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Nutrition and shift work

It’s11:00 at night – and most of us are either sleeping or getting ready for bed.  For many, it is just the start of their shift.  An estimated ¼ of South Africans work outside the 7 am to 6 pm work period in many different kinds of occupations including industrial work, healthcare, hospitality (hotels, food service), manufacturing, transportation services and protective services (police, fire, ambulance).  

Being up late at night when the body thinks it should be sleeping creates stress for the body.  Research has found that shift work is associated with higher rates of:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure & type 2 diabetes
  • Digestive problems [indigestion, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea]
  • Problems with sleep patterns, fatigue and lower energy levels
  • Stress, depression
  • Challenges meeting parental responsibilities
  • Challenges in maintaining hobbies and leisure activities
  • Substance misuse

What nutritional challenges do shift workers face?

  • Reduced access to healthier foods.  There are often fewer foods for purchase at night as cafeterias are often closed, leaving shift workers to select vending machine-type snacks.
  • Dehydration.  When shift workers do not drink enough fluids at work, they may become dehydrated and feel fatigued.
  • High caffeine intake.  Many shift workers drink caffeinated beverages to help push through their tiredness.  The effects of caffeine may last up to 8 hours – making falling and staying asleep after work difficult. 

What foods should shift workers avoid?

  • Sugary, nutrient-poor foods, like chocolate or sugary drinks.  These lead to low energy levels.
  • Fatty, fried or spicy foods like traditional fast foods.  These foods are more likely to lead to heartburn, indigestion and may make you feel more tired.
  • Caffeinated drinks and foods.  Limit caffeine intake to 400 mg caffeine/day, which is about 3 cups of brewed coffee. 
  • Caffeine-containing drinks and foods within 6 – 8 hours of expected sleep.  Limiting caffeine in this way may help limit the impact of caffeine on sleep.  
  • Energy drinks.  Not only do energy drinks contain caffeine, they are high in sugar and are most often sold in larger portion sizes, resulting in high caffeine and sugar intake.  
  • Alcohol after work.  Alcohol may make you feel relaxed but can reduce the quality of your sleep. 

Here’s a shift-work strategy to fuel you through your night shift:

1) Time your meals carefully - eat your “main meal” before going to work. A Slender Wonder shake is perfectly balanced to keep you going during the night shift.

2) Pack your own nutritious foods - so as to not be limited to vending machines.  Plan to eat a smaller meal/snack at work, rather than a larger meal (which can lead to digestive problems and can leave you feeling sleepy). If you divide your Slender Wonder Shake into two servings or have the Slender Wonder protein bar, you will still be able to stick to your weight loss regime.

3) Eat balanced mini-meals - to help you stay awake and alert.  Try mini-meals balanced with vegetables or fruit, whole grains, low fat dairy products or lean proteins: 

  • Slender Wonder protein bar
  • Veggies (carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumber) & fat-free cottage cheese
  • Cottage cheese with fruit
  • Hard-boiled egg with Veggies
  • Soup
  • 2 crackers and cottage cheese

4) Hydrate with water or caffeine-free beverages:

  • Water
  • Caffeine-free coffee and/or tea
  • Broth-based soup
  • Lower sodium 100% vegetable juices

5) After your shift, prepare your body for sleep - enjoy a light snack of carbohydrate rich foods (eg crackers and cheese), which often lead to feeling sleepy and can help you not wake up because you are hungry.   If you are not hungry before bed, try cutting out a snack during your shift.

6) Be physically active each day - but avoid activity one hour before bed.

7) Talk to your workplace - about having healthier choices available throughout your shift.

Shift work is hard on the body.  Ultimately, you need to pay attention to what nutritional strategy helps you get through your shift while maintaining your overall health.;

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