Starting shift work and unsure about what to pack for lunch, when to eat and what to eat to stay awake? Well here is a quick guide to get you on the right track.
WHEN TO EAT
Eat your main meal before your shift, a smaller meal and snacks during shift, then a light meal or snack afterwards, preferably 2 hours before you go to bed. We don’t want you going to bed hungry but we also don’t want you going to bed on a full belly of food. The food we eat should be used to give us the energy and nutrients that we require a full meal before bed isn’t going to be used to give you energy, it will just be sitting sluggish in your digestive tract. When working, eat every 3-4 hours if you are hungry. Listen for your body’s hunger signs and be mindful that you are not just eating from boredom or to keep you awake.
WHAT TO EAT
During your shift, include snacks that are high in protein like hummus with carrots, a handful of nuts and seeds, tuna with crackers, greek yoghurt with fruit. When having main meals, include lean protein (meat, fish, legumes), whole grain carbohydrates (sourdough, brown rice, wholemeal pasta or oats) and plenty of salad and vegetables. Fat is an important component of our meals for supporting different body functions, we just need to make sure it is in moderation and top quality. When having healthy fats in main meals make it quality sources like salmon, avocado, olive oil and olives.
WHAT TO DRINK
Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout your shift, often we are not hungry or tired we are just dehydrated, so increasing your water intake will help you to manage fatigue. Tea and coffee are ok for the beginning of your shift. Aim for a maximum or 2 coffees a night and avoid all caffeine 6 hours before bed. Herbal teas like mint, lemon and ginger are excellent throughout your shift. Just steer clear of the vending machine all together. If you need a sweetened beverage try a kombucha, fruit smoothie or fruit infused water. Avoid alcohol after your shift if you need to wind down, choose a soda water, sparkling grape juice, or chamomile tea.
On your days off try to be prepared with meals and snacks for the week. Make meals in bulk and store them in the fridge and freezer for the week. This could include: chicken fried brown rice, shepherd’s pie, rissoles, soup, vegetable curry, or oven baked vegetables. If you haven’t prepared meals in advance, instead of eating at fast food restaurants, try making a quick, simple meals from the supermarket with BBQ chicken, cheese, pre-packaged salads and bread roll or a can of tuna/salmon, a packet of microwave brown rice & quinoa and a can of beans or vegetable soup.
If you do end up eating out at a pub, fast food restaurant, or take away shop, try to choose meals containing lots of fresh salad and vegetables. Less fried foods, or bakery items. Choose the salad or vegetable option instead of a burger and chips. Remember that you don’t have to eat everything on your plate if you are full.
Include physical activity wherever you can walk up and down the stairs, take a stretch break in between shift change, go for a walk on your days off, go to the gym in the evening the night before you rostered on to do dog watch. Physical activity should be a daily routine whatever you can fit in whilst working long evenings is a bonus.
A basic beginning to the hard, challenging ongoing health condition that is work night shift and managing fatigue. Good dietary habits can set you up to succeed in maintaining a healthy weight, increasing energy levels and supporting overall health. If you have any current or ongoing health conditions get in contact for further strategies for achieving nutritional balance.
For some go-to healthy meals download my recipe guide: