Maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a trucker is notoriously difficult, and one of the main culprits is the lack of healthy food on the road. Fast food chains have been progressing toward healthier options in recent years, but when they’re serving your every meal, snack, and beverage, any extra calories, fat, and sugar add up fast. Below we outlined some of the key reasons and best ways for truckers to adopt healthier eating habits, and some options to make the most of what’s readily available.
Why Eating Healthy is So Important
According to a national survey of the trucking industry, 69% of truckers are obese—twice the average of the national adult working population. Obesity puts truckers at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and heart disease, as well as a number of other health risk factors.
These risk factors not only threaten your life—which is absolutely the more pressing matter—but what many truckers might not fully grasp is they also threaten your livelihood. The medical conditions that often accompany obesity, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, can put a driver at risk of not being medically qualified to drive.
Why Eating Healthy is So Hard for Truckers
It’s not just you or your willpower. While there might be healthy food available on the road, there’s both less of it, and it’s more expensive. Restaurants almost never run specials on salads and turkey sandwiches—it’s the country-fried steak or their specialty dessert. Truck stops likewise aren’t trying to give away apples and granola bars for 50 cents each—it’s the family size bag of chips or king size candy bar with the florescent orange sale tag.
Truckers will note that while the car side of truck stops have more healthy options, it can be difficult to get even a regular size candy bar behind the fuel desk (King size only there!). That’s why one of our key tips is to cruise the car side of the truck stop for your food options first, keeping your truck-side checkout to fuel only.
The Number One Way to Eat Healthy on the Road
You’ve heard it before, we’re sure. The number one way to eat healthy on the road is to bring your own food. Besides being healthy, bringing your own food also means fewer stops, less spending, and that you’ll have the type of food you actually want to eat.
Bringing your own food requires investment of time and money, though. You need a mini-fridge, and investing in a quality one at the outset can save you long term headaches. Truckers also laud the benefits of mini-ovens and stoves—usually about the size of a tacklebox. You can even get a slow cooker and cook while you’re driving.
While bringing your own food takes some planning on the front end, you make that time—and money—up while driving. Stops can be reserved for fueling, loading, and unloading only, and you can eat while you wait at these stops. You can also have readily available snacks so you aren’t starving when you finally stop for a break, meaning your knee-jerk reaction won’t be to order the super-sized fast-food meal.
If planning and packing every meal just seems too high a bar to set yet, that’s okay. We’ve outlined the healthiest breakfasts, snacks, beverages, and lunches/dinners that you can almost always find on the road—and what to look out for on your journey to healthier eating.
The best breakfast on the road:
- Fresh Fruit
- Hard boiled eggs
- Peanut butter on toast
You could have all three for under 300 calories in most cases. Almost every truck stop is going to have hard boiled eggs in the fridge and some kind of fresh fruit. Pack some peanut butter in your truck and your favorite whole wheat bread, and you’re set.
Hidden hazards: Yogurt, instant oatmeal, and protein bars/granola bars all seem like go-to healthy options available at most truck stops. But beware: these products can be notoriously packed with sugar, so much so that you might as well be having a candy bar or a doughnut. Check the label and try to keep it to 12 grams of sugar or less.
In a pinch: A good ole Egg McMuffin is less than 300 calories and only 11 grams of fat. Dunkin’s Ham, Egg, and Cheese Wrap is even healthier, with less than 200 calories and nine grams of protein. As a general rule of thumb, ham is a better option than bacon, sausage, or fried chicken, and toast or wraps will be lower in calories than biscuits.
The best beverage on the road: water. Truckers who switch to water and/or seltzer report needing less caffeine to stay awake. Less caffeine also means fewer restroom breaks, as caffeine is a natural diuretic.
What to skip: soda and sweet tea. That old culprit, sugar, is the main reason that soda and sweet tea top the charts for unhealthy habits: a single, 12 ounce can usually contains about 150 calories that do nothing to satiate your hunger. Giving up just one can of soda a day (if you currently have a daily habit) would help you drop 15 pounds in a year.
When you’re in a pinch: unsweet tea or black coffee. Sometimes you absolutely need the caffeine while driving. In those situations, an unsweet tea or black coffee gives you the pickup you need with none of the calories. If you’re used to sweeter versions, experts recommend committing to switching for one week—most people never go back.
Lunch & Dinner
The best lunch/dinner on the road: a turkey sandwich. You can find a turkey sandwich just about anywhere, and it’s hard to mess them up. Even with cheese and a little mayo, they’re almost always under 500 calories and packed with filling protein.
In a pinch: plain burger and a salad. Hamburgers get a bad rap, but if you cut out the cheese and bacon you have a beef sandwich. Unless it’s a monster, a burger itself should stay under 500 calories. Trading fries for a salad will trade empty calories for vitamin-packed nutrition that fills you up, and every fast-food chain has a decent side salad option these days for free or a dollar more.
Hidden hazards: chicken sandwiches. We’ve all been taught that chicken is healthier than beef, but crispy, fried chicken sandwiches are often the worst thing on the menu. Grilled chicken sandwiches can be an excellent option but be aware of what’s on them. Lots of chains overshoot any calories saved in grilling by adding bacon or specialty mayonnaise sauces.
The best snack on the road: nuts. Nuts are packed with healthy fats and vitamins. They’re also super easy to eat while driving and provide a deliciously satisfying crunch. Eat in moderation, though, as—depending on the nut—a handful can be well over 100 calories.
In a pinch: jerky. Chewy, salty, filling—jerky hits a lot of great snacking notes. It’s also usually low in fat and high in protein. It’s off the charts in sodium, though, which can contribute significantly to heart disease, so don’t make jerky your go-to.
Hidden hazards: dried fruits and dark chocolate. Both have lots of vitamins and benefits and top most healthy snacking lists. However, both are usually extremely high in sugar, making them only healthy options in limited amounts. If it has to be a milkshake or a dark chocolate bar, choose the latter. If fresh fruit, nuts, or hummus and veggies are available, though, chocolate covered raisins are no longer the healthy option.
Identify Your ‘Sometimes’ Foods
Cheeseburgers, French fries, soda, doughnuts, candy, chips, milkshakes—what is the food you just can’t live without? If all of the above constitute your regular diet on the road, with the occasional foray into something healthy, it’s time to switch up your ratio.
Just don’t tell yourself you can never have French fries again. We all know that sometimes it’s the only viable option at a Mom-and-Pop outfit along a desolate stretch of highway. Or, more commonly, it’s been a long day filled with close calls and you just need a little something to lift your spirits. That’s okay. Have the cheeseburger (or milkshake, doughnut, etc.). Just save that special food for sometimes—it will both be better at curing what ails you and keep from contributing to another big stressor, poor health.
An East Tennessee Trucking Company That Cares about Drivers
The truck driver shortage has long been touted as a reason to provide better benefits, better pay, and better working conditions for truck drivers. At Roane Transportation, we simply believe in treating our drivers as valued employees: affording them respect and acknowledging the hazards of their job. Unhealthy eating is a real, established risk for truck drivers, but one that can be avoided with the right tools and a little dedication. Just as we prepare our CDL drivers with intensive and rigorous training to provide some of the best logistical services in the country, we believe we should provide them with the information to stay healthy on the road.
Roane Transportation is an East Tennessee trucking company with an emphasis on oversize hauling and warehousing that provides ample pay and guaranteed weekly home time. Visit our website today to fill out an online application to join our fleet or call us at 865-345-3288 to see what Roane Transportation is all about.