Eating and Exercising While Working Nights

10 May 2010

Working nights is a reality for many Americans including those working as policemen, firefighters, EMS, doctors and countless others. With a backwards sleep schedule, your eating and exercise routine will naturally undergo some changes. Without careful planning those changes will probably be negative causing you to eat unhealthy foods, stop exercising and eventually gain unwanted weight. When you work nights, you have to readjust your sleep, eating and exercise schedules. Each is an important piece of the overall puzzle. If you ignore one, the other two won't fall into place.

Sleeping

This is an obvious step. You need to adjust your sleeping schedule so it lines up with your work hours. There are pretty much two options. A) Go to sleep right after work and have free time before going in or B) have your free time after work and wake up right before you have to go in.

Since I'm not a sleeping expert, I can't honestly say which one is healthier or better so use the one that works for your schedule. When I started working nights I thought going to sleep right as I got off would work the best and now I'm moving to the other option to see if it works any better (which I think it is).

Eating

Eating is tough to do (in a healthy way) when you work nights. If you do some careful planning, you'll get used to it. Most people who work nights gain unwanted weight because the only options at 2 or 3am are fast food drive-thru, pizza delivery and doughnut shops. It's easy to eat these foods when you think you have no other choice.

The same rules apply for eating healthy at night as they do during the day. You can have three main meals throughout the day with snacks strategically placed between them to avoid getting hungry. Your "first" meal should be eaten when you wake up before going into work. The second "meal" will probably be eaten about halfway through your shift and the last meal when you get off work and are back at home. These are just guidelines, if you find a formula that works better for you, use it.

Meals that are eaten at home are the easy part, the hard part is getting the meal you eat at work in the middle of the night right. Instead of getting a large pizza and eating it all yourself, plan ahead of time. Cook a meal and bring it to work with you.

Good Meal & Snack Ideas:

  • turkey/tuna/chicken sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread
  • 100% whole wheat pasta with meat sauce or chicken
  • brown rice with chicken
  • peanuts/pecans/almonds/sunflower seeds
  • fruit - grapes, apples, bananas, pears, berries
  • salads
  • dark chocolate

Bad Meal & Snack Ideas:

  • pizza
  • fast food
  • doughnuts
  • candy
  • chocolate bars
  • chinese food

The key to staying healthy during your night shift is to eat small but frequent meals. This is especially important for you because when you do get hungry (and get a craving) the only options you will have will be the unhealthy ones that are open during early morning hours.

Exercising

Exercising is a tough habit to build while working during the night and sleeping in the day. If you go after work, you'll be really tired and if you go before work, you'll rush yourself to get to work on time. There's no right or wrong time to exercise so I suggest you try both. Try each for about a week and see which fits in your schedule better and which you're more likely to stick with.

The general rules for exercising are: 3-5 sessions per week with a mix of both strength training and cardiovascular exercise. For a good workout with links to exercises, check out: Ken's Official Beach Body Exercise Routine. You can also get a free personalized workout routine from SHTrainer.com.

The Bottom Line

Yes, working nights is exhausting both mentally and physically but unfortunately, short of quitting your job, there isn't too much you can do about it. You can either let your new shift negatively impact your health by sleeping all day, not exercising and eating junk at night, or you can make the effort to get to the gym, plan your meals ahead of time and continue your healthy lifestyle. It's all up to you.