How Can I Eat Better On The Road?
- by Don Stewart
It’s never too late to rediscover healthy eating habits especially healthy eating for truck drivers. Here are eight tips to help promote better nutrition and healthier eating for truck drivers.
Sure, it’s easy to swing by a truck stop and grab a few cheese-smothered chili dogs or a double cheese burger, but that offers no nutritional benefits to healthy eating for truck drivers. The goal should be to create healthy habits that manifest into a healthy lifestyle change. These habits should be deeper than just what you eat, but also when you eat, what food is doing to your system and how you should shop for your food.
1. How Often Should I Eat?
Before we talk about shopping and cooking we should talk about something extremely important: eating. Our society and the trucking culture has been organized around the idea, that people should only eat three squares a day. For healthy eating for truck drivers, this is not necessarily the best choice.
While this might be more efficient in terms of consuming maximum calories in minimum time and getting back on the road, it is not always the best plan for your health nor the best plan for driving at your optimum and full potential. Instead, aim for around five smaller meals each day. This might seem odd and foreign at first, but studies have shown that smaller meals throughout the day will help your body metabolize food more efficiently.
2. How Our Body Processes Food
Your body is designed to absorb calories, use them for energy and then burn them off. In order for your body to make use of the food, what you eat has to be broken down into a form of sugar called glucose. This is a natural process and for most, the human body does this quite well. You have probably heard people talking about their “blood sugar level”, and what they are referring to is the amount of glucose in their blood.
3. Why Should I Care About My Blood Sugar Levels?
Your body has a normal range for the amount of glucose and blood sugar (between 4.0 and 11.0) and it has a beautiful system for managing that level. Hormones like insulin keep your blood sugar from getting too high and becoming toxic, and another key compound, glucagon keeps your sugar from getting too low and causing your system to shut down. It is something like a highway with really good guard rails that keep a truck from running off the road.
It is possible to overwhelm this excellent system and cause it to crash and fail. Actually, many people are overwhelming it every day. Remaining on that course of poor eating habits and very little exercise, it will likely lead to diabetes later in life. As a society, we are seeing diabetes diagnosis on the rise and we need to take action for ourselves.
So why does this make eating only three times per day (or fewer) a bad idea?
You can end up constantly overwhelming or crashing the system with extreme blood sugar highs and lows. If you wait to eat until you are extremely hungry and have very low blood sugar, your body will send the signal that you are starving, and when you do eat it is often much easier to overeat unhealthy and convenient food. Healthy eating for truck drivers requires you to eat when you’re hungry and avoid a severe dip in blood sugar. Thus the importance of planning your meals and working towards a disciplined routine.
4. How Much Should I Be Eating?
Some people’s beliefs are to simply eat drastically less overall and there is a grain of truth to this. While dramatically reducing your caloric intake does cause the body to burn stored fat to stay alive, it can signal your body to store everything you do eat, which results in rebound weight gain when you do return to a more normal diet. Starving yourself is not the answer! It's simple math, try and not introduce more calories to your body than you're burning in a day. Typically, 2,000–2,573 daily calories are suggested; however, consulting a healthcare professional is the best way to understand what an appropriate daily caloric intake means for your individual health needs.
Thankfully there is a much safer and proven method. Simply, eat a reasonable amount of food more often in the day. Eating five or six smaller and healthier meals per day is like steering down the middle of your lane instead of bouncing your truck off the guard rails all day. This practice will help you feel more content and stop your body from deciding to store fat for hibernation. Of course, if you eat more often and end up eating more food overall you will still have trouble being healthy. The objective is to eat an appropriate amount of food, in a more sustainable way.
For a look at recommended serving sizes, check WebMD’s interactive and downloadable portion size plate
5. What Are the Benefits to Eating More Often?
There is also an enormous safety benefit to eating more often and avoiding the blood sugar spikes: You are less likely to feel drowsy or sluggish at the wheel. Most people have experienced the after dinner slump that makes it all but impossible to keep your eyes open after a big meal. That might be fine after Christmas dinner when you are lounging on the couch at home, but at work, behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound-plus rig, it can end poorly.
6. How Do I Plan My Meals?
You might be wondering: How on earth is it possible to eat five or more meals per day? Who has the time to stop for food that often? There is a way to make your meals much simpler, more healthy, easier to sustain over the long term, and much less expensive! The key is to learn to shop for your own food and cook for yourself on the road!
If you have access to an in-truck refrigerator, stock food and snacks that are healthy for you. Avoid candy bars and chips. Instead, focus on foods that will keep you fuller longer, like string cheese, pretzels, popcorn, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Additionally, look for smart choices when eating at fast food restaurants. Many restaurants now offer baked options, low-fat or low-sodium alternatives, and fresh fruits and salads. Menus often have these options marked for easy identification.
7. Eat What You Want In Moderation
Anyone who has dealt with eating healthier has heard the term portion control. Controlling what, how much, how often you eat and making sensible, sustainable choices is the path to solving many of the health risks of the trucking lifestyle. To eat healthier you don’t have to give up all of your favorite foods and consume a spinach and carrot based diet like a rabbit. Instead of going to the extreme, eating a balanced diet will keep you “between the lines” and on the road to better health. Extremes are by nature quite unsustainable and will not help you.
8. If You Have To Eat At a Restaurant
When eating at a restaurant, especially at buffets, in can be easy, and even tempting, to overeat. But in the long run, the negative effects of overeating will cost more money than you’ll ever save by overeating to “get your money’s worth.” When eating prepackaged food or at a restaurant, eat slowly and only until you are full, and focus on choosing healthier items. Do the same at buffets, and also try using smaller salad plates to ensure proper portion sizes.
Eat more: Salad, non-cream-based-soups, baked or lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat salad dressings, and dessert alternatives (like Jell-O, pudding, and fresh fruit)
Eat less: Mayonnaise-based salads, full-fat salad dressings (like regular ranch dressing), fried foods, foods with gravies or cream sauces, and sugary desserts.
The above are suggestions to help you change your eating habits and become a healthier person and as a healthier person, it stands to reason you become a better truck driver. Changing any habit isn't an easy task, however implementing one little positive change a day, will lead to remarkable results!
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