Should You Eat Before Riding a Roller Coaster?
Before you head out for a day at your favorite amusement park, you may find yourself asking: “Should I eat before riding a coaster?”
For some, the phrase “losing your lunch” is synonymous with “roller coaster ride.” Getting sick on a ride is a fear for many (including myself). No one wants to close a ride for a “spill cleanup.” It’s an embarrassing, unpleasant experience.
So, to eat or not to eat before a roller coaster ride — that is the question. And if you do eat, what foods are least likely to reappear during or after the ride?
When on a roller coaster, your body is not only subjected to intense g-forces, inversions and accelerations. The accompanying adrenaline and excitement also contribute to a gastrointestinal environment primed for problems.
Note: we’re talking primarily about roller coasters as opposed to spinning flat rides found at amusement parks and carnivals. While there are similarities between the two, this pre-coaster food guide may not apply to a twist-n-hurl ride (hey, it’s in the name!).
In a 2004 study, participants were subjected to a motion sickness-inducing “rotating optokinetic drum” three separate times. Researchers wanted to know which types of foods (or lack thereof) were most likely to prevent motion sickness.
In the first trial, subjects were given a “protein-predominant beverage” before exposure to the device. In the second trial, they were given a carbohydrate-heavy drink. For the final trial, they ate nothing beforehand.
The researchers found that participants’ motion sickness was “significantly more severe during the no-meal condition than during either the protein or carbohydrate condition.”
However, the effects of motion sickness were more prevalent in the carbohydrate-heavy drink trial than the protein-heavy trial.
Therefore, the researchers concluded that “liquid protein-predominant meals were most effective in suppressing…motion sickness symptoms, including nausea.”
To elaborate on which foods to eat or avoid, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends:
- Not overeating (a given)
- Avoiding “spicy, greasy or fatty” foods
- Eating dry crackers
- Eating small, frequent meals rather than one large meal (so you would eat between coaster rides, leaving some cushion time for the food to digest)
A 2001 Orlando Sentinel article also suggested not riding on an empty stomach due to the stress-induced excess of stomach acids:
Do eat a small, healthy meal a couple of hours before riding. But don’t overeat, and avoid coffee, tea and fruit juices, which increase stomach acidity.
Based on the research and medical-professional recommendations, eating a light meal before riding a roller coaster is not a bad idea. But what exactly should that meal consist of?
A Roller-Coaster Friendly Breakfast
In 2009, the Alton Towers theme park enlisted food specialist Dr. David Lewis to create a “no-sick” breakfast menu designed to prevent getting sick on a roller coaster.
The foods on the menu are low on the Glycemic Index (GI), a 0-100 numerical index that ranks carbohydrates based on the rate that they’re converted to glucose in the body. Higher values cause a faster rise in blood sugar, which may encourage motion sickness.
Lewis picked foods with low acidity and those that packed protein and “digestion aiding bacteria” to keep food down:
Your breakfast should also include fresh fruit with low acidity plus protein, from meat or yogurt, to provide all the energy you will need.
See below for the items included on the “no-sick” breakfast menu:
- Yogurt mixed with blueberries, granola and honey. Like the study discussed earlier, the yogurt provides a decent amount of protein. According to Lewis, the blueberries “are rich in chemicals called anthocyanins and phytochemicals believed to play a role in reducing inflammation that can occur when we feel nauseous.”
- Grilled organic bacon in whole meal bap (rice or other grains) with tomato. “These provide an excellent source of easily digested nourishment which, being low on the Glycemic Index, help ensure that this is released slowly but surely across the morning.”
- Celery juice with carrot and ginger. “Ginger is well known for its nausea combating powers; the carrot provides essential vitamins while celery has been used for centuries to relieve pain.”
Some of these may not be the most mouthwatering options, but eating them is a small price to pay to avoid turning your favorite coaster into the “vomit comet.”
Needless to say, binging on fried park food before riding an intense coaster ride is not the smartest idea.
What should I drink before riding a roller coaster?
So what should you drink to wash down your pre-coaster grub? Water is your safest bet. Not only is it easy on the stomach, but it also prevents dehydration, which can bring on nausea and other symptoms all on its own.
There seems to be differing opinions on carbonated beverages. Avoiding sugary soft drinks is ideal, but some people find ginger ale helpful, especially if motion sickness has already set in.
Of course, all liquids should be consumed in moderation. Feeling bloated with a gallon of whatever-you-just-drank sloshing around your digestive tract won’t make for a fun coaster ride (talking from experience). Instead of gulping down your drink, take sips periodically throughout the day to avoid the slosh effect (waiting in line is a great opportunity to hydrate).
Do Coaster Enthusiasts Eat Before Riding a Coaster?
I posed the “should I eat before riding a coaster” question on Twitter and Reddit and received some interesting responses:
light, healthy foods such as wraps works great. Heavily processed foods (like fried chicken) doesn't work so well w/coasters.
— Coaster Chit Chat (@coasterchitchat) June 25, 2016
Reddit user “nevastop” eats a light breakfast before going to the park:
I’ll like to grab a light breakfast before hand, no highly acidic beverages like orange juice though. Apple juice or water is fine. In the park, just a light snack sometime during the day. Drink LOTS of water. Then after leaving the park, I like to go have a big meal.
Depends… When I sneak food in and eat in line it's a PB&J, an apple and a granola bar with water. If not that then park food.
— Daniel Pancake Paczak (@daniel_pancake_) June 25, 2016
However, Reddit user “RealNotFake” opts to skip breakfast and eat a light lunch:
Despite what experts and research tell us, you should be the final judge as to what, if anything, you eat before embarking on a roller coaster ride. You know your stomach and limits better than anyone else.
Personally, while I would never eat a Thanksgiving-sized feast before hopping on a coaster, I know better than to ride on an empty stomach. But your results (and stomach) may vary. Do what you feel most comfortable with, and you’ll enjoy your ride “spill-free.”
Do you eat before riding a coaster? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.