I’ve been a Registered Nurse for nearly 14 years now. I worked the night shift 7pm-7am for over 10 years while my kids were babies and into their primary school days. I recently in the last year switched to the day shift to get my sleep more regulated. I know how hard those 12 hour shifts, which actually are more like 13+ hour shifts, can be on our bodies and our nutrition.
We barely have time to get to the bathroom in those 13+ hours let alone worry about our nutrition as well. We resort to going the whole shift without eating or drinking water or we eat whatever is in the break room (cookies, donuts, pizza) and vending machines and we drink lots and lots of coffee!!!
I am here to tell you that it does not have to be this way! I have been counting my macros for over 4 years with great success. Yes, it does take some planning and prepping! Also boundaries. As healthcare workers we give and give and there seems to be no time to stop and take care of ourselves. But when we take the time to nourish our bodies we have the energy it takes to be mentally and physically ready for whatever the next hour holds.
Here are some tips and tricks I have learned over the last 4 years…
Have a Plan
This actually needs to be a plan for your next 2-3 days of work if you have shifts running together. This leaves no room for error and you won’t have to worry about what you’ll be eating to get you through your shifts. As health care workers, we don’t have that luxury!
Get Plenty of Rest and Have a Good Meal With Your Family
I always plan to have a good dinner with my family, usually a Stay Fit Mom recipe like One Pot Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo before my shift starts. This is a great one because it’s easy and it makes a lot of leftovers to use over the next few days. I eat the same things a lot on those days running together. We are too tired to have to think too much about our diet!
Pack Protein Snacks and Your Water Bottle
I pack easy quick snacks for my shift. My first snack will be around 10-11pm and will be a protein bar or a protein shake and I will drink 8 oz of water and pee! Obviously this does not always go as planned so I look at what I need to do and if I know it is going to be a crazy shift I grab that 5 min break when I can. Next snack because I am a hungry girl, will be sometime after midnight when I sit down to chart this might be an apple and cottage cheese or greek yogurt with frozen blueberries on the bottom (yummy!). I eat protein with every snack and meal to keep my blood sugar from spiking and hunger controlled the entire shift. The last thing I eat is usually a bigger meal of left overs or a sandwich with rotisserie chicken, cut up veggies, and a treat like a fun size candy or a cookie. Sometimes at the end of the shift around 5 or so I get really hungry and need something to hold me over until I get home. I will usually have more veggies/fruit and a turkey or beef stick. When I get home I have breakfast and go to bed! I usually have oatmeal or eggs and toast. Then I sleep until 3-5 pm, get up, have dinner with my family and start it all over again.
Avoid the Break Room
These are always filled with carb heavy desserts we don’t need. If you’re planning your day out ahead of time and pack your food, you wont be so tempted to go to in that break room or to the grill to eat all the greasy foods.
I don’t cook multiple meals in one day. That overwhelms me but if you do then do it!! I like to cook 3 big meals a week and then use the leftovers for quick dinners and lunches. I always have a rotisserie chicken in my fridge. I remove the skin and cut it up for easy snacks, sandwiches and salads. Cottage cheese and plain greek yogurt are also my go tos with high fiber fruits like apples and berries. Beef sticks, turkey sticks, protein bars, protein shakes, and cut up veggies are my snack items. I love mini peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and carrots for snacking. When you have to spread your meals out over 24 hours you want to plan those macro friendly foods in so you are not starving.
Exercise on Your Days Off
Moving your body is so important for your mental health and your physical health. This does not have to be strenuous exercise. Find something you enjoy doing. Walking in the sunshine with your family, morning runs by yourself with your favorite music, podcast, or audio book, CF, HIIT, whatever makes you happy and makes you feel good.
Make Yourself a Priority
Be kind to your body. You are a caregiver, a rescuer, a comforter, a friend, a juggler of multiple tasks at one time, and so much more. How you treat your body matters! Make yourself a priority as well, set boundaries for yourself, eat to fuel your mind, body, and soul, move your body, rest, get sunshine everyday. There should be no guilt or shame weighing you down. You have a gift that not many have and you have chosen a profession that is fully giving of yourself. Take time to care for yourself as well! You are worth it!