As discussed in this 3 part series, The Night Shift Worker’s Guide to Being Superhuman, night shift workers face more challenges than day shift workers when it comes to maintaining their health. As with Sleeping, discussed in the first article, eating properly also presents many challenges to night shift workers. The following recommendations can help you make good food choices and overcome the challenges of eating well while working the night shift.
WHEN TO EAT
As a night shift worker, when you eat is almost as import as what you eat. When you eat may directly affect your performance both at and away from work. In order to maximize your health and performance, you should eat three meals a day. Follow a modified three meals a day protocol – breakfast when you wake up, lunch before work, and dinner at work. If you exercise heavily, such as training for a triathlon, or doing crossfit, a post workout snack can reduce post exercise hunger.
Multiple studies show that grazing, or eating smaller meals throughout the day, does not promote weight loss or improve performance. Many people who graze get hungry between their mini meals. Avoiding hunger is extremely important for night shift workers because the slightest hunger can quickly lead to snacking. Unlike day shift workers, cafes and restaurants are not viable options for night shift workers. If you’re a night shift worker and you get hungry, vending machines and drive-thrus are usually the only available source of food. Avoid hunger, thereby avoiding the junk food.
WHAT TO EAT
Now that you know when to eat, lets look at what to eat. A great guide on what food to eat is the Superhuman Food Pyramid which can be downloaded for free. When working a night shift eat only green “eat” foods from the Superhuman food pyramid. Save the red “moderate” foods for your off day when you’re fully rested.
Breakfast: Eat a meal consisting of mostly fat and protein, and avoid large quantities of carbohydrates. This will help prevent your blood sugar levels from crashing. When your blood sugar levels drop, your energy drops, and you feel tired and lethargic.
Lunch: Eat a meal consisting of mostly leafy greens. Lunch time is when people are typically busy with work and other life stressors. The nutrient density of the leafy greens at lunchtime provide your body with vitamins and minerals that will keep you going the rest of the day, without that post-meal crash. My personal favorite is a large salad, with sardines, for the added benefits of the anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids.
Post Workout snack: If you’re training, eat a post workout snack, consisting mostly of carbohydrates – good carbohydrates, not junk food. The carbohydrates will help to restore glycogen. Good carbohydrates for snacks include fresh fruit or a sweet potato. The fruit or sweet potato can even be added to a small salad.
Dinner: Eat a meal consisting of mostly fat, protein, and vegetables. Eating carbohydrates will only make you sleepy and can quickly lead to weight gain because night shift workers usually don’t metabolize carbohydrates as well as day shift workers. Dinner time for the night shift worker is usually late in the evening or early in the morning. Instead of getting your dinner from a vending machine or fast food place, bring your dinner with you. I personally like baby carrots or chopped cucumbers because the crunchy snacking keeps me alert.
For meal plan recommendations, check out these 40 Easy Meals For Busy Athletes, all of which fit into to the recommendations discussed above.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Research shows that shift workers are at risk for many diet causing diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Nobody can be superhuman without eating quality foods, and night shift workers face unique eating challenges. After reading this article, you know how to overcome those challenges. In the next, and final article, I will tell you how getting quality sleep and making good food choices will improve your exercise so you can be a night shift worker and be superhuman.
If you have any questions or concerns about shift work, or you want to share your night shift success stories, please feel free to leave your comments below.
References/ Further reading:
Shiftwork and metabolic syndrome: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20934953
Increase meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19943985
Morning meal rich in protein and fat helps control blood sugar levels: http://consumer.healthday.com/diabetes-information-10/diet-diabetes-news-178/diabetes-and-big-breakfast-680522.html
Shiftwork supplements and other tools: http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2013/02/229-how-to-legally-boost-hematocrit-limit-the-damage-from-night-shift-work-the-dangers-of-vasectomies/