One thing that helps people when they’re getting into shape is establishing a good routine. So I can definitely appreciate that if you are a shift worker this is going to be a real challenge, but one that I think we can overcome. With this in mind, I’ve put together some key tips to help you take control when you’re at the mercy of an irregular roster.
1. Plan out your week
When you get your roster the first thing you should do is plan your week ahead. Work out where you might need to pre-prepare meals, schedule in your workouts and ensure you have a solid idea of what you’re eating and when. If you know you have appointments or errands to run, schedule these in too so you’re not sacrificing your health when duty calls.
2. Meal prep
I can’t stress enough the importance of meal prepping. Use your day off to plan, shop and prepare your meals for the week or at least the next three days. Knowing what you’re eating will help stop you hitting the vending machine or grabbing takeaway when you’re unprepared or too tired to cook.
3. Stock the freezer
Following on from point number two – your freezer is your friend! There are so many delicious meals that you can cook in bulk and store in the freezer. Having a supply of frozen meals saves stress when you get home and don’t have time or energy to get in the kitchen.
4. Lock in your workout time
Of course you have to find what works for you but the feedback from my shift working 28ers has suggested that exercising before your shift or first thing when you wake up is the way to go. Exercising pre-work means you’re not too tired from being on the job (and therefore likely to skip it), not to mention it improves your concentration and boosts both your mood and energy. If you can’t get your workout done, try to squeeze in some smaller bursts of physical activity during the day.
5. Stock a supply
Ideally your main meals should keep you powering on but in the event you need snacks or a burst of energy – it’s always a good idea to be prepared as we all know that the office biscuit tin or Kit Kats from the vending machine are not the best option. Keep some bliss balls, almonds or a homemade trail mix at work so that you don’t need to hit up the vending machine when your tummy starts grumbling. Keeping some tinned tuna and microwaveable brown rice or quinoa packs can also be a lifesaver when you forget your lunch or dinner.
6. Stay hydrated
Think of it this way – the food you are putting into your body is the petrol in the car and the water is the oil to keep the engine ticking over and running day to day. You must be consuming enough water – approximately 2.5 to four litres per day depending on your size and weight – to keep your metabolic processes working effectively. Dehydration also rears its head as hunger, so make sure you’re sipping regularly to avoid overeating when you’re really just thirsty.
7. Be smart with your sleep
Shift work is particularly tricky when it comes to sleep because it means you’re working against your body’s natural sleep rhythm. Ensuring that you’re getting sufficient, quality sleep when you can will help reduce the negative effects shift work can have on your body and your mind. Lots of my shift working 28ers suggest going to sleep as soon as the shift is over, so try to avoid stimulants towards the end of your shift (such as caffeine and too much screen time). Black out curtains, cool bedroom conditions and a quiet environment all help promote good quality sleep. Power naps can also be particularly effective, so if you can squeeze in naps of 15-30 minutes throughout the day you may experience increased alertness and a little energy boost.
My hat goes off to all the shift workers out there, seriously. I truly believe that when it comes to balancing it all- work, family, friends and life in general, no matter your profession, preparation really is key. Think ahead, plan ahead and don’t worry if you slip up every now and then. We’re only human.