Eating on the Road – Nutrition for Truck Drivers
Healthy eating can be a challenge for many people, but toss in trying to do it while driving a truck across the country and it can seem next to impossible.
There are over 1 million truck drivers in Canada, many of them long haul, dealing with overnight stays in their cab, eating on the road, loss of routine, isolation, lack of sleep, long work hours, excessive noise and vibration from the truck, prolonged sitting and often unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking, inactivity and poor diet. The effect of these circumstances can have a terrible effect on health and for some reducing life expectancy by 12-20 yrs in comparison to the general population. This must change.
Truck drivers are at risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, colon, lung and laryngeal cancers, hypertension, sleep disorders, digestive problems and increased stress. Many of these conditions have modifiable risk factors, which means they can be prevented. It’s not a simple fix, but selecting one goal and one action step to achieve that goal and then working on it is a step in the right direction. When you make the choice for better health you will improve your quality of life.
Eating every 3 hours is essential to maintaining stable blood sugars levels. This in turn prevents energy crashes, lack of concentration, fatigue, food cravings and overeating. To ensure you are able to eat breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner and possibly snack, you need to be prepared. Have food packed with you for the day if you do short trips. Pack 2 snacks and a lunch. For long haul, consider investing in a plug in cooler or small fridge, mini slow cooker or microwave. The more food you can bring with you and prepare yourself the better. Stock your fridge with Greek yogurt, berries, sandwich meat, wraps, cut vegetables, fruit, hummus. If you are driving into the night, think “eat light late at night”. Although eating may help you stay awake, it’s more difficult to digest large amounts of food late at night and it may affect your sleep.
Eating protein at each meal and snack will help stabilize blood sugars, especially if you are a diabetic. It will also help make your carbohydrate energy last longer. Have peanut butter or eggs at breakfast, chicken or tuna at lunch, yogurt, nuts or energy bars for snacks and beans or ground beef for dinner. Cooked proteins will last 3-4 days in your refrigerator. If you are buying food at a truck stop or convenience store, look for lean protein and avoid deep fried items.
Fibre helps fill you up which will help prevent overeating. It also helps keep you regular. Constipation can be a problem with prolonged sitting and inactivity. Soluble fibre in foods such as oatmeal, flaxseeds, All Bran Buds, apples and apple sauce, bananas, barley, lentils and beans helps to lower cholesterol. The insoluble fibre in fruits and vegetables and whole grains helps provide roughage and a source of fuel (prebiotic) to the bacteria in your colon. Consider bringing overnight oats in a mason jar filled with berries, add All Bran Buds to your trail mix, eat hummus as a dip with raw vegetables, order chili on a baked potato, bean burritos and dahl for more legumes.
Fruits and Vegetables
According to the Canadian Community Health Survey of Truck Drivers, 70% of truck drivers eat less than 5 servings of vegetables and fruit per day and the goal for men is 8-10 servings. Fruits and vegetables are important sources of vitamins and minerals that help improve immune function and lower blood pressure, they are a source of fibre and fluid which helps prevent constipation and fills you up which will help maintain a healthy body weight, they are also low in calories. Moreover, fruits and vegetables contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals which may help prevent cancer and heart disease.
Increase omega 3 fat consumption for heart health, reducing inflammation, arthritis, lowering triglycerides, reducing depression, Alzheimer’s risk and lowering blood pressure. Fish (tuna, salmon sandwiches, sardines, herring, salmon burgers, nuts and seeds. Olive oil, canola oil and avocado are also sources of good monounsaturated fats. Limit deep fried foods, chips and crackers made with corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean oils. Avoid trans fats.
Sugar sweetened beverages are the leading cause of obesity in the US. We just don’t eat less food when we drink our calories. Keep water bottle in the cab, stock Perrier or soda water for something bubbly. Consider ¼ cup pure OJ in soda water for taste or lime wedges. Try tea instead of coffee for extra antioxidants. Limit coffee 4 hours before sleep.
Eating at Truck Stops
Just because it is all you can eat doesn’t mean you should … Cover ½ your plate with vegetables. Eat from the salad bar or vegetable soups first to help fill you up. Scan the buffet table and choose your 1-2 mains and cover the rest with veg. Watch the mac and cheese, mashed potato, creamy pastas as they may be high in fat. Avoid the deep fried, battered items. You can get French fries and onion rings anytime. Your truck stop is not a special occasion or a treat, it is part of your regular meal plan. There is no food police so it’s up to you to choose to improve your quality of life or not. Use the microwave and reheat your food.
Check out the menus on-line before you leave. Pre-determine your stop and your order. Stick to your plan. Consider buying your main and adding to it with food from home or the grocery store such as raw vegetables, salads, fruit, yogurt. Chili and baked potato, burgers without the special sauce, grilled chicken sandwiches and wraps can all be healthy choices. Where possible, add more vegetables.
Grocery stores have great parking lots
Take advantage of their fresh food selection, energy bars, dried fruit and nuts, sparkling water, fruit, Nourish bowls. Grocery stores have deli sections with green salads, broccoli salad, Greek salad, grilled chicken or salmon, freshly made sandwiches.
Bring food from home
Saves you money. Set yourself up for success. Buy a Power Inverter so you can use a small fridge or plug in cooler, even a microwave or slow cooker in the sleeper. Day trips: use a cooler with ice packs on the passenger seat.
Healthy snack ideas to pack from home
Cut vegetables and hummus, fruit parfait: fruit, yogurt and granola in a mason jar, ½ cup trail mix, crackers and peanut butter or peanut butter and banana sandwich, milk and homemade muffin, crackers with cheese and cucumber slices, hard boiled egg, edamame, roti and peanut butter?
Easy meal ideas to bring from home
Leftover dinner to eat cold or reheat at truck stop. Overnight oats in mason jar. Peanut butter and banana sandwich. Quinoa salad with chickpeas and Greek salad. Chickpea Curry on rice with roasted broccoli and cauliflower. Chicken or salmon wrap with vegetables. Chicken kebob with pita, tzatziki and Greek salad. Bean burrito and green salad.
Meals to prepare on the road
Sandwiches or wraps, oatmeal, Nourish bowls (need microwave).
Foods that don’t need refrigeration
Apple sauce, canned fruit, tined tuna (mini flavoured ones don’t need can opener), energy bars: ElevateMe, Larabar, Made Good, SoLo, Kind, Kashi, Triscuits, Wasa or Ryvita, Kalvi, Kashi 7 grains, nuts, seeds, trail mix, dry cereal, tortillas, pretzels.
Don’t eat from the bag or box, pre-portion foods you may eat too much of. Take a break for meals, pay attention to your food, slow down, eat with others, eat from a plate.
Delay, Distract and Substitute. Bring your hobby with you. Break bad habits with new good habits.
Even 15 minutes a day makes a difference. Use a pedometer for motivation. Get up a stretch every few hours to take pressure off your back. Stop at the service plaza to stretch. Walk around the picnic area, do high knees on the spot, drop and do 10 push-ups. Go to the gym or walk while your truck is being unloaded. Set a goal, write it down and commit. Activity will bring oxygen to your brain and help you focus on the road and keep you awake. You will get more benefit from raising your heart rate than a cup of coffee when you feel tired. Think about how you want to be strong and independent as you get older. Being active will help you do that.
Foods that make you sleepy
Too much refined carbohydrate, sugar and fat.
Get quality sleep
People who sleep less than 5 hours per night are more inclined to be overweight. Use ear plugs, eye shades, melatonin, no caffeine 4-5 hours before bed, limit alcohol, have a small carbohydrate snack if you are hungry.
Identify your weaknesses or areas that need improvement. Select one goal and 3 action steps to achieve it. Look at yourself not your circumstances. It may in fact be easier to stay on track when on the road because it is all up to you. Nobody to temp you or distract you from your goals. Don’t look at it as a weight loss goal. Look at it as a lifestyle goal and if weight loss happens then great.