Last updated: 02-Mar-16
Written by Sports Dietician Rin Cobb
Juggling a busy lifestyle of work, family, running and rest, not to mention all the time spent googling races and kit, has become the norm of our western ways. Long commutes and shift work only add to this, and for many it can become a real challenge to get the balance right. Food quite often takes a backseat. Routine and food choices can be hampered in the quest to keep energy levels up.
Those that don’t work a standard day, or have disrupted sleep patterns due to shifts, long commutes or even getting up at random times to fit in their weekly mileage, may find themselves more lethargic or having raised blood pressure, menstrual irregularities and even changes in their daily constitutional visit to the bathroom. Certainly for shift workers, changes in sleep pattern, appetite, hunger and even body weight are common occurrences. This is mainly down to a disruption in your body clock or circadian rhythm. This rhythm quite literally synchronizes all the amazing things going on in your body at any one time that you’re not even aware of. In fact your circadian rhythm acts somewhat like a pacer. Each runner is capable of running at their own pace but the pacer ensures they’re on target and keeping to time. So what can you do about this conundrum?
I know this is nothing new or exciting, but it really will make a difference. If you’re eating in response to hunger which may be off kilter due to your work routine, you’re more likely to make less nutritious choices. Chocolate, biscuits and energy drinks are common culprits. You may also be limited in food choices, if your only option is the work canteen, or be tempted to go for things you’d rarely cook yourself at home. Overeating can be a factor too. Who wouldn’t go for pudding every day if it’s on offer? So, the only answer is to take your own food, which you can choose and prepare, to ensure you’re getting what you need. This way, you can also factor in eating right to train right if running before or after a shift.
Meals vs. grazing
Night shifts can invariably skew meal times, so try to have your main meal before heading out. This way you may even get to sit down with your family to eat rather than becoming a reclusive eater. When on shifts, some fall into the habit of eating more meals than usual. This is particularly true on nights when your body feels it should be sleeping, and you end up eating to stay awake. There’s nothing wrong with snacking to get through a night shift, but rather than looking for sugar fixes which come with the inevitable crash and burn affect, try choosing more slow release foods like high protein yogurts (~10g/100g), nuts or granola bars and using fruit or a home-made munchy bag (handful of nuts, dried fruit, chocolate or yogurt covered raisins) for those pick me up moments. For those with more hectic lives, Graze boxes might be another option, as these offer a whole host of veritable, nutritious treats. There are also a number of nut butter sachets on the market, which are good for on the go or you can add to a slice of apple or crumpet for a more substantial snack.
When you return home in the morning, if planning on going straight to sleep, make sure you have something to eat. Going to bed hungry does not make for fruitful rest. Aim to have something light, like eggs on toast or cereal. Feeling too full can be detrimental to a good sleep too.
Keeping hydrated is also key to keeping you energized and able to concentrate with thirst sometimes being confused for hunger. If you’re planning to run straight after a shift, then starting hydrated will also make for a much better workout. Caffeine can obviously help you stay alert, but be careful not to have too much as this can make you more irritable, and have a negative knock-on effect to your sleep routine. Caffeine takes 30-45minutes to take effect. If you’re not feeling the buzz straight away, rather than reach for that second cup, give it time. Be mindful of energy drinks. Whilst they have less caffeine per 100ml than a filter coffee, their larger volume of 500ml is the equivalent of a Starbucks Grande. Also, remember they have more than double your daily sugars, if not choosing sugar free varieties.
If you’re in a fast paced job with regular missed breaks, nutritious drinks can not only help keep you hydrated but also provide you with energy in a healthier form than sweets and soda. Milk and milkshakes or smoothies and fruit juice are some options to try.
More and more of us are having to travel for hours each day to our place of work. This can mean early starts and getting home late, which again we all know can interfere with meals and your overall diet. One practical suggestion is to take an on the go breakfast smoothie which doesn’t just have to be fruit. You can make it more balanced by including high protein yogurt, oats, spinach or peanut butter. Really, the options are endless. These can be quick to whizz up in the morning and there are even some blenders that come with their own ready-to-go mugs.
Other options are instant porridge pots or bircher type muesli’s. These can be made up when you have time, add oats to yogurt and grated apple, pop in the fridge and voila you have a delicious and nutritious on the go breakfast or even midnight snack.
If, on top of a hectic work life, you’re trying to fit in those daily miles or even multiple sessions, you may find aiming for 4-5 smaller meals is more practical to ensure you’re fuelled right for training, work and to maximize recovery. Again this comes down to planning and having a stash of more accessible nutritious snacks to choose from, rather than being tempted by the wicked vending machine.
Despite your best efforts, there will be times your choices are limited, so make the most of what’s on offer. Don’t forget … a bit of will power can go a long way.