Midnight on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We’re hurtling west toward Springfield, Missouri, a thousand-mile haul, in a 500-horsepower freightliner towing 19 tons of dangerous cargo. Behind the wheel is 27-year-old Justin Boschee, a 6’5″ former offensive tackle at Eastern Oregon University, a born-again christian, and a driver with more than 400,000 miles of unblemished experience. I’m hoping this trinity of muscle, messiah, and mileage will keep us safe.
“I found a driver dead once,” Boschee says offhandedly. “We were switching trailers. I knocked on his cab, but no one answered. He was dead. Young guy, too.” Then he grows pensive. A full moon and a constellation of dashboard lights create a comforting glow. “This is a great job. It pays well, and I love the freedom. But if you’re not careful, it can kill you.”
A 2014 survey of long-haul truck drivers by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that 69 percent were obese, 17 percent morbidly so. A recent Gallup-Healthways analysis revealed that transportation workers, including truckers, are the fattest and have the highest risk for chronic health problems of any occupational group. Considering the ramifications (heart attack, stroke, fatigue. . .), the 2.5 million trucks on U.S. roads just might be our biggest national safety threat.
Indeed, that dead driver Boschee found was diabetic, and the cargo in our trailer today is 38,000 pounds of Oreo Base Cake. The smell of those delectable wafer crumbs, which we both inhale deeply through the rear hatch, is metaphoric. It represents not only the daily temptation at Boschee’s back (he recently dropped 40 pounds) but also the monumental health challenge facing all men who travel for a living.
“I never had any concept of nutrition,” says Boschee, who used to fuel himself with eggnog and Cheetos while driving at least 11 hours a day. “Then at a truck stop in Dallas I saw my first 400-pound trucker. I couldn’t believe it. That’s when I realized if I didn’t change, that guy would be me.”
Plenty of initiatives are under way to help truckers get in better shape, including truck stop gyms and in-cab workout systems. But applying the brakes to a situation that’s been going downhill for decades is a slow process. Still, guys like Boschee are seeing results—and leading the way for others. If they can lose weight and build muscle in an environment that’s hostile to that effort, you can too. Let’s roll.
The 7 Rules Of On-The-Road Fitness
1. No matter what, exercise 15 minutes every day. It doesn’t have to happen in a gym, and you don’t need a formal plan.
2. Make each workout vigorous. “Maintain 75 to 85 percent of max heart rate,” explains Baleka, who did his Ironman training during a year when he drove 150,000 miles in 323 days. “This maximizes fat burning and, more important, your time.”
3. Work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. He gives drivers a list of 32 exercises they can combine for total-body workouts.
4. Always eat after working out. The latest research says 20 grams of fast-acting protein (for instance, whey isolate powder) eaten within 30 minutes of exercising is best for building muscle.
5. Eat breakfast, and then eat every three hours. This keeps hunger at bay and prevents bingeing late in the day.
6. Keep healthy snacks handy. When traveling, the tendency is to eat what’s available, so make only good food available.
7. Log your nutrition and fitness. Keeping a daily food and exercise journal makes weaknesses easy to spot. Baleka makes this simpler by giving every driver a Mio heart rate monitor and BodyMedia armband activity monitor.