Night Shift Nutrition Tips

Hi all!

I recently got back from a business trip to India. It was my first travel for business purposes, and it was such a positive experience. I felt like I got to know the people of India and culture better through business travel and the daily interaction than I may have if I had just gone for pleasure. Plus I got to explore on the weekends and get to know people that way too. Win win win.

While I was over there, I heard a lot of people talk about their struggles with night shift work, particularly gaining weight. I whipped up a nutrition guide for people working the night shift, but a lot of it is generally applicable. As I always say, we are all unique snow flakes, so when it comes to grams/calories/etc, take it with a grain of salt and meet with dietician to get exact estimates for your needs.

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Night Shift Nutrition

Working the night shift may seem like a challenge for eating and maintaining a healthy body, but with by keeping a few basic principles in mind, you can overcome the unique challenges that the shift poses.

  1. Calories are complicated. While simply “calories in, calories out” is not fully accurate, weight gain and loss is largely a matter of excess calories.
    1. Carbohydrates are the easiest substance to digest and convert into fat. The more cooked, refined, or ‘white’ a carb is, the more effect is has on elevating blood sugar and weight gain. Refined carbs are responsible for elevating LDL cholesterol.
    2. The more fiber something has (such as vegetables and whole grains) the slower the carbohydrates are absorbed into blood and the more filling it is. Fiber helps lower cholesterol and burns some calories being digested.
    3. Protein is the most difficult substance to digest, so it burns some calories when eaten. It is important to eat protein with meals for slowing absorption of carbohydrates, increasing satiety, and building/maintaining lean muscle.
    4. Fat is not evil and is great for satiety and also slows absorption of carbohydrates. However, because it is the most calorie dense, portions need to be monitored. (Especially heavy Indian sauces/gravies/curries!)  Avoid vegetable oils. Coconut oil, ghee and olive oil are the healthiest oils.
  2. Hunger depends on many factors, including how long since the last meal, foods chosen, amount of sleep, other substances ingested, environment, and social cues.
    1. Try not to go more than 5-6 hours between meals to avoid overeating. Carry high protein/fiber snacks around with you (dried chickpeas, jerky, carrots, apple)
    2. Choose high protein foods, LOTS of vegetables, and high fiber carbohydrates for longer satiety.
    3. Blended or liquid foods pass through the stomach quickly and are less satiating.
    4. Drinking alcohol, social cues, being dehydrated, and lack of sleep increase hunger. Women need at least 2 liters water daily, men 3 liters.

 

Sleep:

  • Sleep is crucial for optimal energy, weight, happiness, and health.
  • Aim for 8 hours per night, allowing 20 minutes to fall asleep.
  • It is important to sleep in pitch black, so use an eye mask and ear plugs if necessary.
  • Avoid getting less than 7 hours of sleep, and if you accumulate sleep debt (which is stored up to two weeks) try to catch up over the weekend.
  • No bright lights or screens for at least an hour before bed.

Sample schedule:

Mon-Fri: 8pm, go to work. Work 9pm to 5am. Get home at 5:30am and get in bed. Sleep 6am-2pm. Between 2pm and 8pm, enjoy being with family and squeeze in a workout for 15-60 minutes. With this schedule, meals could be breakfast around 3pm, lunch around 8pm, dinner at 1am.

On the weekends, try not to stray too far from the work schedule.

You can discuss with your doctor a natural supplement or melatonin to help with sleep cycle regulation or changes.

  • Sat: Wake at 2pm as usual, go to bed around 2am, using melatonin or sleepy tea if needed.
  • Sunday: Wake at 10am, 11, or noon. Bed at 2 or 3am.
  • Monday: repeat work schedule.

If you are very tired from the work week, go to bed as early as you want on Saturday. On Sunday, try to go to bed between 2 and 5am so that you are closer to work schedule.

Exercise:

  • Go to http://www.bodbot.com/ . It was created by one of my friends and is an AWESOME resource for working out and nutrition!
  • My blog is theInformedHealthnut.com which has lots of health articles, exercises, and recipes 🙂
  • During work, try to get up and walk or group work out at least every couple hours.
  • Can see if getting a few standing desks is an option for the office
  • Stretch and meditate daily, even briefly
  • Exercise is essentially the only way to elevate HDL cholesterol

Different types of exercise have different health benefits and otherwise.

  • Longer, less intense cardio: Good for the heart, endurance, and calorie expenditure. Ex: going for a walk, elliptical, dance, difficult yoga classes
  • Short, intense cardio: Great for the heart, burns lots of fat, increases metabolism. Ex: sprints by running, some sports, swimming, biking, intervals of any type, body weight exercises,  HIIT, crossfit
  • Weight lifting: Increases metabolism by building muscle, burns fat, stronger body for longevity
  • Yoga/stretching/core: Decreases stress, improves mobility, balance, core supports spine and posture

AHA Recommendation – For Overall Cardiovascular Health:

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes

OR

  • At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity

EITHER PLUS

  • Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits.

For Lowering Blood Pressure and Cholesterol:

  • An average 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week

Sample weekly goals:

2-3 long slow cardio sessions ( 30-60 minute walks or challenging yoga)

1-2 intense cardio session (15-30 minute sprint intervals or other intense interval workout)

Note: These are better to do on the weekend as they can be tiring, and you dont want to fall asleep at work! They are great for helping you fall asleep earlier on the weekend.

1-2 weight lifting sessions

Note: If lifting heavy, these can also be tiring, so may be better to do during the weekend.

Endurance cardio: Walking, cycling, swimming, pilates, brisk yoga class, dance class. Should be at an easy enough pace that can be maintained without needing to stop and rest.

Intense cardio: High Intensity Interval Training via cycling, rowing, swimming, running, jump rope, running stairs, or other cardio form. The goal is to get your heart rate near your max (around 220 – your age), then recover, repeat. Another option is to use the bodyweight exercises. You can also utilize exercise videos on YouTube that are bodyweight interval training.

Examples:

  • 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds easy (“Tabata”)
  • 30 seconds hard, 60 seconds easy
  • 30 seconds sprint, 90 seconds easy
  • 45 seconds hard, 60 seconds easy
  • 60 seconds hard, 60 seconds easy, etc

Body weight exercises: Can be done at home, in a park, at a gym, etc.

  • Box jumps, jumping of any sort
  • Squats
  • Jump lunges
  • Pushups
  • Pull ups
  • Chin ups
  • V-ups
  • Tricep dips
  • Back Extensions
  • Sit ups
  • Leg Raises
  • Plank Holds
  • Bridges
  • Burpees

Weight training: Strength in a gym setting, focusing on sheer strength gains within functional movements. All movements with additional weight to bodyweight.

If you do not have access to a gym, you can purchase weights or use heavy objects around the house (with good form and safety!) for exercises. Tons of strength workouts can be found online, on Bodbot.com, on my blog, and on youtube. Youtube videos can show proper form, but if your budget, allows, it is best to have a personal trainer show you how to do the moves.

Examples: Deadlifts*, squats*, overhead press, bench press, lunges

Yoga/Stretching/Core: If you can spend a few minutes stretching and meditating daily, that is ideal. Doing yoga, longer stretching, and core workouts 1-2 times per week is great for reducing stress and maintaining flexibility. These can be done at a gym or at home. There are many free videos online for yoga, stretching, and abdominals.

Nutrition

There are some basics you must know and understand in order to make educated food decisions for life. I recommend memorizing the foods listed as examples of each macronutrient. I have placed each food into which macronutrient it is predominately.

Carbohydrates:

These are used for energy and are all broken down into sugar in the stomach and intestines. While all carbohydrates are technically composed of sugar, they have very different effects on our blood sugar due to their fiber content and processing/cooking method.

Carbohydrates elevate our blood sugar, which releases insulin, which tells our body to store fat. Too many carbohydrates are the most direct cause of weight gain. Refined carbohydrates and sugars are the worst, because they elevate blood sugar the fastest and usually have a higher total carbohydrate load.

Sources of carbohydrates: Rice, bread, naan/roti/chapati, noodles, all sweets, all fruits and juices, starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squash

Unexpected sources of carbohydrates: milk and yogurt (does have some protein, but has natural sugars), all beans/chickpeas/lentils (have some protein, but more carbs)

Vegetables: are technically a carbohydrate, but they are rich in fiber, which slows absorption and increases satiety. Vegetables can be eaten in unlimited quantities, as they are not calorie dense (except starchy veg like potatoes and winter squash, corn)

Tips for carbs: Eat a lot of vegetables. Choose whole grain and brown carbs over white carbs. Avoid sugar (try adding no more than 3 tsp TOTAL to tea, coffee, etc per day. Avoid dried fruit and fruit juice, and just eat whole fruits.

Weight loss portions: [These are highly variable but a generalized recommendation.] No more than ~100-150 calories/25-40g for women and 150-200 calories/40-50g for men worth of carbohydrates per meal.

  • 120 calories is a half cup of cooked rice, half cup daal, half a naan, half cup pasta, a medium 7’ roti or chapati, or 2 idlis.
  • 1 cup low fat yogurt/raita has 120 calories, 10 g protein, 15 g carbs as sugar
  • Everyone, especially if vegetarian, must factor in that beans and lentils contribute to your total carbohydrate content, and reduce “pure carbohydrates” accordingly.

Maintenance portions:  No more than ~150-300 calories/40-60g for women and no more than ~200-400 calories/50-1000g for men of carbohydrates per meal.

  • 240 calories is 1 cup rice or daal, 1 naan, 1 cup pasta, or two small chapatis or rotis.
  • A tablespoon of sugar is 45 calories, all carbs. (Note: people who are super active may require more carbohydrates than this, this is just an estimate.)

Cooking tips & info for breads/rice/idli: http://www.indiacurry.com/nutrition/rotidosaidli.htm

Fat:

Used for absorption of fat soluble vitamins, energy, hormone production, fat storage. Great for increasing satiety and slowing carbohydrate absorption.

Fat is commonly attributed to weight gain and high cholesterol, but excessive and refined carbohydrates are actually more responsible for these issues. Fat content should be monitored due to avoid excess calories, but it is not bad! However, higher fat foods have a lot of calories, so you must eat smaller portions of them.

Sources of fats: all oils, ghee, coconut milk, coconut, heavy cream, avocado, egg yolk, fatty cuts of meat such as lamb, pork, beef

Unexpected sources of fat: tofu/paneer (has some protein, but majority fat), nuts, peanut butter, cheese (all have some protein, but mostly fat), deep fried foods such as samosas and papad)

Weight loss portions: No more than ~100-250 calories/10-25g for women and 150-300 calories/15-30g for men worth of fat per meal.

  • 120 calories is 1 tbsp oil or butter or 2 tbsp cream. Half an avocado is 150 calories. 1 cup full cat coconut milk is 550 calories. ¼ cup of nuts is 200 calories.
  • Everyone, especially if vegetarian, must factor in that tofu, paneer, nuts, seeds, and cheese contribute to your total fat intake, and reduce “pure fats” accordingly.

Weight loss calories: I am hesitant to be too specific about this, as everyone is HIGHLY different. I encourage you to meet with a dietician about your exact calories needs. There are also calculators online to input your weight, height, and activity level to get an estimate – but they are highly variable. Women might aim for 1300-1600 calories per day for weight loss. Men might aim for 1500-2400 calories for weight loss. This depends on your startign weight and ending goal weight and activity level.

Maintenance portions:  Around ~200 calories/50g for women and ~200-400 calories/50-80g for men of fat per meal.  (Note: people who are very active may require more calories than this, this is just an estimate.)

Protein:

Used for muscle maintenance and building, repairing all cells, immunity cell production, hair/skin/nails, necessary for life and cell reactions. Great for satiety and slowing carbohydrate absorption.

Sources of protein: All fish, seafood, poultry, lamb, beef, chicken, pork, protein powders, cottage cheese, hemp/soy protein powder, egg white

Protein goals: .6 – .8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. People who lift weights often and heavy may go over this recommendation, up to .9 or 1g per pound. Those with kidney issues should consult an MD.

During weight loss, high protein intake helps preserve muscle mass and increase satiety. For example, a 70kg woman might aim for 90-140 grams of protein per day.

Portions:

  • A palm size of chicken/fish/beef/pork has about 25 grams of protein. ¼ pound of lean protein has around 25 grams of protein. One egg has 7 grams of protein.
  • 1 cup low fat yogurt/raita has 120 calories, 10 g protein, 15 g carbs as sugar
  • 1 cup Indian curd has 160 cals, 13 grams of protein and 1 cup cottage cheese has ~15 g.
  • 1 cup cooked lentils has 220 calories and 18 g protein, 40g carbs.
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas has 270 calories and 15 g protein, 45 g carbs.
  • ½ cup tofu has 10 g protein and 100 calories.

Veg tips: It is easier to divide protein intake into three meals. It is difficult for vegetarians to meet the protein requirements sometimes, especially if they don’t eat dairy. Vegetarians might consider a protein shake with hemp, whey, or soy protein powder to help meet protein needs. Note that for vegetarians trying to lose weight,  in order to meet protein needs with lentils or chickpeas, less rice or whole grain bread (such as ¼ -½ cup) should be eaten at meals.

Sample non-veg and veg meal:

  • ½ cup rice with 1-2 palms of chicken with ¼ cup masala sauce and as much vegetables or salad as desired.
  • 1 idlis with ⅔ cup lentils and 8oz yogurt with small handful almonds
  • 1 roti wrap with 1 palm chicken (or ⅔ cup chickpeas) and 2 tbsp masala sauce + 2 tbsp raita and unlimited vegetables in the wrap/on the side
  • A huge mixed vegetable salad with 1-2 palms chicken or (1 cup chickpeas), dressed with ¼ cup raita and 1tbsp olive oil
  • ⅓  cup rice with ¾  cup lentils in ¼ cup masala sauce with unlimited vegetables or salad.
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