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

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

iStock / Thinkstock

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.

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. 

Chocolate

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.

Cinnamon

Shutterstock

When you’re tired of driving and need pick-me-up, try cinnamon: Even a whiff of the spice will “boost your brain activity,” according to the The World’s Healthiest Foods organization. A research study showed that smelling cinnamon increased awareness, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor speed. Chewing cinnamon gum is a good idea, and so is packing some of these apple cinnamon walnut muffins

Eggs

Shutterstock

These versatile breakfast staples are high in protein, so they keep you feeling full and alert. But that’s not all! Eggs contain choline, which aids brain function, helping you feel sharp as a tack. So now you know why so many rest stop shops sell hard-boiled eggs. You could also request some hard-boiled eggs to go at any roadside diner or breakfast chain you stop by.

Marmite

Steve Cordory / Shutterstock

Marmite is probably easier to get hold of on a road trip through the United Kingdom or Australia (where you’ll find the similar Vegemite), but spread some of this on a piece of bread and you’ll certainly be alert. Nutritionist Dale Pinnock says that marmite, with its high concentration of B vitamins, is directly involved in creating energy at a cellular level. A small spread of the bitter stuff, which is made from brewer's yeast extract, on your morning toast can also support the central nervous system during times of stress — say, when you’re hopelessly lost on the road and your GPS is broken. It might be worth ordering some online before your American road trip

Nuts

Shutterstock

Nuts, specifically almonds and walnuts, are easily portable, widely available, and healthy snacks to bring along for the ride. According to nutritionist Alissa Rumsey, raw, unsalted almonds are a great source of healthy fat and protein that will keep your energy levels up throughout the day. Try making walnut granola with ginger — a natural stimulant that will also keep you awake — at home, and, if available, add yogurt from the rest stop to make it a parfait. 

Popcorn

Thinkstock

While it may not be the easiest food to clean up after, popcorn — the non-buttered kind — makes you feel full without weighing down your stomach, so you can drive along with a fiber-rich but low-calorie boost of energy. Since microwaves aren’t easy to come by on the road, go for packaged popcorn, or, better yet, pack some in airtight containers before you leave your house. Better yet, skip the microwave altogether and experiment with flavors — like Negroni caramel — or make easily portable popcorn balls.

Sweet Potatoes

Photo Modified: Flickr / Greg & Stacie Humpherys / CC BY 4.0

The average sweet potato contains just 112 calories, but packs 28 grams of complex (or “good”) carbs that will help your brain produce extra glucose and give you a big burst of energy. There are many road trip-friendly ways to enjoy sweet potatoes. Make a large batch of homemade sweet potato chips and put them in Ziploc bags, or incorporate them into chocolate spice bars.

Water-Rich Fruits

iStock / Thinkstock

Nutritionist Tori Holthaus of YES! Nutrition recommends water-rich foods like berries, pineapple, cucumber, and watermelon for easy hydration, especially along with water-rich breakfasts like oatmeal. Don’t just enjoy these while driving; perhaps stop somewhere scenic, cut a watermelon for the whole family to share, and enjoy a view like this.