These Foods Can Help You Stay Alert on Long, Long Drives

You know caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea will help, but here are some other options
Breakfast on the Go

Nutritionist Keri Gans shows you simple ways to enjoy a healthy breakfast to start your day. Gans also explains why it's the most important meal of the day.

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Don’t just enjoy these while driving; perhaps stop somewhere scenic, cut a watermelon for the whole family to share, and enjoy. 

When we think of road trips, we think of fun, excitement, novelty. And then, when we’re on the road, we feel the F word: fatigue. While the United States is all the more beautiful for its vast swaths of land, staying focused on the road for hours on end can be challenging. Is it worth the trip? Absolutely! Especially if you’re snacking healthy and keeping yourself alert enough to enjoy it all. Here are nine foods that will help you do that.

These Foods Can Help You Stay Alert on Long, Long Drives (Slideshow)

We asked a few experts for their advice on the matter. Andy Holeman, muscle car enthusiast and creator of NoviStretch performance protective covers, has made it his life’s work to study different ways to protect vehicles and their passengers during long trips. As someone who has driven across the country multiple times, he has a few helpful tips. “Take lots of breaks,” he suggests; there are plenty of great rest stops and attractions on the road, sometimes in the least likely places. He also suggests listening to podcasts — if you haven’t listened to Serial yet, do so (and consider pairing these cereals with each episode) — and having engaging conversations.

Now that you have a couple of suggestions for activities to keep you awake, let’s talk about food. Libbie Summers, culinary director of Terra’s Kitchen, emphasizes the importance of staying hydrated. Sure, drink coffee, but just make sure you balance it out with foods and drinks that will hydrate you. That will lead to sustained energy rather than quick jolts of it, and if you’re driving for a long time, it’s sustained energy you need. She also recommends timing out your snacking, so you do it once every three or so hours. Nuts and fruits are the best choices: “The fat in the nuts will help sustain energy, while the fruits will give a quick boost of energy,” writes Summers.

Some of these foods, like chia seeds, are easily portable, and you can add them to most anything, even water. Others, like cinnamon gum, are available in most rest stops. Avoid Cheetos and Doritos; they will only dirty your car and sit uncomfortably in your stomach. Plus, why settle for those snacks when you have such delicious restaurants for regional food, fried chicken, and seafood dispersed throughout the country? Save your appetite for great, lovingly prepared food, and in the meantime, use healthy snacks to tide yourself over and keep yourself alert. 

Chia Seeds

Photo Modified: Flickr / Stacy / CC BY 4.0

Chia seeds are pretty much the best (and simplest) thing you can bring on the road with you, because not only do they keep you energized, but they also hydrate you. “Chia seeds absorb nine to 12 times their weight in water,” says dietician Tanya Zuckerbrot, due to their hydrophilic properties (they are attracted to water). Instead of spending money on a sugar-heavy chia juice at the supermarket, just add a few chia seeds to water and squeeze some lime into it; this creates chia fresca, or iskiate. The Aztecs believed that chia seeds could sustain warriors for up to 24 hours. 


Photo Modified: Flickr / Seth Baur / CC BY 4.0


Dark chocolate cocoa nibs contain an ingredient called theobromine, which is a stimulant similar to, but less harsh than, caffeine, so it makes for less of a crash. Make sure you’re going for very dark chocolate, though; milk chocolate contains a lot of sugar and will lead to a crash. Also, eat chocolate in moderation — it’s a filling snack, and you don’t want that weighed-down feeling in your stomach.