Nutrition to Drive Well

Tips for good nutrition at the wheel

  • Eating the right food is essential when sitting behind the wheel for hours
  • Driving consumes between 1,000 and 1,350 kilocalories a day
  • Pasta, rice, onions and tomatoes – the no-go foods for driving
  • Don’t dehydrate – experts say it’s just as dangerous for a driver as being under the influence of alcohol

Now is the time many people are going to make long car journeys as the holiday season really gets into full swing.

And just as you make sure your car has enough fuel before you start your journey, it’s just as important that you – the driver – eats the right food before setting off.

Why? Because eating the wrong sort of food can make you feel drowsy, cause fatigue and even cause stomach upsets that can leave your concentration potentially compromised.

No one wants to risk an accident, which is why SEAT’s Dr Mari Carmen López, from the SEAT Cars medical centre, says: “it’s not good enough to tell yourself it’ll go away soon; you have to be in full control of your faculties and stay as comfortable as possible, and that includes eating the right food.”

How many calories do you burn at the wheel?

You might be sitting behind the wheel, but driving burns 1,000 to 1,350 kcal a day, which is similar to resting.

In other words, you don’t need to eat loads of food before setting off – up to 2,500 kcal per day should suffice.

On the other hand, it’s equally important not to get behind the wheel on an empty stomach as low blood sugar level could make you feel dizzy or light-headed.

Eat small amounts, but regularly

Large meals lead to drowsiness, a feeling of bloatedness and alter your ability to concentrate. After lunch, for example, it has been demonstrated that performance decreases by 10%. Dr López recommends “making frequent stops and eating small quantities, and after the main meal, walk around for 15 minutes or take a nap to clear your head.”

The no-go foods

Deep-fried, batter-fried, spicy food and sauces – give all of these the swerve if you want to stay safe at the wheel. For the same reason avoid rice, beans and pasta. Because driving does not require a significant calorie intake, it is best not to eat too many carbs as they cause bloating. Another reason is that they digest easily and can make you feel hungry again very soon.

Eating too many citrus fruits, onions and tomatoes, even though they are healthy, causes acid indigestion, so it is best to avoid them with a full day of driving ahead.

H2O – keep topped up with the essential fuel

According to a study published by Loughborough University and the European Hydration Institute, drivers who are not adequately hydrated make mistakes similar to those with a blood alcohol level of 0.8 g/l – equivalent to drinking four glasses of wine.

Typical driving mistakes when dehydrated include involuntary lane departures, late braking reflexes and easing onto the shoulder.

According to Dr López, “dehydration can lead to dizziness, vomiting and in the most extreme cases, loss of consciousness.”

None of this is a good option when you are driving, so make sure you drink plenty of fluids, especially in hot weather and at each stop. Water is the best option, coffee and teas are also good to keep you alert but don’t overdo it – a couple a day should do. As for energy drinks, Dr López says these are “absolutely inadvisable” when driving.

Can you eat or drink while driving?

Most European traffic rules do not expressly prohibit this. However, both can cause distractions and restrict freedom of movement. A study by the University of Leeds concluded that reaction time while eating goes down by up to 44%. In Spain, for example, drivers caught eating or drinking face a fine of €200;  in the UK it’s £100 and the loss of three points on your driving licence.