It didn't take long on the road before Siphiwe Baleka realized he was getting a truckers gut. Baleka had just left a 15-year career working for nonprofit organizations and was working as a lease owner-operator for Prime Inc. while he figured out his next move.
"When you go through different truck driving schools, they talk to you about fuel economy and doing your pretrips, but they don't give you an actual program for your fitness," Baleka says.
It had been 18 years since the former competitive college swimmer had done any kind of regular exercise. He knew he needed to start taking responsibility for himself, so he got into a regular exercise routine of biking and running.
He decided to swim a Masters swim meet to show his kids and family what he had done back in college.
"I did pretty well, and I qualified for nationals and won two events at nationals," he says. "I realized I was in pretty good shape for 40 years old. I was already running and biking every day. I decided to do a triathlon last May just to see how I could do."
Since then, he's done 10 triathlons, including finishing 216th out of nearly 1,400 participants in an Ironman Triathlon in South Africa in April.
Baleka typically trains two hours a day. When he was trucking, a folding bike was easy to carry in the truck. Finding places to swim was hard.
"When the weather's nice, I like to do open-water swimming, and I carried a wetsuit in my truck," he says. He was a regular at national parks.
"When the weather wasn't nice, I'd find a YMCA on my GPS and call ahead and find out if there was a place to park my truck and when lap swimming was.
After doing it for several months, I started to know where I could go to swim."
Baleka realized he wanted to help other drivers get healthy. He completed his lease, and started a business called Fitness Trucking, working with fleets and drivers to make health and fitness a part of daily life on the road.
"I realized there are a lot of drivers who want to do something; they just don't know what to do or how to get started," he says. Currently, Baleka is working exclusively with Prime Inc. Next year he will start offering his program to other fleets and drivers.
"We select drivers for a 13-week program, and there are two components: nutrition and exercise," Baleka says. The drivers get equipment to track biometrics, heart rate, steps and quality of sleep. They also log everything they eat and when they eat. Baleka closely monitors each driver during those 13 weeks, pointing out where they could improve.
Keeping a food log helps drivers make better choices, Baleka says.
"Clients say, 'Wow! I actually eat 4,000 calories a day,'" he says. "I'm not going to tell you don't eat. I'm going to say instead of getting a foot-long, you could have gotten six-inch with double meat. It's all about keeping score."
The goal, Baleka says, is to reduce calorie intake by 250 calories a day and burn an additional 250 calories through 15-20 minutes of exercise daily. Those 500 calories a day equals a pound a week.
"After 13 weeks, they have behavior changes and can finish the rest of year," Baleka says. "If you tell a truck driver, 'Hey, you've got to lose 52 pounds this year,' they're going to say no way. They're going to feel overwhelmed. If you take it one day at a time, they see how easy it is."