Planning your diet during a massive lifestyle change, like working the night shift, requires discipline, research, and determination. Unfortunately, a healthy diet that would prepare you for this change isn’t as simple as moving your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
According to the British Medical Journal, a highly respected and peer-reviewed medical trade journal that the British Medical Association published, things like eating well at night, keeping your calorie intake in check, preparing nutrition packs, and avoiding certain food are some of the notable things to do as you plan your diet for the night shift.
What Experts Say
Here are some of the BMJ recommendations for what you should be in and out of your diet when working the night shift:
- Planning Ahead – Make sure you know what to eat before you head on to work, as many food and supply establishments tend to be closed at night. The goal is to ensure that you avoid the less advisable 24-hour fast food restaurants and food delivery options.
- Monitor Nightly Calorie Intake – When you start working the night shift, the body becomes all sorts of confused. This is why experts recommend that you make healthy choices for your new diet. The article from the BMJ mentions evidence that proves that people are more likely to crave unhealthy food when they are sleep deprived.
- Create Your Night Shift Survival Pack – Needless to say, vending machine snacks and drinks aren’t exactly the most healthy choices out there. This is why experts recommend night shift survival packs for workers who inevitably man the irregular shifts.
- Be Discerning With What You Eat – The body processes food differently when you work during the night shift. Experts recommend that night shift workers indulge in food with a low glycemic index, food that is dense in nutrients, and food that have high-quality fats to energize them through their shift.
These are the general tips that many experts can recommend. There is more to building and planning your diet than these items. But, generally speaking, these are the core things to remember as you craft the best diet for your life moving forward.
This article will walk you through important practices you can consider for preparing your body for the night shift. A well-balanced diet is an important part of keeping your body healthy as you transition to new and exciting experiences in your night-based lifestyle.
The Importance of a Healthy Diet for Night Shift Workers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that 15 million different workers in the United States workforce do some shift works. Shift work can range from night, swing, and graveyard shifts to irregular work hours that do not coincide with the common 9 AM – 5 PM schedule. Unfortunately, various studies discovered that these irregular work schedules – especially the night shift – might increase the risk of adverse conditions and disorders.
In fact, experts from the American Psychological Association wrote, in an article, that working against the natural sleep cycle causes sleep disorders and fatigue. These conditions can lead to fouler moods, decreased cognitive abilities and reflexes, and vulnerability to disease. A study Violanti, Vila, and their esteemed colleagues conducted also discovered that police officers in Buffalo, New York have poor health, diabetes, a larger waist circumference, elevated triglyceride levels, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high levels of glucose when they don’t eat properly and work the night shifts.
Fortunately, a healthy diet and a decent amount of exercise can help alleviate such effects and impact on the body. Consider this your guide through the many changes you’re about to experience. The practices and recommendations available in this article are thoroughly researched and easy to do for yourself.
Important Dietary Tips and Tricks for Night Shift Workers
The changes you’re about to implement in your diet and lifestyle are, by no means, easy. While you can get started with the BMJ recommendations, there are many other things you can do to improve your health, make your diet better, and stay physically, mentally, and emotionally sound.
However, access to healthy food can be a problem during the night shift, and you may feel inclined to just settle with a convenience store gourmet or fast food quick bites. This is why preparation, research, and disciple come a long way when eating healthy can be a challenge.
As mentioned in the sections before, there are a variety of concerns when it comes to access to food and proper nutrition when you work night shifts. Experts recommend making sure you stay hydrated (which is more complex than it sounds), taking note of the available food establishments, and packing your own healthy snacks.
Medical professionals, through an article in the BMJ, shared a number of interesting tips for planning ahead. To prepare for possible cravings or hunger throughout your shift, make sure to include a meal with whole grains before your shift. This meal should have a variety of starches that will help fill your appetite throughout the day.
Consider packing your own meal for lunch at the office to avoid delivery and fast food traps at night. Vending machines don’t provide the nutrition you need either, so you’re better off eating something healthy that you prepared before work.
One more important tip the experts shared is to plan for meal breaks in between tasks. Look into food with high protein, such as chicken and hummus. These kinds of food are filling and are capable of quenching cravings and saving you from unhealthy snacking. Last but not least, always pack some water and stay hydrated.
Water is still the best for keeping the body hydrated. You may be surprised that this needs a mention, but in this day and age, many people consider often opt to drink more coffee during work than just water.
Despite the many ways caffeine can help night shift workers during their shifts, water is still the more recommended drink for employees. Irresponsible caffeine intake may pose its fair share of risks for the body and compromise productivity in both the short and long run.
Further, drinks with sweetened caffeine contribute largely to a person’s total calorie intake, possibly ruining the diets they establish and interfering with their effort to rest and sleep after work. Experts recommend avoiding coffee or caffeine four to eight hours before you end your shift to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with your resting or sleeping.
The recommended amount of coffee for a good night’s work is about two eight-ounce cups of coffee. Have coffee 30 – -60 minutes before your shift and have a drink every three to four hours if needed. Experts highly advise against having more than 600g of coffee in a day. The only exception is when you’re about to face sustained operations; then, you can have up to 800mg of coffee.
To maintain optimal performance, experts recommend sipping from a liter of bottled water throughout their shifts. Doing so will help you maintain fluid intake and improve a high level of cognitive performance.
Monitor Nightly Calorie Intake
The BMJ shared, through an article on their website, that there is evidence that proves that the body craves food with higher calorie counts more at night. The body also craves sugary food and salty snacks – things people generally try to avoid – during these times. This is because sleep deprivation affects your food choices. In conjunction, sleep deprivation’s effect on the circadian clock also affects the body’s ability to process food.
Generally, you’d like to avoid the things you’d usually stay away from during the day. Go for low-calorie and protein-rich food whenever you need to eat between midnight and 6 AM. Experts recommend trying not to eat during these times. However, if you do feel hungry, grab a bite of some healthy food and never starve yourself, as it is counter-productive and hazardous.
If you’re wondering what a low-calorie meal would look like, you can have a garlic omelet or a slice of peanut butter banana toast for breakfast, a chicken and mayo bagel for lunch, and a pair of chicken wraps for dinner. These are excellent options for breakfast and can provide your body with a decent amount of carbs, healthy fat, protein, and calories for the night ahead.
Create Your Night Shift Survival Pack
It’s always good to be prepared, so prepare a pack of healthy snacks and treats for work ahead. Occupational Physician Minha Rajput-Ray, an esteemed thought leader in nutrition and health, shared that the disruption of the body clock can lead to higher risks of gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiometabolic disease, and possibly even poor psychological health.
By preparing a healthy combination of treats and snacks, you save yourself from consuming unhealthy alternatives such as convenience store food and vending machine products. Investing in a night shift survival pack can help you in many ways. With nothing more than a small bag and a couple of healthy treats like snack bars and whole meal crackers, you can avoid snacking on preying on unhealthy delights to tide you over breaks and meals.
You can complete your personal survival pack with some fruits like bananas, tangerines, and apples. Most fruits would serve your night shift pack well, as long as they’re easy to carry and convenient for your needs.
Be Discerning of What You Eat
Rupy Aujla, the founder of the Doctor’s Kitchen himself, shared his thoughts on the importance of a well-balanced diet to night shift workers through the BMJ.
“Stick to foods that have a low glycemic index, are nutrient-dense, and contain high-quality fats to keep you going. I tend to have a low-carbohydrate and protein-rich meal before I start my shift,” he shared.
The esteemed expert mentioned the importance of keeping the hunger satiated as snacking may lead to the consumption of salty or sugary foods – which is not advisable. He also recommended green tea over coffee when in desperate need of a caffeine hit. Aujla says that coffee raises adrenaline levels, which may lead to high cortisol and insulin. These elements are notorious for causing weight gain.
It’s also important to be aware that sleep deprivation affects food choices. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived individuals crave food rich in fat, sugar, and greasy food. However, these types of food are difficult to digest and can cause indigestion.
The healthy choices are food like small portions of lean and protein-rich options like chicken breasts, deli meat, low-fat dairy products, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts. It’s also generally understood that food options can be inaccessible during the night shift. This is why experts recommend packing your own healthy lunch. Instead of settling for the less advisable options from vending machines or convenience store gourmet, consider planning ahead and preparing your own meals for the night ahead.
Control Your Caffeine
Despite being a popular energizer, coffee dehydrates the body. Experts advise drinking lots of water when you consume caffeine products to ensure that people stay hydrated throughout their daily affairs. Further, caffeine gained notoriety for altering sleeping patterns and interfering with normal digestion.
Depending on your activity levels at night, the maximum amount of coffee, a popular caffeinated beverage, that you should take should range from one to four cups. When it comes to drinks, water is still the best option and will work wonders for your physical, mental, and emotional health.
In summary, it’s important to remember that the body is complex. The night shift is not just work – it’s a lifestyle. To ensure that you keep yourself healthy, make sure you do the proper research and preparation to avoid falling for common myths and misconceptions. In many ways, dietary practices during regular and shifting schedules are similar but very different as well. You still eat what you need to eat and avoid what you need to avoid, but the body’s natural rhythms are massively different, and the variety of options people have during the night shift is short to scarce.
Health is wealth, and it remains true during the night shift.