Nursing, Night Shift & How to Stay on Track with Your Fitness Goals

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By Sue Bush

In this article, Coach Sue guides you through tips on how to stay on track with your fitness goals while working a high stress job with tough hours.

 

When you work a high-stress job that doesn’t always allow for regular sleep habits or the flexibility of daytime jobs, it can be a little tougher to approach fitness goals. But not impossible.

It just requires special attention to certain factors and adjustments. 

We have quite a few nurses and individuals with night shift jobs under Physique Development coaching, so much of this info has been compiled over years of working with those clients.

You are in a position where you likely have limitations on when you can eat, what you can eat, what time you have available. But this means we need to make nutrition even MORE of a priority. 

 

TIP 1: Water & Sleep are PRIORITY

These are likely two things you’re not getting enough of as a nurse or night shift worker. I understand that does come with the job field to a certain degree, but that means we have to find ways to make it easier to prioritize them in your time off of work and whenever you can.

If you can have a water bottle by a charting computer or a cupboard near you, that’s going to be your best bet. Make sure it’s a water bottle you know is yours, too, so you don’t get mixed up with others. Straws also make it super easy to get water down quickly and keep you as mobile as possible!

As far as sleep goes, we need to make sure that sleep is as good as we can possibly get it, not only for recovery reasons but overall health, too. I know it feels like you might have to run yourself into the ground to reach your goals AND work your night shift or long shifts, but you don’t. 

TIP 2: Keep non-perishable foods with you at work

Nutrition can be super hard when you’re going long periods without eating – you’re dead tired, you have little time to get food in, but you don’t always have time. By the time you get home, you’re too exhausted to cook and opt for fast food options.

Sound familiar?

I know nurses especially don’t always know when they’re going to get breaks, so it’s essential to bring food items with you that won’t go bad in a short period of time. I know it’s also pretty normal to walk into the break room and find sweets and desserts laid out at all times, which is pretty tempting on insufficient sleep and improper fueling/nutrition.

So, let’s say that you don’t have time to bring food or you forgot. If you have those non-perishable food items in your locker (or wherever you keep your belongings), you won’t have to resort to the desserts or foods that aren’t going to nourish you the way that you need. 

It’s also good to have dense foods that are quick to eat since you may only have a small window of time to get a snack in. 

Some ideas for foods to always have on hand and don’t need a fridge or freezer:

  • Rice cakes
  • Tuna packets
  • Minute rice
  • Canned chicken
  • Protein bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Pre-packaged nuts
  • Crackers
  • Protein powder
  • Oatmeal packets
  • Trail mix
  • Dried fruits
  • Banana, apple, etc.

If you do have access to a fridge, you can always pre-pack and bring a lunch or dinner with you, too. Save that for an extended break when and if you get the chance!

Tip 3: Pre-track your macros before your shift

The worst thing ever is going into your app, tracking what you’ve consumed so far in a day, and realizing you’ve gone over your macros already or you have put yourself in a weird spot with your macro targets where you have a ton of fat left, but no carbs or protein. 

If you pre-track your meals in your app the night before or the day of, this will help you stay on track with your numbers AND stay prepared with meals & snacks before you head into work. Planning is NEVER a wrong choice, especially when your schedule is whacky. 

MORE TIPS SPECIFIC FOR NIGHT SHIFT WORKERS 

  1. Begin your eating around 10AM on the first day, and track until 1AM at work the following morning – this will count as your “day” of tracking. Maybe you have a small snack around 4AM and count that either towards that day or the following; you can decide based on your macros! This will be so much easier for you than trying to stick to a midnight-to-midnight schedule like most people. 
  2. Track two days as one. In MyFitnessPal, it has each day laid out on the midnight-to-midnight schedule and resets each day. And in your case, you have two night shifts in a row. You can track both days as one day and try to hit your macros combined. 

Example: If your macros are 100gP/200gC/50gF. That would mean you track those two night shifts in ONE day on MFP and aim for 200gp/400gC/100gF between those two shifts. We’re going for the net more than anything!

  1. Workouts: If you are doing back-to-back night shifts, I would highly suggest planning these as your rest days. If you have to go to the gym, wake up around 3PM or a few hours before your shift. Train, eat, and head to your shift from there.

I hesitate to use extremes, but I would never recommend working out or doing cardio directly after a night shift. You have just been awake for many hours, and rest is honestly more significant 90% of the time.  

Ask yourself this: “Is it going to be better for me to call it a day, go to sleep, and train tomorrow? Or force myself to train tired and mentally not there giving my all, and pushing my exhaustion?” 

Know the difference between making an excuse and truly needing the rest.

  1. ALWAYS sleep before weighing in! That would be like weighing yourself at the end of a normal day after you’ve had all of your food. It’s not an accurate weigh-in. 
  2. Crockpot meals are your friend! Find a few recipes you love and spend a couple of hours throwing them together and cooking them in the crockpot. Having these ready to go in the fridge or freezer will save you time and energy cooking after a long night shift!
  3. Stress management. We can’t control certain stressors, so we focus in on anything that you CAN control. Stressed about nutrition? Pre-plan and prep. Stressed about different aspects of your job? Let’s look at what you can do to show up for yourself and your patients. Try yoga, meditation, or some self-care that can counteract the stress you take on with work.

Tune in to Episode 14 of the Physique Development Podcast for a deep dive on the topic of nutrition and fitness for nursing & night shift workers!

 

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