Shift work often requires eating at night, a time when the stomach and digestive system normally rest. Shift workers are very susceptible to stomach and digestive problems as a result of irregular eating habits. 30-45% of shift workers report chronic digestive problems due to the types of foods they eat during work and before bed. Eating a large meal, especially one that includes fatty, spicy, or protein-rich foods, can cause slow work.
Eating well when your schedule is so behind can be difficult. It is vital that you adjust your eating routine to your schedule. Here are some important nutrition tips to follow:
- don’t skip meals
- Take a healthy meal to work with you. Vending machine options are often high in fat, sodium, and simple carbohydrates, making them less than ideal.
- Avoid eating a large meal at the end of your shift. You may have trouble digesting and sleep may be interrupted. Eat larger meals when you are most active and require more calories.
- Drink plenty of water during your shift. This will help maintain your energy level and help prevent cravings.
- Choose foods high in fiber and lean protein. These foods will satisfy you for longer. Foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates may give you a quick burst of energy, but they won’t keep you going.
Schedule your meals and activities to coincide with your “day.”
Establish a normal meal schedule regardless of your work hours. Try to eat three meals a day spaced at consistent intervals. Be consistent when you are at any time.
Try to schedule at least one meal a day with your family.
Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine within four hours of bedtime. If you drink coffee, choose decaf.
Eating during the afternoon and evening hours requires special considerations. The daily rhythm of our digestive tract is not “set” for nocturnal digestion. However, this does not mean that you should stop eating when you work these hours. Regardless of the hours you work, plan well-balanced meals for your shifts.
Protein: Your first meal after sleeping should contain protein. Heavier proteins should be used sparingly and eaten several hours before work or bedtime. Heavy proteins take longer to digest, so it’s best to choose lighter protein sources just before and during work. Avoid frying during food preparation. These are examples of different proteins.
Heavy protein: beef, pork, tube meats, eggs with yolks, high-fat cheeses
Light protein: chicken, turkey, fish, egg whites, low-fat dairy, vegetables (beans, peas, and lentils)
Evening and night work
Breakfast (around 8-10 am): Regardless of when you get up, breakfast is important. Eat shortly after waking up. This will help boost your metabolism, signaling the start of your “day.” Suggestions: Protein, whole grain breads or high-fiber cereals, low-fat dairy products, fresh fruit.
Main meal (around 1-2 pm) Light protein, some fat (preferably plant-based, 15-20 grams), complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruit, whole wheat pasta or bread, rice, potato. Caffeine okay.
Lunch break at work (7 to 8 pm): Choose foods that are easy to digest. Poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and high-fiber grains are all good choices. Reduce the intake of fatty foods or spicy foods. Keep this meal light and small. Without caffeine.
Night Work – Follow the same suggestions as evening and evening work, just change your meal times. Working at night requires eating lighter and easier to digest food. Again, avoid fatty and spicy foods at work.
Breakfast (around 5-7pm): This is the time for traditional “dinner” type foods if you plan to have them. If you plan to sleep in before work again, make this meal smaller and lighter. Consume protein, fat (preferably plant-based, 15-20 grams), complex carbohydrates, and low-fat dairy products.
Lunch break at work: Follow the suggestions for lunch break at work in the afternoon and evening. No caffeine for the second half of the shift.
Snack supplements (before or after work)
Fruits, vegetables with low-fat dressing, high-fiber cereals, pretzels, granola bars, dried fruit, low-fat dairy products, low-fat popcorn, nuts or seeds, high-fiber crackers
If you sleep in shortly after work, keep snacks small and light before bed. If you don’t sleep in later, the meal may be bigger, but not heavier.
Avoid alcohol close to bedtime, it can disrupt sleep cycles.
Have a sleep ritual. Go to sleep as soon as you can after work. Avoid getting caught up in chores or errands. Sleep deprivation can lead to food cravings.
Exercise increases alertness and will create better sleep during the day. If you have a break where you can do a few minutes of activity, take advantage of it! Avoid exercising just before going to sleep.