Driving long distances as a mover, truck driver and/or owner-operator has its many professional advantages and some disadvantages. One of the biggest challenge is staying awake and alert while driving.
Part I – What are the Best Foods to Eat
There are several excellent techniques that can help, but perhaps the most important method is strategic eating. More than anything else (second to the amount of sleep you get), it is the food you eat throughout the day that determines your ability to stay awake and alert during a long drive. It goes without saying that you want the foods that you eat to serve as a source of energy and mental clarity for you, rather than having the food that you eat to serve as an unwanted source of sleepiness and grogginess (which happens after eating white carbs, sugar and other refined, processed foods). Therefore, rather than eating whatever happens to be on the road, the most important thing you can do to stay alert is to strategically plan your diet, the restaurants you go to, the meals you order, and the food you pack.
In general, you want to eat foods that are high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, B vitamins, Vitamin C, and healthy (alertness-inducing) complex carbohydrates.
Here are some excellent sources of protein, omega 3’s, B & C Vitamins and complex carbs.
For Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
Number 1 on the list for the perfect food is Salmon. Researchers extol the virtues of wild salmon for its combination of high amounts of Omega 3 Fatty Acids, which are great for your brain and heart; protein and amino acids, which are helpful for your joints, muscles and mental functioning; and Vitamins— such as Vitamin B12 and Selenium—which are important for your immune system. Try to include salmon or other fish rich in Omega 3’s such as mackarel, sardines, halibut, trout and herring at least twice a week on your diet. These fish also cut down on inflammation, a source of many illnesses, and therefore these fish have a globally protective effect on all of your systems.
Foods high in Omega 3’s that are particularly easy to eat on the road include Walnuts, Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds and Soybeans, These can be purchased in most supermarkets or health foods stores, and can be kept in ziplock bags to be eaten raw or mixed into yogurt, cereal of foods of your choice. Other excellent sources of Omega 3 include Oatmeal (create a perfect breakfast by mixing walnuts, chia seeds, and healthy fruit with your oatmeal) and Avocado (guacamole can be found easily in most supermarkets today).
Foods Rich in Protein, Vitamins or Both
Eating foods that contain Pantothenic Acid, Folate, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Beta-Carotene, Choline, Vitamin C, Selenium and Vitamin B12 are important to eat for maintaining your alertness and optimal mental clarity.
Healthy sources of these vitamins that should serve as a staple to your meals include the following:
Lean Beef (important that the beef should not be processed as are deli meats). Lean turkey is also a significant source of protein; however, many people are prone to getting sleepy from the amino acid tryptophan in turkey (the cause of much Thanksgiving evening exhaustion!)
Yogurt (best to get Greek Yogurt which has more protein)
Eggs (keeping hard boiled eggs available is an easy and great source of protein)
Leafy vegetables (such as spinach, romaine lettuce & kale)
Peanut or Almond Butter
Lentils, beans and peas (such as chickpeas, black beans, white beans). These foods are particularly good at steadying your blood sugar to help avoid swings in sugar levels and gives you great energy. All types of Fruit (better to eat in the morning) including Apples, Bananas & Berries
Nuts, nuts and more nuts—everything from almonds to walnuts to peanuts
All types of Citrus Fruits
Foods Rich in Complex Healthy Carbs
Avoid refined carbs which tend to produce an insulin effect that creates a high followed by a “sugar-crash” and sleepiness. In fact, not only should you avoid packaged food that has the word “refined” on its list of ingredients, also avoid packaged food with the word “enriched.” Instead, make these a part of your driving diet:
Quinoa (quinoa tastes like a starch but gives you a great combination of protein and healthy complex carbs)
Sweet Potatoes and Root Vegetables
Sprouted Grain Bread
So you are out on the road and want to eat well, but you don’t have the ability to cook your own healthy food. What do you do? There is where strategizing and planning come in.
- Create a “menu” for yourself of healthy foods that you enjoy and are willing to eat as snack food during the drive. Snack foods that you can keep by your side can be purchased at most supermarkets include pre-cut raw veggies; small containers of bean dip, salsa, avocado salad/guacamole and humus that you can eat along with the veggies; bags of seeds & nuts; fruits such as apples & bananas; baked (never fried) chips made from veggies; hard boiled eggs; Greek yogurt; and peanut or almond butter sandwiches on whole grain, sprouted bread. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of chocolate (65 or higher) is also a great food for energy, as long as there is a high percentage of dark chocolate and you don’t eat more than a small quantity. Also, remember that although dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa can be good for your mental functioning and health, regular candy bars and even some “health” & protein bars can be very deleterious. So if you want to include dark chocolate in your menu, it might be best to purchase it in a health food store.
2. For your main meals, if you can’t bring a dish from home, think about which restaurants on the road that will provide you with the foods high on Omega 3’s, proteins, vitamins and healthy complex carbs that you need to stay awake and alert. You want to find restaurants that offer foods such as salmon, leafy greens, quinoa or brown rice, lean chicken or meat, legumes/beans and green vegetables as well as salads or a salad bar. Most restaurants will have their menu online so you can check ahead of time.
3. Drink Coffee, but drink strategically so that the caffeine in the coffee has the power to keep you awake when you really need a lift— and you don’t create a rebound effect from taking in too much caffeine.
4. Drink lots of water and unsweetened green tea (the amount of sugar put into a bottle of sweetened green tea is similar to the amount of sugar found in a candy bar).
Remember that given the stresses of long distance driving, it’s easy to succumb to the ease of fast food, sugary or fried snack foods that are readily available at convenience stores, or eating at whatever restaurants present themselves when it’s time to take a break.
But then having to fight against grogginess after a sleep-inducing meal makes the ease of fast food not worth it. I have found that no matter how careful one is about eating only healthy foods that are good at keeping a person awake, even one “bad” food (such as a candy bar or bag of chips) can suddenly propel you into a sugar low and sleepy state. So try adapting this menu as an experiment, but be sure to only eat healthy foods and not allow for a food known to give a sugar “high” and crash.