Diet Plan For Night Shift – Eating healthy on the night shift can be challenging, but it’s easier with these smart tips. Before grabbing that burger and fries, consider how you can make better choices while eating out after work.
What should I eat on my night shift?
On a busy night shift, eating healthily is not always a top priority. But, as three experts tell Abi Rimmer, eating well at night can maintain your energy and have long term benefits
Planning ahead is your friend
Martin Kohlmeier, director of the Human Research Core at the University of North Carolina’s nutrition research institute, says, “The effect of a disrupted sleep cycle on energy metabolism is real but of modest size. In the end, it’s about the practicalities of food access, convenience, and the time demands of the shift. Planning ahead is your friend. Your first thought should be hydration—go for water and other calorie free drinks because you will need a lot of it. Dehydration, paradoxically often from too much caffeine, is a common cause of fatigue.
“Before your shift, eat a main meal with whole grains and other complex starches to curb your hunger and cravings.
“Take your own food with you so that you don’t fall into the delivery service and vending machine trap. Convenience foods typically contain extra calories, sugar, saturated fat, and salt, but do not keep you full for long. Sugary and salty foods are also a major reason for the weight gain that is such a common problem for shift workers.
“Plan for your meal breaks: high protein foods like chicken and hummus are filling and calm cravings, while prepackaged healthy snacks, such as unsalted nuts and cut vegetables, are accessible on the run. Always pack water with your lunch box.”
Calories at night do count
Roopa McCrossan, vice chair of the trainee committee of the Association of Anaesthetists and member of the association’s joint fatigue working group, says, “Cake, crisps, and chocolate? Oh sorry, that’s what we want to eat on night shift—what you should eat couldn’t be more different. The bad news is, calories on nights do count, in fact they may count more than you think.
“The reason the night shift makes you feel awful is the misalignment of the circadian clock and the sleep-wake cycle. Sleep deprivation affects food choices—there is evidence that you are more likely to crave calorie dense carbs, sugary food, and salty snacks12—and limits our ability to process food. So, how can we avoid the pitfalls?
“Firstly, eat a healthy, filling meal before your shift—choose foods that will release energy slowly. Keep hydrated during the shift—water is best.
“Avoid eating between midnight and 6 am, if possible, and if you do need to eat during the night, go for low calorie, protein rich snacks—don’t graze your way through the night.
“Finally, eat a healthy breakfast before your daytime sleep so you don’t wake up hungry.
“Try it out on your next set of nights and see how you get on.”
Make a night shift survival pack
Minha Rajput-Ray, occupational physician and medical director of the NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health, says, “Shift working is inevitable for healthcare staff. The ‘internal body clock’ disruption can put doctors at higher risk of gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiometabolic disease, and may contribute to poor psychological health. These tips can enable you to be in peak condition to get through those night shifts. Further guidance may be needed for employees with diabetes, those using medication, and those observing dietary restrictions for religious reasons.
“Firstly, make healthy choices. Focus on nutrient quality, good quality proteins, and slow release carbohydrates. Try your best to avoid processed food to minimise insulin spikes.
“Get into a routine. Eat your main meal in the earlier part of the evening—ideally before you begin the night shift—to provide your body with much needed fuel. This also means that if you don’t get a proper break you can manage with some healthy snacks for the rest of the shift.
“Invest in a night shift ‘survival pack’. Keep a cool bag handy with healthy snacks such as snack bars and wholemeal crackers. Top up with a yogurt pot and easy to carry fruit like bananas, tangerines, or apples.
“Watch your caffeine; sweetened caffeine drinks contribute to total calorie intake and may interfere with the much needed rest at the end of the shift.
“Finally, keep hydrated. As a rule of thumb, sipping from a 1 litre bottle of water (ideally frozen) throughout your shift will assist in your fluid intake and cognitive performance.”
Don’t reach for the cake
Rupy Aujla, founder of The Doctor’s Kitchen, says, “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.
“While you’re working, try to graze on nutrient dense foods to keep you satiated. If you find yourself desperate for a caffeine hit, stick with green tea. Coffee raises your already elevated adrenaline levels, leading to high cortisol and insulin which can result in weight gain. I plan to have a cup of tea about halfway through my shift; it’s enough to keep my energy levels up for the rest of the shift, yet still allow me to sleep when I get home.
“Try to avoid sugary snacks, processed foods, and high carb foods. Preparation is key to make sure you don’t reach for that cake somebody always brings in with the best intentions (please stop eating cake at night!). Before you get your last sleep in before starting your night shifts make sure your food is ready.
Healthy Diet Tips for People Working Night Shifts
Working in the night shift can change your life in many ways. The human body is designed to work in the day, and rest at night. But when you work during night shifts, working against your natural body rhythms poses special set of challenges, which adds extra stress. Shift workers may need to pay more attention when trying to maintain their mental and physical health. Adequate sleep and making healthy food choices are two major factors that you need to focus on.
Research has repeatedly confirmed that night shift workers weigh more than day shift workers. Weight gain is also associated with other health problems also.
But worry not. To prevent weight gain and other health problems you need to manage a bit by simply following the below mentioned do’s and don’ts.
- Protein-rich foods keep you alert, which makes them a good choice for meals and snacks eaten during an evening or night shift. Read to know how protein rich breakfast helps you lose weight.
- Always try to carry fresh and homemade food as much as possible.
- Since large meals can also decrease alertness and makes you sleepy, smaller meals should be eaten during the night shift.
- Snack lightly during your shift. Know more about healthy office snacks.
- After your shift is over but before you go to sleep, eat a small, light meal which should be a balanced combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. At night, your body naturally slows down digestion and the metabolic process, so eating a small meal will provide better quality sleep, and get digested easily.
- 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. is the time when you tend to feel more tired and sleepy. This is because your body is naturally programmed to be resting around this time. You need to choose healthy protein option which will give you the burst of energy without making you sleepy.
- Night workers should eat their main meal before their shift starts, preferably at regular dinner time between 5:00 p.m. To 7:00 p.m.
- Keep yourself hydrated with water instead of caffeinated or preserved beverages. Ensure that you drink at least 8-10 glasses of water. Read to get more information on health benefits of drinking water.
- As much as possible, reduce your intake of preserved and packaged foods and go for fresh preparations instead.
- Avoid tea/coffee/alcohol for at least 4 hours before bedtime to reduce their effects on sleep because such caffeine and alcohol can remain in your bloodstream for up to 8 hours.
- Limit your daily caffeine intake to no more than 3 – 4 cups of tea/coffee.
- Never go to bed hungry as it may lead to disturbed sleep and make you restless.
- Avoid large meals during the working hours.
- Avoid fatty favorites like potato chips, french fries or any fried food which takes longer to digest and contribute to weight gain.
Here are some healthy options out of which you can choose from:
- Pitas, breads, with hummus and vegetables
- Dry cereals and grain salads such as couscous, quinoa, bulgur and barley
- Dry roasted rice flakes with salt and pepper seasoning.
- Vegetables with cottage cheese
- Peanut butter with fruit or vegetables
- Fresh fruit juices
- Fresh vegetable juices
- Fruit shakes made with low-fat milk, with ground flax seed or other nuts and seeds and half teaspoon sugar.
- Boiled eggs salads with vegetables.
- Sandwiches made with low-fat meats like chicken and fish with vegetables.
- Bean salad with vegetables
- Trail mix or nuts, seeds, dried fruits.
- Hummus with raw vegetables.
- Lower fat yogurt and chopped fruits.
Due to lack of time during the working days, and to eat well as a shift worker, you need to put some time into ‘batch cooking’ on your off days, by making larger batches of healthy food; to stock up for when you’re working. This will help to keep you from using vending machines at work and from eating restaurant food too often.
Real-life examples of healthy eating when working odd shifts
A water treatment plant operator, who works from 6 pm to 6 am, shared his typical meal and activity plan. Like most of us, he actively works on managing his weight. He mainly focuses on making healthy food choices, watching his portions, and getting some outdoor activity every day.
Meal 1: 8 pm
- 4-ounce bison patty with ketchup and mustard + 1 cup of steamed broccoli + 1 medium sweet potato + 1 cup of black coffee
Snack: 12 midnight
- Small apple + tablespoon of natural peanut butter + water
Snack: 2:30 am
- 1-ounce raw almonds + carrots and celery + water
Snack: 4:30 am
- Plain yogurt cup + berries
Sleep: 6:45 am
Meal 2 or “breakfast”: 2 pm
- Turkey wrap + side salad + lite Italian dressing
Walk dogs: 3 pm
Shower: 4 pm
Snack before work: 4:30 pm
- 1 cup bran cereal + 3/4-cup 1% milk
- 1 hard-boiled egg
- 12-ounce black coffee
Healthy ways to unwind after your shift
Some people find it challenging to unwind at the end of their shift. Avoid turning to alcohol to relax. Alcoholic drinks dehydrate you and interfere with your body’s sleep cycle, leaving you feeling even more tired.
In the end, any type of shift work taxes the body and mind. So remember to take it easy on yourself if you are having difficulty meeting your weight-loss or general fitness goals. Remember, it is all about progress, not perfection!