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On the road: wise eating, safe driving

Good nutrition habits make for a better – and safer – driving experience.

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Just because your holiday starts with a long car journey it's no reason to leave good eating habits by the wayside. In Spain, where holidays are taken very seriously and the summer 'exodus' is expected to see over 86 million long-distance car journeys made during July and August, the Repsol Foundation, the Spanish Nutrition Foundation and the Directorate General of Traffic have pooled ideas to publish a ten point guide to sensible eating on the road, which they hope will also help to reduce accidents. So, if you want to arrive at your destination fresh and ready to enjoy your holiday to the full, here are some simple rules to follow:


  1. Eat a balanced diet. Perhaps it hasn't occurred to you, but what you eat affects how you drive. Bad eating habits can cause fatigue and doziness; as well as slowing reflexes and making you more prone to clumsiness, they can affect your ability to focus and increase the risk of accidents.

  2. Eat regular, digestible meals. Spicy dishes and those with a lot of fat are best avoided as they require more effort from your body to digest. By contrast, salads and fruit, grilled meat or fish are all good choices. But eating light doesn't mean giving up eating completely: sometimes it's tempting to keep going that bit longer without stopping in the hope you'll arrive sooner, but if your body's used to three meals and coffee breaks every day, try and stick to that even when you're travelling. Remember to cover 100% of your energy needs and choose varied food that contains all the nutrients you need. When you're driving, you need to pay full attention to the road, so don't distract your body by making it cope with unusual foods or irregular meals.
  3. Start off rested and breakfasted. It's a good idea to have breakfast before you start the journey. A proper breakfast – not a greasy “full English” fry-up – will include four different food groups: dairy, fruit and vegetables, grains and supplements (oils and fats, sugars, meats, etc.). Stopping for an early lunch or brunch is a good idea as it's a way of taking a break and contributes to a varied and balanced diet. Eat light, but don't rely on snacking while travelling as snacks are unlikely to make up a complete diet. A stop for tea mid-afternoon is another chance to take a break. After eating a full meal, you should wait between 15 and 20 minutes before starting off again. Immediately after eating, your power of concentration is reduced, increasing the chances of careless mistakes occurring.
  4. Plan ahead. Plan your journey and make a note in advance of possible places to eat according to the time between stops. Remember to get fresh drinks for the car when you stop in case you get stuck in traffic. Drinks containing alkaloids (caffeine, theophylline and theobromine) such as coffee, tea, cocoa, cola drinks or energy drinks, can help combat tiredness. As well as eating and drinking when you stop, it's a good idea to do a little exercise, either a short walk or a few stretches.
  5. Two hours drive, ten minutes rest. Take the opportunity to stretch your legs, eat something light (fruit, dairy produce, nuts, a sandwich, chocolate...) and rehydrate (with water, soft drinks, coffee, tea, energy drinks, soup, juice...). If you feel hungry, don't wait until you reach your final destination, find somewhere to stop. The sensation of hunger increases anxiety and can result in an unconscious increase in speed. And remember that it's better to stop for a meal at the right time rather than pressing on regardless which increases the chances of an accident, while, at best, saving a few minutes.
  6. Dehydration danger. Drinking is as important as eating. Dehydration causes fatigue and affects your ability to concentrate, increasing the possibility of making mistakes at the wheel. You won't actually feel thirsty until dehydration has started, so it's advisable to drink even if you don't think you need to. Remember that it isn't only water that has a rehydrating effect: soft drinks, tea and coffee, soups, juices and fresh fruit and vegetables all help to top up the body's fluid level. Wait till you get to your destination before you start on the alcoholic drinks, though.
  7. Avoid distractions. You need all your concentration for driving in order to react to unforeseen events, so take a break to eat and drink, don't try and snack at the wheel. Many countries now have laws covering “avoidable distractions” while driving, and that includes eating and drinking. Keep the car at a comfortable temperature for the driver, but remember that heating and air conditioning dries the air, causing dehydration and fatigue, so be prepared to make more frequent stops.
  8. Driving is a physical activity. You may spend the whole time sitting down, but driving is still a physical activity. And, like other physical and mental work, it's tiring. When conditions are worse – bad weather, driving into the sun, or after dark – it requires more concentration and effort, so it's likely to be even more tiring. This makes it especially important to eat and drink wisely. Riding a motorbike takes more energy than driving a car, but in both cases, energy expenditure is greater than when walking or travelling as a passenger in the vehicle.
  9. Special care for children and the elderly. It's not only the driver whose needs must be met. If you're travelling with children, remember that they need more fluids and more dairy produce than adults. The elderly should choose foods with higher nutritional content and take particular care to drink sufficient liquid.  Pregnant women and nursing mothers also have higher water requirements. Whoever you're travelling with, remember that they may need to stop more often than you do: just because you feel fine, don't assume everyone else is.
  10. Don't abandon good habits just because you're driving. Don't be in such a hurry to reach your destination that you arrive irritable and headachey from skipping food and getting dehydrated. It's perfectly possible to eat well when you're travelling. Take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables and try out local food and restaurants along your journey. Your health and safety is at stake.

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