Night Shifts: Eating for Survival?
Fuelled by coffee, sugar and banter.
So… we’ve made it through day shifts… tough set, but, they’re done now. We’re tired, it’s dark… must be time for bed. Who are we kidding?
We’ve been awake all day, lawnmowers going, those ‘normal’ people pottering around the house, kids get back from school. Right, try for a nap. Nope, that’s not happening either. It’ll be fine, I’ll have a coffee.
Right, I’m hungry. So, I’ll have a meal before I start, that should keep me going for a while, if I’m hungry later I can grab something. Surely someone on the shift owes cakes..… Sound familiar?
Healthy food on night shifts. Sounds painful. I’ll try and make it easier!
So we’ve eaten a day full of calories and we’ve still got 9-10 hours to go.. no wonder these trousers are getting tighter! But what do we do?
Snacks. Yes, snacks. Those little critters that make us add on the pounds right? Not always. Snacks can be enough, especially on nights, to but our cravings at bay without going over the top on calories by eating a full meal.
So, what type? Protein and fibre full snacks are great for nights, or, well, anytime really. Protein and fibre keeps us fuller for longer, preventing us from over eating.
Try and fill your day with lean meats and vegetables as these foods are lower in calories than fatty meats and starchy carbs, meaning we can eat more for less! Chicken, turkey, tuna and lean mince often have half the calories of lamb, leg meats and most cuts of beef. Anything green! Try and fill the rest of your plate with salad and green veg and guaranteed you won’t reach for the chocolate straight after your meal.
But back to cake. So, it’s 3am.. our bodies want something sweet. We need something handy that we can keep in our bag. Maybe not ice cream then.
Think about a piece of fruit with a small handful of nuts. Or a string cheese with an apple. A personal favourite for me is a light hot chocolate drink with one of those low calorie bags of popcorn! If you have a fridge handy, yoghurt is always a good one. Try to choose natural or greek, adding fruit or nuts. You’ve technically eaten enough fuel throughout the day for your body to run on however, we’re just trying to keep it topped up and kill those cravings.
Let’s be honest.. we’re always hoping someone has left their computer logged on and owes a big calorie free Victoria Sponge for briefing. Just consider this throughout the day and work around it, cut a smaller slice and save it for later and choose lower calorie filling foods earlier on. Check the labels, but soup is also often a great choice! Swap all that bread for a lean meat adding protein to the meal.
If you find yourself hungry often, try having a drink first. Our bodies signal hunger and thirst in a similar way. Caffeine is always our ‘go to’ drink but it takes 6-8 hours to leave our system. Sleep is often already an issue for us so, try to avoid making it any worse! Go for black tea or coffee rather than the heavier lattes earlier in the shift if possible.
Try sticking to whole foods over processed foods, allowing a small treat of choice. Preparation is definitely key, so take to work your prepared meals and snacks. This way you are less likely to grab processed food on the go or get ‘dirty refs’ after that big slice of cake on briefing. Whole foods provide us with more nutrition too. A few smaller meals over the night will keep our blood sugar levels topped up rather than a big meal making us feel sluggish.
Should I eat before I sleep? Well, if you find yourself waking up hungry you may find a carbohydrate and protein mix meal before you sleep keeps you down for longer. Oats made with low fat milk and fruit is great, or wholemeal toast and eggs.
Shift work doesn't just impact your sleep schedule. It also disrupts the hormones and brain chemicals that control your mood, appetite and nervous and digestive system, which also affects your weight. But you can try to counteract these effects—it just takes some tweaks to your habits!
Kate overcame struggles with fitness and nutrition to become a police officer at 18 and hasn't looked back - she now uses her expertise to successfully balance the delights of shift work with her training goals.