Shift Work Nutrition Tips
There is no good way to put it. Prioritizing health/making progress in the gym and shift work do not always go hand in hand.
Strange hours, inconsistent schedules week to week, and physically demanding shifts make any and all fitness goals seem impossible, especially when combined with everything else life throws at you.
As a company founded by a shift worker, we get it.
But, it is possible.
That said, we are not here to gaslight you into thinking that you just have to have stronger “will-power” or something magical like that to make it happen.
Not at all.
The rest of the words on this page are about taking a big problem, and chunking it down into manageable tips that you can apply in the domain of nutrition.
Big take home to keep in mind as you read: find what works for you and don’t feel like you have to do everything at once.
The number one thing you can do.
Know what you are eating the night before and have it packed (or planned to buy), ready to go.
First off, this will keep you from the temptation that we often see in the healthcare field. Potlucks, patients gifting food, and spur of the moment ordering out are great, but are often easy ways to fall off plan.
Secondly, this is an easy way to have snacks to graze on. With shift work, it is hard to eat a standard set of meals in a day. Oftentimes, you have to eat on the go or go long periods without eating. Planning helps combat this. Having food prepped, planned, and pre-tracked (if tracking) beforehand (in accordance with goals), takes the thinking out of things. All you have to do is finish that food by the time you leave for the day, whether it be in set meals (if schedule allows) or grazed on throughout the day.
This works with both tracking macros or not tracking at all. This sounds cliche, but planning ahead is planning for success.
Some solid go to options for easy snacks are smoothies, jerky, rice cakes+Peanut butter or avocado, veggies and lunch meat, jerky, overnight oats, greek yogurt, frozen fruit (that thaws throughout the day.
Utilize a 48 Hour Eating Window.
This is for all the Third Shift (night working) homies out there who cross the midnight barrier and combine two days into one.
Instead of thinking of your days as two 24 hour hour periods, lump everything into one day of tracking/planning.
Basically, double your macros (or portions) into one day.
For example, if you are planning to eat 150g of protein, 200g carbs, and 80g of fat in a day, double it and think of the day of your night shift and the following day as one day. Shoot to eat 300g of protein, 400g of carbs, and 160g of fat in that 48 hour window, splitting it up however you would like. This *could* look like eating to hit those macros at 7am, 12pm, 6 pm (Day one) and 12am, 3 am, 6 am, 3pm, 6pm (day 2). It could look completely different. Point is, you hit those targets across the 48 hour window.
For all those that do not track macros, I would recommend finding an amount of protein focused meals you eat normally in a day (3-5) and simply doubling that amount, following the same outline as above.
Set Eating Windows
This one could be more night shift targeted, but could be used for those who rotate day/evenings as well.
Utilize the tool that is intermittent fasting to your advantage to keep a normal eating schedule and take the thinking out of worrying if you are sticking to your targets overnight (or on weird shifts).
If you work nights, set a certain timeframe, aligned with your non-working day eating schedule, where you only consume water. So say on non-working days, you eat from a period of 6am-10pm. Stick to that schedule on the nights you work. Cut eating off at 10 pm and resume at 6 am.
Same goes for those who normally work days but have a later shift. If you normally eat 5 am-8pm on lets say a 7am-7pm shift, stop your eating at 8pm on the days you might work an 11am--11pm. Again, it keeps you on track and from overeating when you get home after the shift.
**Side note to the last two points, they are a long winded way of saying find a schedule that works for you and one that you can stick to. It is really randomness that gets in the way of progress in regards to shift work**
Make water a top priority by making sure you have some at any and all possible breaks that you may have.
One easy way to ensure you are getting enough is to bring a large water bottle with you to work. Fill it up and shoot to finish it by the end of the shift.
Prioritizing water will not only help keep you alert and focused during your shift, but it will also help regulate digestion.
A lot of words on this page that may seem daunting. But, the more you practice a behavior or two, the easier it will become. Start small and work from there.
Also, as one shift worker to another, remember that you get to prioritize yourself. Find time (even if it is for 5 minutes) during that 10 or 12 hours to put you first. In the long run, it will result in a better work capacity which will ultimately result in a safer environment and/or better care of others (depending where you work).
Love what you learned but are interested in having someone help you apply these principles to your specific lifestyle? Reach out to us via the website or at firstname.lastname@example.org. We offer in-person training and remote coaching for both training and nutrition to meet you where you are at and help you reach your goals.