Recently I had a client of mine ask how to time her meals whilst on night shift… and i thought what a great idea to shed some light on my experience with shift work and achieving health goals. Trust me when I say… I’ve done my fair share of shift work. I’ve been that person studying, working numerous jobs, juggling outside commitments and still aiming high with my fitness and health goals. One thing I don’t tolerate is excuses. Excuses are self-driven. And it’s not what I’m about. I’ve written out some of the biggest tips and pointers when it comes to managing a somewhat crazy lifestyle. TRUST me when I say I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been through a few lifestyle changes that have mucked up my routine since I’ve become very health driven. I’ve studied and worked three jobs at once, I’ve competed working shift work. Currently I’m working not only my main job as a full time registered nurse, I’m also managing a photography business, a PT business, I’m developing a fitness retreat with my best friend and I’m working as a casual at another nursing position WHILST in off season preparation for a future fitness competition. Now tell me you don’t have time? No such thing. I’ve heard every excuse under the sun. Working in the medical profession, unless you’re medically unwell there’s really no excuse and there’s ALWAYS something you can do towards improving your health and wellbeing. It’s about how bad you want it.It takes only a dedicated hour or two to meal prep. Spend one time a week organising your meals, weighing out portions. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to be nutrient dense and enjoyable. Some simple tips to help you with this that I have implemented:
HAVE A PLANDecide what your weekly meal prep will consist of, what meals you can eat all week and not get sick of and that you can stick too. Consistency is key with meal prep when you’re time poor to reduce the risk of making poorer food choices. For meal prep I do the following:
- I calculate how much of each food i need for the week and write it on a whiteboard (example: 1.5kg of chicken, 7 bags of low cal noodles, 1 bag of oats ect). This also makes it easier when you go to do your grocery shopping! You know exactly how much and what you need.
- If you’re tracking macros, pre plan your meals in My Fitness Pal or another food tracking app. That way you won’t be trying to plan it all last minute or the night before. Just copy and paste a days’ worth of food that meets macros that you’re happy with to the next day.
- Get creative with meals! Most of you know I preach a IIFYM or holistic approach when it comes to nutrition. Avoid fitting sugary food into your meal plan but making sure you have yum tasting macro friendly snacks for work will make things easier for you when the shi*t food your co workers are eating starts to give you food envy.
STOCK UPStock up on frozen foods, yes fresh is best but there’s no significant difference between fresh or frozen. I make sure I’ve ALWAYS got a protein and carb source in the freezer and some veggies that can just be heated up quickly in case. Some of my favourites:
- Frozen broccoli/cauliflower
- Basa (less fish tasting/smelling than other fish) and literally takes 5 minutes to cook in a pan
- Frozen sweet potato chips (Macain) easy to quickly bake in oven macros are pretty good too
- Frozen waffles and I freeze crumpets (pre workout options that are quick in the morning)
- Frozen packets off rice and veggies pre made (Aldi sell these!!!)
PREP IN BULKIf you’re like me and hate soggy meals… my biggest tip? Cook things in bulk and store separately. I have bunch of different veggies cooked and salads cut and kept in containers separate from each other so they don’t spoil. You can simply weigh out these portions as you need depending what shifts you’re working. An airfryer or dry frying veggies will reduce the veggies becoming too “wet” with water. Same goes with protein, pre-cook your protein! Meats can last in the fridge for a week and still taste fresh. Fish is best cooked and eaten in a few days but I’ve found I can keep Basa or other white fish good for at least four days after seasoned and cooked.
MEAL TIMINGGetting used to random shift times and knowing when to eat can be so confusing, plus half the time you’re either 1. STARVING or 2. NOT HUNGRY. I developed a simple plan when it came to this and my shift work. I had SET times to eat not matter what and based this mainly around my training. My shifts would either start at 7am (AM shift) or 2pm (PM shift) or 10pm (night shift). I would ALWAYS stick to morning training. Keeping my body’s cortisol curve in check was priority (you can google what I mean by this for a visual idea and ill talk more about this later). I would wake up a bit later on my PM shifts, but always have my pre workout meal and then train early for both these types of shifts. This is where the type of diet you are following really comes into play. It’s just not realistic for you to be doing some coaches idea of a meal plan or protocol if it does NOT suit your work/lifestyle. This is why I’ll never do intermittent fasting on a work day or some other extreme dieting protocol. Can you imagine a theatre nurse passing out mid surgery because she hasn’t eaten because a coach told her that’s what she has to do? Or running on zero carbs in a low calorie ketogenic diet in a work environment I need energy and brain function for? (Been there done that). No thanks. Everyone has their own personal opinion of this but there’s always another way to do things. The best long term approach is one that you can follow and be consistent with.
HAVE A PLAN B.I have my vices up my sleeve for getting through night shift or a super long theatre shift (currently my hours are 7am – 6pm).
- Sugar free jelly
- Sugar free soft drink
- Chewing gum
- Carb source: oats and rice cakes
- Protein source: protein powder
- Wake up from sleep around 4/5pm.
- Eat (breakfast) or meal 1 at 5pm (your body would normally eat around this time for dinner if you’re in that routine).
- Eat meal 2 before starting your shift at 10pm.
- Most likely I wouldn’t be hungry until about 2am so i would have meal 3 then, night shift breaks were sort of taken whatever time suited you so I would push it out to as long as I could.
- Meal 4 as close to breakfast time as possible (5-6am for me usually or a morning shift)
- Pre workout after work at 7.30am, then a final post workout meal just before sleep at 10am (something easy to digest). Studies show high protein or high fat meals before bed can affect sleep so choose your final meal carefully.
- Drink plenty of water! Limit caffeine as much as possible (don’t drink energy drinks like I used too erghhhh). Peppermint tea and dandelion tea do not have caffeine in them.
- Depending on energy, I would train at 7.30am after the shift, then come home to sleep. My body was used to training in mornings (if you’re used to training in the PM maybe train before the shift) and eliminate the use of stimulants or use a non stim pre workout.
KNOW YOUR CORTISOLI talk a lot about the cortisol curve to clients and explain our bodies release of this hormone can affect everything from body fat loss to muscle gain. The cortisol curve relates to the timing of the release of cortisol in the body and this hormone is essential for the bodies survival. Cortisol is not a negative thing unless it: affects your sleep/wake cycle or you have elevated stress or anxiety. You want to always been in an optimal state for your body to be achieving your fitness and health goals so supplementation and routine can greatly help this if you are feeling a bit unbalanced with cortisol (food elimination can greatly help too!). You can be tested for cortisol levels and its usually recommended if you experience any symptoms that could perhaps distinguish if you have issues related to elevated or extremely low cortisol. The following are vitamins I recommend that I’ve had great success with helping shift my cortisol curve back to the norm (energy was all over the place). The first two will help neurotransmitters in your body relax and therefore help to induce sleep. (please seek medical advice before taking the recommended vitamins, I’m only listing as per my previous experience).
- Melatonin (can buy of iherb.com)
- GABA (can buy of iherb.com)
- Siberien ginseng