Eating for the Drive
Spring is here– and some planning for meals and beverages can help keep your focus and attention on high-alert as you travel with your friends and family. I talk to Dr. Jennifer Strong, a Naturopathic Doctor, for the scoop on what not to eat when planning an hours-long road-trip.
Justin: Driving requires one to be alert and energetic– not tired or drowsy. If you’re planning a 9-hour drive in a single day, are there certain foods to avoid eating? What about certain ingredients?
Dr. Strong: Foods to avoid would be anything that is hard to digest, or anything high in simple sugars. This includes greasy, fatty meals, which take a lot of effort to digest. These can leave you feeling in need of a nap afterwards, so you body can focus its efforts on digestion.
High sugar foods are good for an immediate sugar rush, so they’re ok for an hour road trip. These are foods such as candy, chocolate, slushies, donuts, and so on. Afterwards, you’ll have a ‘sugar crash’, and feel even more tired than before.
Additionally, tryptophan, which is found in most meat and dairy products, is an amino acid known to make you feel a little drowsy if consumed in large quantities. For that reason, avoid gobbling down multiple double-cheeseburgers on the go.
Justin: If some foods should be avoided in the name of driver alertness, are there certain foods or ingredients that can promote alertness and focus?
Dr. Strong: Nothing substitutes for a good night’s rest the evening before. Aim to get enough sleep– and then the right foods on the road will help you maintain alertness. The goal on the road should be to maintain a normal blood sugar level– therefore foods that have adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates and natural sugars are ideal.
These include nuts and dried fruit, trail-mix, granola, fresh fruit, whole grain cereals for munching, low fat string cheese, and veggie slices.
Justin: What about eating habits- for instance, the timing of eating a meal before or during a drive?
Dr. Strong: You’ll be in a seated, sedentary position, so not many calories will be exerted. Therefore, small snacks every 3 hours or so are ideal to maintain normal blood-sugar levels.
Plan ahead and pack your food in a cooler, as opposed to being stuck with fast-food. Planning meals and snacks ahead of time allows people to more easily make healthy choices. Plus, your snacks are available to you at all times without waiting.
Lastly, don’t hold back on the fluids. It may be tempting to drink less on the road to reduce bathroom stops, but it’s important to be hydrated in order to remain alert and avoid headaches.
Hunger pains can often be ‘thirst pains’– so before you reach for the snack, take a drink of water and wait a few minutes to see if that satisfies you.
Justin: I worked late last night and had trouble sleeping. I’m pretty sure I’ll be tired for my trip. Should I stock up on those flashy energy drinks to help keep me awake?
Dr. Strong: The main ingredient in those drinks is the caffeine. Is it ‘healthier’ than a coffee? Typically not by much. You may need a little extra caffeine, but more important is maintaining mental health. Make more frequent stops where you can stretch and walk around, try to keep blood sugar levels normal, and stay stimulated with some upbeat music or comedy CDs.
Justin: I can barely drive by a Timmies without stopping to perk up on delicious coffee. Is this ok?
Dr. Strong: Occasionally, but coffee is a diuretic– so you may find yourself stopping more often, and feeling dehydrated. Coffee also inhibits B-vitamin absorption, which is needed for energy levels and digestion. You may feel yourself needing more and more coffee to keep you alert instead as you build a tolerance to the caffeine, too. In the long run, coffee is not a good solution to drowsiness.
Dr. Jennifer Strong, BSc, ND, is a Naturopathic Doctor and owner of the Harmony Health & Wellness Centre in Windsor, Ontario.