Driving & Food
With 20% of UK accidents being fatigue-related drivers need to be wary of exacerbating tiredness at the wheel. As well as ensuring you are fully rested, there is the question of what and how much to eat before you embark on a long drive and what provisions to make for the journey. By knowing how the body deals with different food groups, you’ll be in a better position to decide what to eat in order to ward off the post-meal energy slump.
Proteins versus carbohydrates
Carbohydrates (wheat-based products, potatoes, rice etc) are known as ‘calming’ foods. This is because they enhance the absorption of tryptophan, which the brain converts to serotonin. It is the primary reason why many workers who have a wheat-based lunch experience a mid-afternoon slump. In contrast to serotonin, dopamine excites and stimulates. Dopamine-rich foods (meat, fish, nuts, soy/milk products) are all high in protein, so eating these before you drive could help to enhance your concentration at the wheel.
Keeping sugar levels balanced
Eating refined carbohydrates and saturated fats (such as white bread or sugary snacks) exacerbates the post-meal energy slump further as they are broken down into glucose very quickly. As a result, you’ll experience an initial sugar high, which your body will try to reduce by releasing insulin. Your sugar levels will fall dramatically thereby depriving your brain of its primary source of energy and impairing your concentration. Carbohydrates with a low Glycaemic index (GI) such as pasta and grainy breads are better for maintaining stable sugar levels than high GI ones like potatoes and white rice because energy from low GI food is released more slowly.
Try to resist snacking at the wheel
A recent study by Brunel University shows that drivers are twice as likely to have an accident if they are eating or drinking at the wheel. Although it isn’t against the law to eat or drink at the wheel, the police can bring charges against drivers if they think they are not in full control of their vehicle as a result. Instead, take regular breaks during your journey to eat small, protein-rich meals and snacks, and drink plenty of water – dehydration impairs performance and can lead to headaches.
Listen to your body
Driving on an empty stomach is unwise as it can lead to low blood sugar levels and a dip in energy. As well as impairing concentration this can create light-headedness and even nausea. Finally, listen to your body. If you’re tired, sluggish and feel your concentration slipping, find somewhere safe to stop, get some fresh air and replenish your energy reserves. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) says no driver should drive continuously for more than two hours without taking a 15-minute break.
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