As a shift worker, long hours make it difficult to keep your training and nutrition on track; believe me, I know. I spent the greater part of my career working as a full-time shift worker. I learned there are three lifelines for achieving your fitness goals: Training, nutrition and sleep, and with a little pre-planning you too can live a healthy lifestyle and achieve your personal fitness goals, on the clock.
The first lifeline: Training
The main question is: How can you maximize growth and development while working non-traditional hours? The answer is consistency. You need to establish a workout regime that balances your physical recovery cycle and keeps your natural body rhythms in some kind of order. Whether on an afternoon or night shift, try to establish a training schedule. Ideally, work out after quality sleep. Sleep refreshes and energizes the body.
If you are fortunate enough to have a training facility on site, you can take advantage and work out on break times. If not, bring your own fitness “tool box” to work. Resistance bands, weights and ankle straps are highly effective for creating an intense workout. For some cardio, use the parameter of your facility to take a jog or power walk, or use stairs for climbing reps. No excuses!
The second lifeline: Nutrition
For many, proper nutrition is by far the most difficult aspect of healthy living. Now add the shift worker’s “night munchie monsters” into the equation. They haunt me too. The key here is to prepare your meals in advance and bring them to work. Also, eat small portions every two-three hours or so, making sure to include protein in every meal possible.
A common concern is eating late at night while working. I know from experience that the body still needs to be fed, muscles need to grow and your metabolism needs to be kept in high gear. Having said that, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. Eat your protein. If you’re someone who has trouble stomaching food late at night, try to keep it light with foods such as egg whites, low fat yogurts and protein shakes. I also recommend including a small portion of low glycemic carbohydrates such as oatmeal or yams in one or two of your meals. Your body needs them for energy to keep you functioning through the night.
The final lifeline: Sleep
We need it! Sleep is essential for overall muscle repair, recovery and growth. Lack of sleep will result in the high release of cortisol—our stress hormone and a main factor in fat storage.
It is crucial that shift workers make time for adequate and consistent sleep to ensure cortisol levels are kept as low as possible and to keep the body prepared for the mental and physical stresses of working during off-peak (non traditional) hours. If you have a chance, it has been proven that a short nap during your shift will also help with this. Z
Tips from Nancy: Surviving shift work
» If you’re sleeping through the day, when you wake up, treat your first meal like it’s your morning meal. If you’re accustomed to morning cardio on an empty stomach, wake up and do your cardio first.
» If you’re having trouble adjusting to a new sleep schedule, unwind and put your body in a state of relaxation through meditation or gentle yoga.
» The daytime is noisy. When sleeping during the day be sure to unplug phones, keep your room as dark as possible and play soft music or meditation rhythms to help eliminate outside distractions.
» Try vitamin Bs and C to help your body cope with the stress of shift work.
» Hydrate your body by drinking lots of water.
» Stay focused! Don’t allow circumstances to influence your nutrition and training. Love and respect your body, no matter what time of day it is.