By Hope Zvara, Mother Trucker Yoga
Living your life behind the wheel has its positives and negatives. You get to see parts of the country that most people have no idea even exist. But with that level of travel comes its challenges. You're away from family, you're alone much of the time, and you have limited space traveling with you. You have to choose wisely when it comes to what you bring along for the ride.
Now some drivers never cook a day in their life on their truck, while others that is all they do. And although I believe that the more food you can prepare yourself, the better, truck driver or not, when you are traveling, it's good to have some easy-to-grab foods available and ready to go in the cab of your truck for when you need them.
I have been in the health and fitness industry for nearly 20 years, and I have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of diet suggestions, food combination meal plans, exercise regimes, and approaches to weight loss and health. Some science-backed, some not. Because you spend most of your day behind the wheel, you don't burn a high amount of calories. This means you do not need so many calories to fuel you.
Some will argue that this formula is not advanced enough or that the human body is not that simple, and in some ways, they are right. But here's the thing, as a driver, we cannot deny the fact that your calorie output is low, and the only way to fix that ratio is to either one, move more (increase calories out) or two, eat smart, and less (calories in).
Now I know some drivers will argue that this will mean their bathroom breaks will increase. And for some, this is true. But dehydration (thirst) can be disguised as hunger. And reaching for a bottle of water BEFORE you grab a snack can help you reduce cravings and reduce food consumption, which means fewer calories are consumed. If you are worried about bathroom breaks, try drinking one bottle (16 ounces) of water right away first thing when you wake up, and then if you know you are going to stop, do the same thing 1 hour before you stop. This will be enough time for your body to move the water through your system and get you to the bathroom without putting a significant dent in your running schedule. Most important, you'll be eating less.
Why We Munch
Many people eat out of boredom, anxiety because they are tired or stressed. This is called emotional eating or stress eating. And for a truck driver, the good news is you can only eat what is inside your truck. So that means if you don't buy it, you can't eat it. And if you do buy it, you have it available for you to munch on.
The American Psychological Association put out a survey, and it said that one-fourth of Americans rate their stress as an eight or more on a 10-point scale.
When we stress eat, and our hormones push us towards high-fat, sugary "comfort foods," we tend to overeat. Initially, those hormones can shut down our appetite. Harvard Medical notes that the nervous system sends messages to the adrenal glands atop the kidneys to pump out the hormone epinephrine (aka adrenaline), which temporarily puts eating on hold. But here's the thing, if this persists, if we continue down this path, our body switches and the adrenal glands release another hormone called cortisol which INCREASES our appetite and may also ramp up motivation, and that motivation may be to "eat" more. Once stress subsides, cortisol levels fall, but Harvard Medical says that if that stress does not go away, a person's stress response gets stuck in the "on" position and cortisol levels stay elevated.
What you do need is nutrient-dense, quality calories to fuel you. And rather than tell you about all these incredible foods that you can only get on Amazon or buy at Whole Foods, or when you can get to a regular grocery store, I want to keep it simple. I want to share some simple go-to items that you can grab the next time you stop at the truck stop.
So What Can We Grab?
Truck driver or not, many adults are stuck in this stress cycle and have no idea, and I believe that knowledge is power, and you can't change something you don't know exists. So what can you change today? How about we start with what you have in your truck. What are your go-to foods? What are you buying as a "quick bite" when you walk into the truck stop? Have you made a ritual about it where your body knows precisely what is about to happen, and you can feel your brain getting excited (your stomach does not get excited about food- your brain does). Having a list, being prepared, and choosing wisely can help improve your munchie situation and, over time, your waistline.
Here are eight travel-friendly snack options when you need to stop to fuel your rig and fuel you
- Water, flavored water (look for minimal ingredients and watch for added sugars), sparkling water, or kombucha (an excellent soda alternative, sparkling probiotic beverage).
- Low Sodium Jerky. Jerky is a great snack for the long-haul. It's tough, chewy, and makes your mouth work for the food you are eating, which may help for those of us who are more affixed with the act of chewing than the need for actual calories. Make sure you read the label and look for brands that are low in sodium and minimally processed. Jerky is also high in protein and low in carbohydrates, so it will help keep your hunger cravings at bay.
- Low Salt Nuts & Seeds. Nuts and seeds are great alternatives to chips. However, a high sodium intake can throw your kidneys out of whack, and if you aren't drinking enough while out on the road, move you even closer to dehydration. So make sure you look for bags that say "low-sodium" or "salt-free" on the bag. And remember, nuts and seeds are high in (good) fats, so a small handful goes a long way.
- Hard-Boiled Eggs. Eggs are great brain food and overall fuel for your body. Most truck stops carry hard-boiled eggs ready to eat. An egg is an excellent protein snack and one that will help keep you feeling full without all the extra calories.
- Fresh Fruit and Veggies. This should be obvious, but there is always something fresh at a truck stop (it may not be much- but it's there). Some will argue that the banana is too high in sugar, or all they have are carrots, but both these options are 100% better than a bag of Skittles, chips, or a Big Mac. Remember this motto "Fresh is Best!" And when you are shopping at a truck stop with limited options, the freshness will outweigh the rest.
- Cheese. In moderation, cheese can be a great snack when you are on the go. Cheese is a great source of calcium, fat, and protein and contains high amounts of Vitamin A, B-12, and zinc (brain food). However, cheese-eating in high quantities coupled with a lack of exercise can pack on the pounds. Like all things, practice moderation.
- Low-Sugar Trail Mix. Trail mixes are a yummy treat for that trucker on the go. But watch for hidden sugar, sodium, and chemicals in those small bags. Make sure the sweetener that is making that snack sweet is from the fruit inside, not added sugar that many brands sneak inside. Dried fruit is a bit higher in sugar as well, but if I had to choose, I'd choose a trail mix with dried fruit over a Pop-Tart, donut, or Snickers any day.
- Tuna. Many forget about this fantastic travel food. Tuna is not only packed ready for your next adventure, but it's an amazing source of protein and great right out of the package. Make sure you look for tuna packed in water, not oil. And if it's flavored, check how much added sugar or sodium it contains. When in doubt, grab the unflavored and consider adding black pepper, or next time you are at home, grab Tajin seasoning from your grocery store. You can sprinkle this unique seasoning on just about anything!
The next time you stop for fuel or need a bite to eat, remember that you can only eat what you have bought when you are in your truck. And if you look a little closer, you will see that healthier options are hanging on the shelves of your truckstop. You just need to take a closer look.
Follow our motto when it comes to grabbing a bite to eat here at Mother Trucker Yoga: Good-Better-Best. The best options may not be available to you at this moment, don't stress over it, but are there good options and maybe even better options available to you? Are there easy grabs that you can find that are better than what you have been doing? That, my friend, is a win. One your body will thank you for.
Hope is a yoga, movement, and lifestyle expert who is also a nationally recognized speaker and best-selling author. She is the CEO of Mother Trucker Yoga. She also hosts a radio show titled "A Daily Dose of Hope" that focuses on truck drivers' well-being, implementing programs that speak to both the body and mind. For more information, visit www.MotherTruckerYoga.com
Twitter: @trucker_yoga (Mother Trucker Yoga