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Ain’t No Gyms In Truck Stops

TORONTO, Ont. - For the most health conscious of truckers, eating well on the road presents a constant challenge. Driving is the most sedentary of jobs -you can't just stand up and walk over to the pr...


TORONTO, Ont. –For the most health conscious of truckers, eating well on the road presents a constant challenge. Driving is the most sedentary of jobs -you can’t just stand up and walk over to the proverbial water cooler for a stretch.

Some will take advantage of a layover and get a room in a hotel that has exercise facilities, or throw their bicycles in the back of the truck.

Others will take advantage of any opportunity they can to do some footwork, parking in the back row of lots, going for a run, or, in the words of one truckers’ forum contributor: “I try to maintain my fitness level by walking at least half to three-quarters of an hour per day and so far it’s working. I can still (at 67+) easily pass a treadmill stress test and my weight has been stable for the past five years.”

But when truckers stop to eat, are truck stop facilities catering to the health conscious among them?

Depends who you ask.

“Every damn truck stop restaurant in North America serves corn as their vegetable. Corn is for chickens, pigs, horses, and cows!” commented one trucker.

Another commented on the ubiquitous “brown gravy by the barrel so you can’t see what’s on your plate,” at another popular truck stop chain.

But while truck stops have long had the reputation for being greasy spoons, both large chains and independents alike have made concerted efforts in recent years to expand their menu options.

“The nature of business for our members is hospitality, and they take very seriously the charge of caring for customers -many of whom have become long-time customers and even friends,” said Lisa Mullings, National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) president and CEO.

“Truck stop operators typically provide a wide range of food offerings so they can meet diverse customer needs,” she said.

“I always carried a large Koolatron with me stocked with stuff that I liked to eat. The stuff offered by most truck stops is fast food grease covered in processed cheese. (But some truck stops) have buffets where you can get a healthy meal if you select wisely,” said another trucker.

Bill Mulligan, vice-president of development, facilities and environmental for Pilot Travel Centres, said that the chain’s deli areas serve fruits and vegetables, and that fast food franchises do offer health menus.

And at some independent truck stops, the effort to provide fresh fruits and vegetables goes over well.

“We’ve really noticed the number of drivers who will eat off our salad and soup and fruit bars. A number of them have remarked how much they appreciate it,” said Bobby Berkstresser, owner of Lee-Hi Travel Plaza in Lexington, Va.

“We still sell an awful lot of cheeseburgers and French fries, but we also sell a lot of fresh fruit and cottage cheese. I think you’ve definitely seen a huge change in the last few years, although old habits die pretty hard. Younger drivers that you see, especially the drivers with their wives, they tend to eat a little healthier.”

While many healthier choices do exist on restaurant menus, the onus is still very much on the consumer to know what constitutes a better choice. Enter Bob Perry, vice-president of sales for Roadside Medical.

Perry started Roadside Medical about two and a half years ago. He comes from a family of owner/operators with over 70 years of driving experience. His own career has been in health care, and Perry established clinics in the states of Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia that do DoT compliance for trucking companies, medical services, and urgent care treatment.

He also created a set of wellness programs around sleep issues. Perry,

in partnership with Pilot Travel Centers, is now rolling out 115 such clinics across the US which will be franchised and licensed to doctors and will be freestanding but built on Pilot lots. To date, Perry’s wellness tool kits have gathered a lot of interest in the US and Canada.

“Drivers fight huge health issues -they can’t take care of themselves adequately if they don’t have access (to proper facilities),” said Perry, who has also launched his own private label line of nutritional products, and plans to have naturopaths on staff.

“We want to be the one-stop shop for them. We’re starting to franchise to doctors -what I would really love to see happen is for trucking companies to look at owning one,” he said.

The wellness tool kits contain samples of healthy snacks, a pedometer, and a guide to nutritional information, which includes a sample list of common foods, and number of calories, proteins, carbs and fats per serving size.

Also included is a guide to fast food and casual dining, with a scarifying list of typical North American restaurant chain menu items and their calorie, fat, sugar and salt content.

Noting that many truckers like to eat in their trucks, and will peruse the local Wal-Mart for grocery items, Perry has also included a list of healthy ideas and tips for creating meals on the road, as well as on reading food packaging labels.

“We’ve created a complete shopping checklist for better selection in meal choices,” said Perry.

Because exercising while on the road can take some creativity, there is also a walking program for drivers who feel they need regular motivation. They also have access to coaches, if needed, to discuss their progress. “We have several drivers in Canada on the program,” said Perry.


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