Shift work is something that thankfully I haven’t had much experience of. However, on a few occasions, I’ve had to sit up through the night to calf a cow. For those of you who don’t know the process of birth for a cow, a farmer must check at regular intervals to see if she looks like giving birth soon (the bones in their back shift). After a night of cow sitting, the next day you feel tired, groggy and not much like doing any strenuous exercise. Not too much fun.
Compared to individuals who work during the day, shift workers are at higher risk of a range of metabolic disorders and diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, peptic ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, failure to control blood sugar levels, and metabolic syndrome. At least some of these complaints may be linked to the quality of the diet and irregular timing of eating, however other factors that affect metabolism are likely to play a part, including psychosocial stress, disrupted circadian rhythms, sleep debt, physical inactivity, and insufficient time for rest and recovery. So what can you do to avoid this?
Here’s a few practical tips to keep your body in sync on shift work:
- Avoid ‘large meals’ (>20% of daily energy intake) 1–2 hours prior to the main daily sleep episode. Provide a variety of food choices: Include high quality nutrient dense foods. Smoothies are perfect for keeping in the fridge in work and require minimal preparation.
- Plan exercise into your week around shifts when you think you’ll have the most energy. Remember, exercise can actually make you feel more energized!
- Stick as closely as possible to a normal day and night pattern of food intake.
- Avoid over-reliance on convenience foods and high processed carbohydrate foods during the shift (such as coke, sweets, crisps and pastries). Instead go for vegetable soups, salads, fruit, yoghurt, wholegrain sandwiches, boiled eggs, nuts, cold meat or smoothies (to name a few).
At T1 Fitness, we put a structured plan in place to prevent shift work holding you back! If you’re a shift worker, how do you manage?
Lowden, A., et al. 2010. Eating and shift work – effects on habits, metabolism and performance.Scand J Work Environ Health. 36(2): pp.150-162
Minors, D.S. and Waterhouse, J.M. 1989. Circadian rhythms in general practice and occupational health. In: Arendt J, Minors DS, Waterhouse JM, editors. iological rhythms in clinical practice. London: Wright.