Do shift workers have different nutritional concerns?

Many people work outside the 9-5 working day which can pose challenges for eating and mealtimes.

Our internal clock or ‘circadian rhythm’ tells us when to rise and sleep. When we work shifts we have to take care to plan our mealtimes and food intake a little more.

Because out eating patterns are altered by working shifts you might experience –

– Constipation, diarrhoea, gas, indigestion, heartburn or stomach ulcers

– Altered appetite

– Weight gain or weight loss

These may occur because of a number of reasons-

– Eating in a rush

– Eating alone without family and friends

– Having too much caffeine from coffee, tea, colas or chocolate to help you to stay awake

– Eating poorly during the day and then over-eating on the night shift, at a time when digestive processes are slowed

Hints and tips

– Portion control. Have you ever tried having smaller snacks instead of a large meal during the night to avoid becoming too sleepy? If you have had a large meal at the usual time for dinner, you may end up overeating if you pack another full meal to eat throughout the night.

– Preparation. Packing a protein based snack/ meal at home to help you eat well on your shift will help you keep your energy levels up. Protein foods keep us alert.

– Some ideas – baked beans on toast, fruit and nuts, crumpets and peanut butter, fruit loaf, fresh fruit, low fat yogurt, granary bread as sandwiches or toasted with chicken/ham/cheese/egg/fish filling, oatcakes and peanut butter, sultana teacakes, cucumber/carrots/pepper and houmous – just watch your portion sizes.

– Drink plenty of fluid, dehydration can leave you feeling tired. Try to sip water regularly.

– Go easy on caffeine. Caffeine can remain in your body and promote alertness for up to 8 hours after you have consumed it. Have your caffeine at the start of your shift and then switch to decaffeinated drinks or water.

– Have a small snack before sleep. It can be difficult to fall asleep if you are too hungry or too full. Before bedtime, you could try to have a small bowl of cereal (sultana bran, all bran, weetabix, cornflakes, shreddies, rice krispies, shredded wheat, porridge, muesli). Try to restrict alcohol and caffeine before bed.

– Sugary and fatty foods can make you feel more tired, try to limit these during shifts.