When, what, and how you eat affects your ability to stay alert and focused.
As truck drivers, staying alert and focused is paramount when it comes to driving safely. When, what and how you eat can all affect your ability to do this. Eating also plays a huge role in mental and physical health. Following the 7 steps to Eating for Energy will help set you on the path for improved energy and concentration in addition to achieving long-term health and wellbeing.
Step 1: Getting into a Straight-Line State
The first step in achieving a high level of energy is getting into a ¬situation where your blood sugar level—the level of energy in your system—is stable. From the time you wake up until the time you settle into bed for the night, you want to have a steady, straight-line supply of energy to draw from.
To achieve a straight line state…
- Get up and plan to eat breakfast shortly after. Breakfast is considered to be what you eat within the first two hours of waking. Even if you are doing a night shift, aim to eat within an hour or two of waking. For most people, the sooner breakfast is consumed after waking, the better for energy, appetite control and weight maintenance.
- Ensure the largest portion of food on your plate is fruit and/or vegetables. If you pack food for your day, try to bring salad or raw vegetables to supplement your main item. If you are buying food at the truck stop or café, look for items with vegetables with it or order a side salad or fruit salad in place of fries.
- Ensure you’ve got both carbohydrate and protein food present in the meal. Just eating fruit or vegetables as a meal is not enough to sustain blood sugar. Even if you are vegetarian you should still eat protein with your meal. Choose lentils or nuts, tofu or edamame as vegetarian protein options. If you are stopping to buy food, look for menu items that contain protein.
- Plan to eat every three to four hours during the day. This means packing food to bring in the cab with you if you don’t plan on stopping. You shouldn’t feel like you’re constantly eating, but the between-meal snacks are critical. The best choices for snacks are the foods you’re the least likely to get in your meals. Trail mix pre-portioned into ½ cup containers, grapes, raw vegetables, smoothies and protein bars are easy to eat on the road.
Step 2: Becoming Fat Wise
The second big step in eating for energy is to become fat wise. You want to become aware of the difference between the good types of fat in the diet and the bad ones. Eating
on the road can make this a challenge. Be selective in your restaurant choice and bring food from home most of the time. Avoid deep-fried and breaded items and foods that appear visibly greasy. Fats from avocado, fish, nuts and seeds are good for circulation and can help prevent depression.
- In preparing meals at home to take with you on the road, aim to use liquid oils in place of hard fats as much as possible. Liquid oils such as canola, flax, olive, sesame, ¬walnut and avocado oils are considered good fats.
- Foods that contain highly ¬saturated fats such as lard, hard margarine, cheese, cream, whipping cream and the fat on the outside of a piece of meat are not good in excessive amounts. This type of fat can raise bad cholesterol levels and contribute to heart ¬disease and cancer.
- Hydrogenated and trans fats, found in unnatural peanut butter and many processed foods, are also bad news. (Where you see hydrogenated vegetable oil or vegetable oil shortening on an ingredient list, keep these foods to a minimum in your diet.) Hydrogenation can create trans fats which also should be avoided.
- Limit or avoid deep fried foods such as French fries and onion rings as well as pastries and donuts as they contain trans fats but often come without a label. As tempting as they might be, plan-ahead and have snacks readily available so you aren’t tempted as you drive by the fast food outlets.
Step 3: Staying Well Hydrated
The third step in eating for energy is to consume an adequate level of hydrating fluids. Water is generally the best choice, but herbal teas, 100% pure fruit juices, milk, decaffeinated beverages and even watery fruits and vegetables count as hydrating fluids. In an average day, if you are driving all day, you lose the equivalent of six to eight cups of fluid. If you manage to fit in a workout you lose even more.
- So how do you stay hydrated?
Start by having a glass of water every time you eat. There’s five or six right there – if you’re having small, frequent meals
- Keep a water bottle in the cab with you at all times. If you prefer cold water add some ice. Keep additional water in a cooler if there are limited places to refill on your driving route.
- Avoid pop and sugar sweetened beverages. The calories in drinks add up quickly and can lead to unwanted weight gain. Often when you drink calories you don’t compensate by eating less food.
- When you consume foods or beverages that are sweet or salty, aim to drink extra water.
- If you drink potentially dehydrating beverages like alcohol, get in the habit of having a 1:1 ratio of water for each glass consumed. Keep your alcohol intake below one or two drinks a day.
- Aim to limit caffeine to no more than 400 milligrams a day—the equivalent of three to four cups of coffee. Try to stop drinking caffeine at least 5 hours before you want to go to sleep.
- When exercising, aim to drink about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of water every twenty minutes. When you exercise, you numb your thirst mechanism and by the time you feel thirsty you may already be slightly dehydrated. Avoid drinking sports drinks except if you are exercising for longer than 1 hour.
- You’ll know you’re properly hydrated when your urine is clear or very pale in colour. It’s healthy and desirable to urinate every couple of hours during the day. This might not always be possible when driving but take a break when you can.
Step 4: Getting Adequate Iron and Other Key Vitamins and Minerals
The fourth step in eating for energy is to ensure your diet contains an adequate supply of iron together with all the other vitamins and min¬erals. Iron is the mineral that helps oxygen to circulate around the body via the hemoglobin molecule. If you lack iron, you will usually lack energy. If you are iron deficient you may feel you want to sleep 11 or 12 hours and get short of breath going up a few stairs. With the move toward less animal and more plant-based diets, many people have eliminated some of the traditionally superior sources of iron like beef or chicken. But in so doing, they haven’t replaced these foods with other iron-rich sources.
- To keep your diet high in energy-producing iron include tofu, lentils, kidney beans, soybeans, other legumes, lean fish and eggs, dark green vegetables and whole-grain or iron-enriched bread and cereals on a regular basis.
- Eating plant sources of iron with a source of vitamin C from fruits and vegetables will improve the absorption of iron. Strawberries, oranges, papaya, tomatoes, peppers and broccoli are all good sources of vitamin C.
- If you like eggs and beef, 7 un-fried, non-greasy eggs a week are fine and so is one 3 ounce serving of lean beef once or twice a week. Just skip the bacon.
- Get a blood test if you think you are low in iron. You may need to take a supplement. Discuss this with your family doctor or dietitian.
As far as other vitamins and minerals go, there are a few that are good to consider taking by a supplement. However, remember that supplements are just that—supplements to what you hope is a well-balanced diet. They’re not replacements.
- Because you are in your truck 8+ hours per day, it isn’t a bad idea to take 600-1000 international units or IU of vitamin D a day. Vitamin D is activated in the skin by sunshine and is available in some foods such as egg yolk, milk, fatty fish and margarine. Vitamin D helps improve calcium absorption and may help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
- If you dislike milk products or are concerned your calcium intake may be low (as it is for most people), a calcium supplement containing vitamin D is also worth taking. The goal is to get about 1,000-1200 milligrams a day of calcium from either food alone or food plus the supplements. If you do like milk, try to have 2 cups a day.