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Shift work or night work can be hugely stressful—not only can it disrupt social and family life, and I am sure triathlon training plans and goals, but it can have major ramifications for sleep quality and health status.
Still, you can take control and be healthy; it might just take a little extra planning, willpower and perhaps accepting some unconventional meals at unconventional times.
Here’s what you can do:
Take food with you to work. You can prepare something healthy beforehand, and be better able to resist the high fat, high sugar temptations around you. Great options might be soup in a thermos, sandwiches and pita wraps, salads packed with dressing on the side (nobody wants to eat soggy leaves), chopped fruit and raw vegetables. Invest in a small cooler bag; this will not only keep food appetizing but fresh, too. Non-refrigerated healthy options are raw nuts, rice cakes, whole grain crackers, long-life flavored milk, sports/granola bars (just remember to check labels; some granola bars are incredibly high in sugar or fat). Foods containing fiber, protein and calcium may also increase satiety and help to keep you alert.
Maintain a stable blood sugar level. Low glycemic index foods can help you achieve this. Incorporate foods such as whole grain bread, oatmeal, nuts and seeds and apples. High sugar and refined snacks might seem like the perfect choice for your fatigue-fogged brain at 2 a.m., but they will leave you feeling sluggish and unsatisfied. Keep your night time meals lean and light; heavy, rich, sugary, fatty foods are more likely to cause digestive problems and also lead to poor quality sleep when you do eventually get to rest.
Keep a food log. Record what you eat for several days to gain a big picture of when and what you are eating. This log will be useful in helping you recognize that sometimes you feel hungry not because you are lacking in fuel or nutrients but because of other factors: boredom, fatigue, stress or an out-of-kilter circadian rhythm.
Keep your training regimen in place. Even when you are tired, small amounts of exercise (as little as 10- to 15-minute bursts) can be beneficial in reducing stress, resetting or maintaining the circadian clock and keeping food cravings at bay, and yes, even maintaining fitness.
Be careful in your consumption of coffee and other stimulants. Drinking in excess during the night will further disrupt any sleep you might get later on. Also consider any medications you are taking and how they might also disrupt your appetite (discuss this with your doctor).
When you do get to sleep, then sleep. Minimize distractions. Sleep in a dark room, turn your phone/TV/radio/computer off, and if possible, shut the door on family, friends, roommates or anyone else who wants to disturb a daytime sleeper.