As the evenings begin to draw in, the days are shorter and your route is no doubt shrouded in darkness by 5pm, you might start to notice your concentration on the road waning and that you are feeling more tired than usual.
Truck driving safety relies heavily on you as a driver feeling alert, confident and above all else, well. The reduction in light, warmth and colour that winter brings can trigger your body to respond in ways that leave you feeling out of sorts.
Your body’s internal clock or sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) naturally responds to changes in light and dark to regulate your sleep, mood, and appetite. The longer nights and shorter days of winter can disrupt your circadian rhythm leaving you feeling sluggish and tired.
When it’s dark, your brain produces the hormone melatonin to help you sleep and then sunlight during the day triggers the brain to stop melatonin production, so you feel awake and alert. During the short days and long nights of winter, however, your body may produce too much melatonin, leaving you feeling drowsy and low on energy.
The reduced sunlight of winter can also lower your body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood. A deficit in serotonin may lead to depression and adversely affect your sleep and appetite.
All of these symptoms combined are known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In addition to ensuring that you are getting regular quality sleep and a healthy amount of regular exercise, another way to help combat SAD is to ensure that your diet is full of foods that support your energy levels, your concentration and your brain health.
The type and quantity of food you eat plays an essential role in determining your energy levels during the day. The symptoms of SAD can make you crave sugary foods and simple carbohydrates, such as pasta and white bread, but there are better choices. Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants, are all known to support brain health,1 while iron and potassium are excellent for boosting energy and concentration levels.
Foods that contain these naturally occurring elements are perfect for helping drivers like you stay awake and maintain your concentration on the road. Many of them are also, as luck would have it, great snacking foods to eat whilst driving long-distance.
20 foods and drinks that can naturally help you stay awake and maintain your concentration levels:
- Fatty fish such as Salmon, Trout and Sardines are all excellent sources of Omega-3. Omega-3’s help build brain and nerve cells while aiding learning and memory. Go for tinned versions for portability and storage when out on the road.
- Coffee may not be a good long-term solution to staying awake, but you may be pleased to hear that it is actually good for you. Caffeine blocks the chemical adenosine which makes you drowsy,2 boosts serotonin which increases your mood3 and sharpens your concentration.4
- Pumpkin seeds contain the micronutrients zinc, magnesium, copper and iron. The first three micronutrients all help guard against neurological disease, but iron in particular is the one that will help to prevent brain fog and impaired brain function – neither of which we want when we are concerned with truck driving safety.
- Nuts contain a host of brain-boosting nutrients, including vitamin E, healthy fats and plant compounds. Walnuts are the best of the bunch for the highest nutrient content.
- Green tea has been found to improve alertness, performance, memory and focus. Containing L-theanine, an amino acid that increases the frequency of alpha waves in the brain, helping you to relax without making you feel tired.5
- Matcha tea has shown to significantly improve basic attention abilities and reaction times.6
- Bananas contain carbohydrates, potassium and vitamin B6. All of these can help boost energy levels.1
- Sweet potatoes contain complex carbs, fibre, manganese, a mineral that is necessary for the correct functioning of the body including the brain, the nervous system and enzyme systems. Sweet potatoes also contain huge amount of vitamin A - an essential vitamin to maintain a healthy immune system.13
- Due to their high natural sugar and fibre content, apples can provide a slow and sustained energy release to keep you going steadily without feeling a sugar rush.
- Yerba Maté contains caffeine and promotes the production of the hormone Epinephrine, which increases energy. However, unlike other stimulants it does not seem to affect blood pressure or heart rate.7
- Quinoa has a low glycaemic index, which indicates that its carbohydrates are absorbed slowly providing a sustained energy release.8
- Oats are rich in B vitamins, iron, and manganese that help the energy production process.14
- Yoghurt contains simple sugars including lactose and galactose. When broken down, these sugars can provide a dose of ready-to-use energy.15
- Edamame beans have high amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid and manganese, both of which can help increase energy in different ways.9 Folic acid works with iron to promote energy and fight fatigue and anaemia, while manganese helps generate energy from the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins.
- Oranges contain antioxidant compounds that can protect against fatigue causing oxidative stress.10
- Beans are good sources of folic acid, iron, and magnesium, which are involved in energy production and aid the delivery of energy to every cell in your body.
- Spinach is a good source of choline, is loaded with fibre, and is packed with tons of other nutrients, a combination that has the potential to improve mental clarity.11
- Blueberries are rich in polyphenols called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are plant pigments that provide certain fruits and vegetables with blue, red and purple colouring. Being antioxidants, anthocyanins are crucial to maintaining good health and in turn good cognitive function.12
- Red Cabbage also contains anthocyanins - 36 different anthocyanins to be precise. Red cabbage is also rich in fibre and low in calories.
- Not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration, slowing bodily functions and leaving you feeling sluggish and tired. Drinking water can give you a boost of energy and help fight feelings of fatigue.
These 20 fatigue fighting, energy boosting foods and drinks are all relatively portable, don’t take any major preparation and will not spoil too quickly - making them perfect foods to eat whilst driving long-distance. A handful of pumpkin seeds here and a cup of green tea there, in addition to a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner will keep your energy levels up throughout the day.
You don’t need to embark of a full diet change straight away, gradual changes are the ones that last so simply switching your usual cereal or cooked breakfast to a warming bowl of oats or a pot of yoghurt and blueberries, is an easy and tasty way to start.
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1 National Centre of Biotechnology Information [Internet] January 2016 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4727338/
2 National Library of Medicine [Internet] Huang ZL, Urade Y, Hayaishi O. The role of adenosine in the regulation of sleep. Curr Top Med Chem. 2011;11(8):1047-57. doi: 10.2174/156802611795347654. PMID: 21401496. [Internet] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21401496/
3 Wiley Online Library [Internet] February 2008 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2007.00665.x/full#b19
4 National Library of Medicine [Internet] Brice CF, Smith AP. Effects of caffeine on mood and performance: a study of realistic consumption. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2002 Nov;164(2):188-92. doi: 10.1007/s00213-002-1175-2. Epub 2002 Sep 4. PMID: 12404081. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12404081/
5 National Library of Medicine [Internet] Dietz C, Dekker M. Effect of Green Tea Phytochemicals on Mood and Cognition. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(19):2876-2905. doi: 10.2174/1381612823666170105151800. PMID: 28056735.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28056735/
6 National Library of Medicine [Internet] Dietz C, Dekker M, Piqueras-Fiszman B. An intervention study on the effect of matcha tea, in drink and snack bar formats, on mood and cognitive performance. Food Res Int. 2017 Sep;99(Pt 1):72-83. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2017.05.002. Epub 2017 May 5. PMID: 28784536. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28784536/
7 National Library of Medicine [Internet] Vieira MA, Maraschin M, Pagliosa CM, Podestá R, de Simas KN, Rockenbach II, Amboni RD, Amante ER. Phenolic acids and methylxanthines composition and antioxidant properties of mate (Ilex paraguariensis) residue. J Food Sci. 2010 Apr;75(3):C280-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01548.x. PMID: 20492280. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20492280/
8 Harvard School of Public Health [Internet] October 2020 https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/quinoa/
9 US Department of Agriculture [Internet] January 2019 https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168411/nutrients
10 Advances in Analytical and Pharmaceutical Chemistry [Internet] Gavin Publishers June 2018. https://www.gavinpublishers.com/admin/assets/articles_pdf/1540874659article_pdf382629181.pdf
11 National Library of Medicine [Internet] Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Sep;11(9):1007-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009. Epub 2015 Feb 11. PMID: 25681666; PMCID: PMC4532650. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25681666
12 National Centre of Biotechnology Information [Internet] August 2017 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5613902/
13 Medical News Today [Internet] November 2019 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/281438#nutrition
14 US Department of Health and Human Services [Internet] June 2020 https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Manganese-HealthProfessional/
15 International Dairy Federation [Internet] March 2017 https://www.fil-idf.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Factsheet-002_2017-Reasons-why-galactose-is-good-for-you.pdf