Eating and shift work. It can be a challenge to know what to eat, when to eat or how much to eat on a shift outside the usual 7 a.m.-6 p.m. work day. Shift workers report greater incidences of: gastrointestinal upset, trouble falling asleep or getting a restful sleep after a shift, weight loss or weight gain, constipation, diarrhea or gas, indigestion or heartburn; however, studies have shown that modifying, when, what and how much you eat, may help alleviate some of these problems.
1. When to eat:
- Stick to a normal day and night pattern of food intake as closely as possible.
- Eat your main meal before your shift. (Try these make-ahead meal ideas. With just eight ingredients you get a week’s worth of easy, healthy and satisfying no fuss meat or no meat meals.)
- Avoid or minimize eating between midnight and 6 a.m.
- Avoid large meals 1-2 hours before sleep.
- Eat a light breakfast before day sleep to avoid waking up hungry. (Make ahead one of these overnight oatmeal in a jar recipes and have it waiting for you when you get home.)
2. What to eat?
- Choose vegetables, fruit, lean protein, eggs and nuts for your nighttime snack.
- Check out the Dietitians of Canada healthy snack ideas.
- Avoid high-fat, fried or spicy foods, sugary drinks, non-fibre carbs and bakery items.
3. How to eat?
- Eat light.
- Drink more water, less caffeine. Being well hydrated may help you feel more alert during your shift. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to eight hours, so if you’re having a brew, have it early in your shift so it doesn’t impact your daytime sleep.
Although night and day workers consume similar amounts of calories, eating patterns are different. Keep meals and snacks healthy and simple no matter what shift you’re working. For more information on eating and shift work, visit the Dietitians of Canada 10 Nutrition tips for shift workers.