Bonus Airplane Tip for Athletes: Pack an Empty Water Bottle

Since you cannot take a full bottle of water through security, make sure to pack an empty, reusable water bottle. 

Once you get through the security check-point you can fill up your water bottle. This will allow you to have water with you throughout the rest of the trip.

Individual Packets of Sports Drink Mix

In addition to an empty water bottle, consider bringing individual packets of sports drink mix.  

You can easily add the packets to your bottle of water, which may help encourage you to drink and stay hydrated throughout the trip. 

This will come in particularly handy once you arrive at your destination and want to have a sports drink with your workout.

Airplane Snacks for Athletes: Food Safety

As you pack and enjoy your airplane snacks, make sure to keep food safety a top priority. Two important steps you can take are handwashing and food temperature control.

Clean Hands

A key aspect of food safety is washing your hands to remove germs prior to eating. Washing your hands with soap and running water is the best way to clean your hands. 

When you do not have access to soap and water, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.  

Hand sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol.  When you apply the gel, make sure to rub it all over your hands until the hand sanitizer dries.

Consider packing a travel size (3.4 oz or less) hand sanitizer in your carry-on bag so you have it with you on the airplane. As a reminder, hand sanitizer is considered a liquid and needs to meet the TSA travel requirements for liquids.

Food Safety: Handsanitizer

Airplane Snacks: Food Temperature Control

All perishable foods you plan to take on your trip need to be  held cold (<40°F). This includes foods such as deli meat, cheese, yogurt, and cut fruit. Foods left out of temperature control for over 2 hours should be thrown away.

This can be a challenge if you are planning to bring perishable foods on an airplane. According to TSA, food may be packed with ice or ice packs only if the ice or ice packs are completely frozen when going through security.   

Therefore, If the ice or ice packs are partially melted or there is any liquid at the bottom of the container it will not be allowed to pass through the security check-point.

Similarly, gel packs must be completely frozen to pass through security. If partially melted, the gel pack must meet the 3-1-1 liquids requirement (3.4 oz size or less, fit in 1 quart size bag).

As a best practice, avoid packing perishable foods as airplane snacks unless you plan to eat the snack as soon as you arrive at the airport (within 2 hours). You don’t want to risk getting food poisoning from eating food held without temperature control.

Pack Your Airplane Snacks for Travel

When packing your snacks, organize them in your carry-on bag so they can easily be removed at the security checkpoint. It is possible you will be asked to remove food from your bags as it goes through the X-ray machines.

Also remember that all of the liquid or gel items you bring in your carry-on bag must fit into 1 quart size, zip top bag. 

Only pack the snacks you want to eat at the airport or on the airplane in your carry-on bag. The remaining snacks can go in your checked luggage for you to enjoy when you arrive.

Best Airplane Snacks for Athletes

You are now equipped with ideas on airplane snacks to pack for your next trip. 

Before your trip, make time to plan ahead and pack nutritious snack items to help meet your sports nutrition needs.

For game day sports nutrition tips for athletes, check out my blog on planning team meals for away games.

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About the Author

Mandy Tyler is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine.  Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. 

Sports Nutrition Game Day Guide EBook for Athletes

If you are looking to take your performance to the next level, make sure to check out my new Sports Nutrition Game Day Guide. This downloadable guide is written to help athletes develop an individualized plan to achieve peak performance on game day.

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