An oversized greasy cheeseburger, crispy French fries and an ice-cold soda – this is the typical meal a truck driver will find along the stretch of any highway.
While pulling up to a fast food joint to order a meal may seem like the quickest (and cheapest) way to cure the hunger pangs that come with a lengthy drive, an unbalanced diet has affected truck drivers as a whole and the statistics are hard to ignore.
A study published earlier this year from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that nearly three-quarters of truck drivers sampled in America were obese – making obesity twice as prevalent in the trucking industry as in the US working adult population.
Research shows those who are obese are at a higher risk for serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea. Obesity has also been linked to increasing the chances of developing cancer and the likeliness of having a stroke.
In an effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle, drivers are finding it useful to skip the fast food joints altogether, and revamp their cab into a kitchen where the taste of home can travel with them.
Appliances that can be hooked up simply to a cigarette lighter or through an inverter can help ensure meals are balanced and nutritious, and many truckers are taking note of this.
Alfy R.E. Meyer, a truck driver for Erb Group of Companies for nearly 12 years says his in-cab appliances have helped him eat better throughout the years.
“I have the luxury of being an owner/operator,” said Meyer, who has been driving trucks professionally for almost four decades. “My truck has a small fridge and mini-freezer, which means I get to do a lot of my meal prep at home before I leave.”
Even though on his days off Meyer says he enjoys swimming, he makes the effort to eat healthy on the job because his working conditions are so sedentary.
“I have a blender in my truck,” said Meyer. “I have a microwave. I have a coffee maker. I have a toaster oven. And I have a Max Burton stove.”
Meyer says he uses his microwave the most during his long treks to nuke home-cooked meals like rotisserie chicken and vegetables that he pre-portions before his shifts. He also likes to bring fresh fruits on the road (ones that can cross the border since most of his driving requires him to go stateside) that he stores in his fridge.
“I can never imagine myself going on the road without a microwave,” said Meyer. “My appliances have definitely helped me maintain my healthy lifestyle.”
If you drive a day cab like Jason Jannetta, a driver for The Beer Store who works mostly night shifts, having a microwave or slow cooker isn’t possible without an inverter, making healthy eating more difficult.
Jannetta, known on Twitter as #FitTrucker (his handle is @UrbanHauler), instead uses a hand-mixer that plugs into a cigarette lighter outlet to blend up protein shakes throughout his shifts.
In addition, Jannetta prepares meals at home and stores them in his 6 Pack Bag, a cooler he swears by (no power required) so he can properly portion his food. He even makes time to work out seven days a week.
“I really want to change the image of the big fat trucker,” said Jannetta, who tweets encouraging advice and photos of clean meal ideas to his 1,000 followers multiple times a day.
“People need to know it’s easy to obtain this lifestyle,” added Jannetta. “I’m not only trying to reach out to other truckers on Twitter. I want to reach out to the executive of the trucking companies. They all need to get on the bandwagon to help get their drivers healthy.”
One such company that is already on the bandwagon to ensuring its employees are healthy is Erb Group. Erb claims most of its long-haul trucks have inverters to provide power to appliances that can be used to heat up or cook prepared meals.
Erb Transport was also the winner of the second Truckload Carriers Association’s (TCA) Trucking’s Weight Loss Showdown in 2012. Erb’s 12-person team lost a grand total of 315 pounds, a 12% drop of their combined weight, over the 10-week challenge.
In addition, Erb Group is planning to circulate cookbooks to its drivers filled with healthy meal options on the road. Submitted by its employees, the recipes were further analyzed by a group of Masters of Applied Nutrition students at the University of Guelph to gather the nutritional value (fat, fibre, protein content) of the meals.
Carolyn Vokes Reibeling the co-ordinator for the corporate health and wellness program at Erb Group says there is a specific section dedicated to meals-on-the-go for drivers using simple appliances they already have in their trucks such as slow cookers and microwaves.
“We truly do care about our employees,” said David Dietrich, vice-president of human resources at Erb Group. “We want to be able to help our drivers make healthier choices.”
The cookbook is currently being designed and Erb Group hopes that it will be ready for distribution this fall.
If your truck doesn’t have the equipment necessary to power cooking appliances, and protein shakes aren’t for you, Mark Perkin, a special products mover for Total Transportation Solutions, says he prefers to eat healthy while on the road – no appliances necessary.
“I go to Costco before I leave,” says Perkin. “I stack up on grapes, cherry tomatoes, and carrot sticks.”
A non-smoker who enjoys snacking, Perkin is fortunate enough that his company pays for his meals while on the road. So while he doesn’t cook much of his own food in-cab, he opts for healthier choices on a menu when he eats out.
“I try to stay away from red meat,” notes Perkin. “I eat a lot of grilled chicken and I almost completely cut out gluten and bread (from my diet) altogether.”
Whether you use in-cab appliances or not, Perkin says preparation is key in order to become a healthy driver
“Go get a case of water. Go get grapes. Before you leave, have your food with you.”