Fuel those shifts

Shift work can be tough. 

Eating effectively on shift can be even tougher. 

Fortunately, Kat is here to help! She’s been a nurse for over 10 years AND she’s a dietitian, so if anyone can give you nutrition advice (with a side of experience), it’s her.


Jono: Welcome back to the Bite Me Nutrition podcast. Today, I am talking to Kat, which you should all know who that is. If you don't know who that is, please make sure that you go to our website, go to her Instagram, sort yourself out, make sure you're giving her a follow. She's probably the main source of recipes on Instagram. So if you've been loving some of those, that is, I have nothing to do with any of them. But we're not here to talk about recipes. We're here to talk about something else. But before we do that, hello Kat.

Welcome. Thank you for chatting. Can you tell everyone who you are, what you do and why you do it?

Kat:Hello, thanks for having me.

Kat: Yeah, so as Jonah said, and if you don't already know, I'm TAT. I am actually a dual health professional. I don't know if I'll ever get tired of saying that. Sorry for the little plug there. But yeah, so dietician and also a registered nurse. I am one of the dieticians with the amazing BiteMe Nutrition team. And I also work casually as a registered nurse.

Jono : friend.

Jono : No, own it.

Jono; Yeah.

Kat: Um, I, yeah. Yeah. Uh, yeah.

Jono :Talking through that, like so what came first, what, you know, that little journey.

Kat: Yeah, exactly. So nursing, finished uni, did my nursing undergrad and then worked as a nurse all through my 20s and then was getting a little bit of itchy feet thinking, do I want to keep being a nurse ongoing rest of my career and what can I really do? Obviously love working with people. I love being in health. And you know, making a change to someone's health. And I think looking at nutrition and the role it plays and ealth and particularly prevention of chronic disease and management around that. And I was like, yeah, I would love a career with nutrition and in dietetics and started with the change and worked and studied full time and it was a chaotic, chaotic period of my life. I look back and I just don't know how I did it, but I got through it. And yeah, here I am working as a dietitian and it's great. I love it.


Jono: Yeah, that's wild. That would have been a hectic time. I didn't realize but so far so there's three of us at vitamin nutrition and all three of us came to dietetics after another career or like, oh, and say later in life like mid 20s is not later in life, but we're mature aged students. But yeah, that

Kat: Yeah.

Kat: Yeah. I was 30. So I was pushing it. Yeah.

Jono: I wonder, maybe that's moving forwards. We only accept people who've done another career first. Um, anyway, that's not what we're here to chat about. Um, yeah. So because obviously nursing shift work, plus then your skills and, um, expertise as a dietician, I felt like it would be remiss of us to not have a chat about nutrition and shift work because you've kind of got the, the information from both sides, right? You've lived it, you've experienced, you're still, you know, doing

Kat: Yeah.

Jono: doing the odd shift, web shift with nursing. But then, so you've got the lived experience and then you've got all the knowledge and the evidence around what the heck we can do. So did you work, I assume you work shift work all through that nursing career?

Kat: Yep.

Kat: Yeah, exactly. So I've done all kinds of shifts from 8, 10, 12 hours, nights, days, afternoons. Pretty much what got me through the whole of uni in the last two years was an 18 hour shift where I would also get a sleep day and if you know what sleep days are, you know they're the best. But the 18 hour shift was killer but pretty much that.

Luckily for me, they're so short staffed that was a way that I could get through my last year and a half of uni really. I'm working one day a week for 18 hours. So yeah, experienced it all. Yeah.

Jono: court. How is that legal? Wow. Okay. Yeah. So essentially you were working part time hours in one day.

Kat: Pretty much, yeah. And so the sleep day is then they will pay you to sleep that day. And it usually happens. They used to be really hard to get and then went through a period where they would give you about all the time. It depends on staffing and things like that. But yeah, it worked really well for me. So I could study and then just work one day. Yeah. It was chaotic.

Jono: Yeah, right. Well, it's good. I'm glad it worked. But fortunately, you probably don't have to work anymore 18 hour. Well, hopefully you don't have to work anymore 18 hour days. If you are. We'll chat. No. So yeah, obviously with that 18 hour shifts, but also, like said, nights, afternoons, all different lengths, different hours and things like that. Shift work can be pretty, pretty disruptive. Like what, what sort of impacts can it have?

Kat: Yes, I'm not. Yeah.

Jono: on our health.

Kat: Yeah, exactly. That shift work is all over the place, very disruptive and probably helps with first understanding what's happening with our biological clock. So we have an internal clock, our circadian rhythm, and it works on essentially a 24-hour schedule, not to the time, but around that and it goes off cues such as light, natural light, as well as temperature.

and it has an important role in metabolism, as well as hormone production and things like that. With our circadian rhythm, and tied in with that is the neurohormone melatonin. And it's secreted by our penal gland in our brain, and it helps to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. And that sort of peaks and rises through the evening and through the night to help us fall asleep and stay asleep.

So to really help with the quality of our sleep and our circadian rhythm and our melatonin production is you know a good sleep schedule regular routine Not a lot of activity or stress before bed Not a lot of artificial light All these things are going to help with your sleep And anyone that works shift work straight away knows that none of those things happen

Jono: I'm sorry.

Yeah, I was like, yep, so none. Yes. All right. Right. So what, what can be the downsides of those things happening?

Kat: Yeah.

Kat: Yeah, definitely. So, yeah, the artificial light from where we could be working, the stressful environments, the changes to your usual sleep time can have an impact on our circadian rhythm, essentially, and we get this misalignment, this disruption to that circadian rhythm. And then with that, we can start having a lot of sort of long term metabolic issues. Originally, it was sort of

more thought and assumed that with night shifts particularly there was a higher rate of obesity and that we were eating more, our energy intake was higher through the night. But a meta-analysis looked a little bit further into this of the energy intake between day shift workers and shift workers. There was over 10,000 day shift workers and just under 5,000 shift workers. And interestingly they found no significant difference in the energy intake.

but it was more, yeah, it was interesting. It was more that misalignment of the circadian rhythm through the night shift and other things such as like our meal timing, the distribution of how we eat our food and our meals with shift work. We tend to make sort of poorer food choices, so higher sugar, more caffeine, things like that are gonna be useful for us. Yeah.

Jono : Yeah, what?

Jono: Yeah, okay. So is it less of how much less an issue of how much and more an issue of what and when with the food?

Kat: Yeah, exactly. So, eating through the night. So with our circadian rhythm is that rest and digest. So when we're eating through the night we can have reduced gastric emptying, we can have impaired glucose tolerance, we can have, you know, increased insulin resistance. And all those sort of factors can then lead to more metabolic issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol.

fatty liver disease, upless sclerosis, all those kind of lifestyle metabolic complications long-term.

Jono: Yeah, yeah. So knowing all of that, I think you recently commented on you did a real on one of your recent shift work experiences. A lot of people who do shift work, you know, just stop doing shift work. But a lot of people doing shift work hold very essential roles, you know, like at three in the morning, if I have something horrible happens, I want to know that I can call an ambulance and have someone like you look after me at the hospital. So given that shift work can't really

Kat: Yep.

Kat: Yes.

Jono: What are some things that a shift worker can do with their nutrition to hopefully offset some of those risks?

Kat: Yeah, exactly that. Usually if you're working through the night, it's essential because why else would you work through the night if you could sleep and have a nice, happy rhythm and all those wonderful things. So the research, particularly around night shift nutrition, is a little bit limited, but there are sort of things we can do to try and support our health around there. Ideally, not eating through the night is going to help.

Jono: Yeah.

Kat: with your insulin resistance, your glucose impairment, all those kind of things, but that also isn't feasible. There's lots of other important things that come into why we eat and how we eat, like food availability, our coworkers, our social environment, stress, all those sorts of things. Usually with day shift and afternoon shifts, our eating patterns are pretty good. We're still eating similar sort of hours.

I find people sometimes say that they're actually better with their shifts because they pack their meals than versus on the days when they're at home, they could be grazing and things like that. So really, I guess with night shifts, some key things would be trying to have your larger meals in your normal daytime hours. So whether that be at nighttime, at dinner before your shift, as well as in the morning, at breakfast when you're finishing your shift, and through the night picking shifts that I'm sorry, no shifts.

foods that are going to be high in protein, moderate carbohydrates and probably end-lower fats, particularly saturated fats, those kind of snacks for the night.

Jono: Yeah. So trying to keep that dinner at quote unquote dinner time and that breakfast at quote unquote breakfast time, wherever possible. So I kind of, yeah. Um, okay. We get lots of, I get lots of questions about especially that breakfast. Um, I think people worry because we've got that whole, don't eat right before bed, you know, don't eat right before sleep. Um, but I think it's really important to drive home like in that scenario.

Kat: Yeah, yeah, yes, yeah.

Kat: Yeah.

Jono: do it, you know, keep that routine, eat, because also, I imagine if you haven't eaten much, if you don't eat breakfast, you come home and sleep, you try to get some sleep in. Imagine you get woken up in hungry, right?

Kat: Yeah.

Kat: Yeah, definitely you'll find your sleep will be sort of jeopardized through the day because exactly you'll be waking up at lunchtime, you'll be starving or disrupted from that aspect. So eating before bed at breakfast is perfectly fine. You'll probably have a much better sleep.

Jono: Yeah, what do you do about lunch on those between night shifts? Because I imagine that could be the trickiest one because dinner at dinnertime should be okay, because beginning of shift breakfast at breakfast time should be end of shift. What do we do with lunch?

Kat: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, lunch is tricky as well. You can either have, you know, normal meal. A lot of people will probably sleep through till late afternoon and sort of sleep. It depends on how many nights you're on and what kind of schedule you're on and sleep through and then might have breakfast then dinner and then have like that more lunch or snacks through the evening, through the night shift. And if you're doing that, I would suggest, you know, having a larger

dinner and breakfast so that you're still getting all the energy your body needs and having that snack through the night. Similarly through a lunch meal as well I would be having a meal and then but keeping your snacks changed through the night shift. Yeah, main focus.

Jono: Yeah, yeah. What are some, as you mentioned, higher protein, moderate to low, I feel dirty saying low carb, moderate carb and fiber things, what are some good snack options that I could take? I could take I'm not going to do shift work, I wouldn't survive that someone doing shift work could take

Kat: Yeah.

Kat: Hehehehehehe

Kat: Yeah, great sex. You know, your high percentage of like yogurts, like yo-pros, chabani, siggy's, which I know is a favourite of yours. Yeah, protein bars, like some white cheese and crackers, cottage cheese and veggie sticks, baked beans. What I like to do when I was working, you know,

Jono: I didn't tell her to say that everyone. She didn't.

Kat: more permanent part-time shift work was having my like emergency kits of non-perishable goods in my locker because you do have that limited availability through nights so it would just you want to make the healthier option the more convenient option so you've got to be prepared is the big ticket there so having that non-perishable supply in my bag would really help so I'd make sort of better choices on snacks through the night.

Jono: Yeah, awesome. Yeah, I was gonna ask what, you know, hacks, what, what have you, because like, you know, obviously I can read all the research on shift work and come up with this wonderful plan, but you've lived it. Do you have any other sneaky, sneaky tips? So like have the on-call, the not, sorry, have the emergency care package, the, I'm ready to go. What else?

Kat: Yeah.

Kat: Thanks for watching!

Kat: Yeah, yeah. I think nights is just so shift work is such a huge stress and burden really and extent to it so everything you do around it you want to try and make easier for yourself so before your working week or your set of shifts have all your shopping done, have your pantry full, have your fridge full of food and available options if possible doing some meal prep or batch cooking,

as a part in the freezer, you know, you could have some bolognese, lasagnas, curries, all those things freeze quite well on hand, soup, and then you could have some plan B options as well in the fridge, whether it be like packet salads, stir-fries are quite quick to throw together, slices like zucchini slice, things like that you can just grab, and I will keep them at.

the front of your fridge and then all those things that are a little bit less desirable pushing to the back of your fridge. So you're just opening it, something you can grab without thinking, go to work, sit down, have a snack, anything like that.

Jono: Yeah, yeah, awesome. So being prepared. And I like the idea of, yeah, keeping it at the front so you're not kind of reaching over the Tim Tams to get the curry. Yeah.

Kat: Yep.

Kat: Yeah, yeah, we like things to be easy and accessible. So yeah.

Jono: Yeah, well, because I think you're probably, especially if you've done a run of nights or you've had some disruptive, like you're probably not operating at 100% willpower, right? Because you're going to be sleep deprived. And so the more we can set up your environment with those, having those snacks on hand, having those things available. Yeah, like you said, I think you said a few times now, make, we want to make the most convenient option.

Kat: Yeah.

Jono: the healthiest option. You know, I probably should have said that the other way around. The healthiest option, the most convenient option. That's better. Yeah. Okay. So it's really, would you say the two big takeaways I'm hearing for night shift in particular, try and keep your meals as similarly timed as they would be on non night shift and be prepared.

Kat: Yeah, still life, still life. Yeah.

Kat: Yep, yep, be prepared. Yeah, and keep those snacks through the night, that real higher protein focus. Yep.

Jono: Yeah, yeah. Is there a, I know this is a how long is a piece of string, but would you have a limit on snacks at night or like how would you structure that? Is there a better time to, you know, space them out a better, or do you just kind of go off hunger, go off that individual shift, all of those things.

Kat: Yeah, I would just have, usually you would have, depending if you're working 12 or 10 hours, your three breaks or two breaks, so I would just stick to your usual break time. That's, I mean obviously I know nurses aren't the only shift workers, there's lots of other professions that work shifts, but that can also vary depending if you can get off the floor or even get your break. So it might be just eating when you do get that break as well.

that I would, yeah, be working a 10 hour on your two breaks, having something like that.

Jono: Yeah. Well, I think, um, so I stuff like protein bars, music bars, little packets of nuts, those sorts of things I think can be handy because, you know, for say like an emergency services worker, they generally have millions of pockets so you can like kind of stock up. Yeah. Exactly. Um, I think they've regularly got downtime, but I think sometimes that downtime is not near the kitchen. And so they would be able to eat if they

Kat: Yep.

Kat: Yeah, exactly. Eight way driving something like that. Yeah.

Kat: Yeah.

Jono: had that bit of planning ahead of time. So yeah, cool. In terms of coming off night shift, I know that can be a gray day. Is that still the right term? I'm trying to use the lingo. No, that's what I've heard is like, that's the day, like the, you know, the day in between. So yeah, do you have any tips for that weird time?

Kat: Yeah.

Kat: Oh, I haven't heard that actually. Yeah, it's a weird time. Yeah, I wouldn't think we could be called great because I think it's the best day. It's a hard, unless you work night shift and you finish, say, a set of your block of how many, there's this amazing feeling of like you shower, you get into beds, and I don't know, it's just the best feeling ever.

Jono: I can imagine, yeah, yeah. Freedom.

Kat: Yeah, it's really, it's so great. Yeah. So I would try and have a sleep. And it's really tricky, but forcing yourself to get up, lunchtime, mid morning, you feel like rubbish. But you want to, you want to get up and try and get back into that daily rhythm. And then I would focus on doing things that are gonna...

enhance that sleep quality. So getting some natural light, doing some light exercise, gentle movement, being mindful obviously of your caffeine intake, alcohol intake, all those things that are going to affect our sleep. And night shift is really stressful, life is stressful in your body and it's quite hard. So if you can do something nice for yourself that day.

go catch up with a friend, go get a massage, depending what you can fit in. That's sort of, yeah, give back to yourself a little bit and de-stress, reset for a good night's sleep.

Jono: Hmm. Yeah, that's a great classic dietitian thinking about food. Um, but that's a great tip. Yeah. Look at the other areas that you, the other cups that you have emptied over, you know, with the stress and things and try and fill those back up. You mentioned caffeine. Where does caffeine sit in? Cause I feel like it's probably a, um, an integral part of shift workers. Um, how

Kat: Yeah.

Kat: Yep. Yeah.

Jono: should we be thinking about it and using it and enjoying it around the changing shifts.

Kat: Yeah, so caffeine is great. I love having coffee, I'm sure many do. But with it we want to really think about how it could be affecting our sleep and sleep quality and then with that thought that could probably help where you're going to be implementing it in your day. So you're really wanting to leave that six to eight hour window.

before going to bed of having no caffeine. So if you're working night shift, trying to limit it from midnight, which probably feels really early for a lot of people. But even if you feel like you don't have the effects of caffeine, it can desensitize one of our receptors, our A2 receptor, and that can have effect on your sleep quality and the depth of sleep and your alertness through sleep as well.

So really allowing that quite good window for sleep is important, yeah.

Jono: Yeah. So does it sort of look at wherever you are sleeping or whenever you are sleeping based on your shifts and then pull back that six to eight hours and that's when you want to cap it.

Kat: Yep. Yeah. So yeah, say you're working a morning shift and you know, you're going to be sleeping in normal bedtime, whatever that is back from their afternoon shifts, night shifts. In terms of amount of caffeine, how if you feel like you're having, you know, seven energy drinks, that's probably a bit much. But yeah, for general health, we can have about 400 milligrams a day. So for reference,

Jono: Yep, yep.

Kat: know, an espresso shot is 75 milligrams of caffeine. So if you're having, you know, a couple of coffees a day, that's probably fine. But yeah, just being mindful of how close that is to your bedtime as well.

Jono: Yeah, yeah, cool. So fairly similar to, I guess, how everyone should be using caffeine, really. Or treating caffeine, using caffeine sounds wrong. Managing their caffeine intake. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, cool. I think that's, oh, no, I was gonna ask, bit of a tangent, sorry, but some of the more...

Kat: Yeah.

Yeah. Like it sounds like a Lego. Yeah, that's better. Yeah.

Jono: or less traditional night shifts, like it's like on call shifts where you sort of could be really, really busy or could have a really quiet night. Do you have any tips for how to think about nutrition in that space?

Kat: Yeah, on-call is definitely tricky because there are lots of variables. You might get called in, you might not. You could be there depending on your work for an hour. You could be there for the rest of the night. So I would probably go into it thinking a bit likely to get called in, treating it like night shifts with the same sort of similar snacks, high protein, moderate carbs, low fat. And if it looks like you're going to be able to...

get home and get back to bed and not have to stay the rest of the night, probably not having a coffee or caffeine because it's unlikely that you're going to have that six, eight hour break before bed. And when you're getting home to unwind, because it may have been quite busy if you've been called in and you're going from that high activity to going home to try and go back to sleep. So just try to unwind, not scrolling on your phone, whether you want to read for a little bit.

Well, easier said than done, I'm sure most people will just scroll on their phone and then try and fall asleep. But it is beneficial. And then if you can, the following day, if you have a day off and you don't have to come back into work, maybe having a short nap, just to try and give yourself a little boost of energy.

Jono: Yeah.

Jono: Yeah, yeah, I think really important to note all of the strategies we've talked about around the types of snacks, managing caffeine intake, the sleep schedule, the timing of your main meals, like that's all I like. That's the gold step. That's the best case scenario that we're aiming for. Right. So if you're listening to this podcast going like, well, I don't do any of those things. That's all this all sounds incredibly unfeasible. I'd encourage you to pick one.

Kat: Yeah.

Kat: Yeah.

Jono: and focus on one. Don't feel like, oh, if you're not doing every single one of these things, the wheel is gonna come off, like are gonna come off. Any of these strategies are gonna be helpful, even in isolation, hey.

Kat: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And of course, like the shift work and night shift is so variable and anything could happen in your shift. And sometimes you might not even get a break in some professions, some you might. So yeah, it's just doing the best you can with what we can.

Jono: Thanks for watching!

Jono: Yeah, if you were to pick, because I know everyone wants this, what would you say is the like, you can only do one of the things we've discussed, what's going to have the biggest bang for your buck?

Kat: That's a very good question. I would probably say, probably the caffeine on night shifts. Or not eating on your night shifts and not being too worried about eating through your nights in terms of thinking of like the longevity of health and the risk of the metabolic disease and things. But yeah, I think we wanna be having a really good sleep.

And if you're having coffee at 6 a.m., you're probably gonna be potentially jeopardizing your sleep as well, yeah. But yeah.

Jono: Yeah, I can imagine that would stack too. If you've got multiple night shifts coming up, if that was your first one, you'd recover poorly and then they just get worse.

Kat: Yeah.

Kat: Yeah, yeah. But I guess it is hard to sort of pick one because like you said, they're all, it's all like a little bit of everything together helps. There's no like one or the other. So, you know, eating before your shifts and watching the snacks for the nights and things like that. But what you can implement yourself is going to be the best one to do, I guess, and what you can maintain. Yeah.

Jono: Yeah, yeah, awesome. So there you go, guys, it doesn't matter which one you do, just do one to start with one. I think there's that it's kind of like with any changing habits, right? The changing that first habits probably the hardest one. But then, let's say that you do the caffeine thing, you pull your caffeine back, all of a sudden, you're sleeping better in between your night shifts. So for your next night shift, you're more recovered. So you probably got more capacity to plan your meals better and to prep better.

Kat: Yeah.

Jono: And then because you've planned and prepped better, you're well-fueled, so you're feeling better and you can do more movement. And it kind of snowballs in a good way. So yeah, just do one. Just do one.

Kat: Yeah.

Kat: Yeah, so the domino effect will carry on. Yeah.

Jono: Right? Awesome. Well, that's been fantastic. That's really good information. Lots of great tips to pull out of there and to focus on that. So thank you so much. Like we said at the top, if you don't know who Kat is, come on, guys. But we will, as always, put links in the show notes of where to find her. But it will be kind of funny because it will be slightly self-referencing. But anyway, awesome. Thank you so much. We'll have to get you back for another Shift Worker chat.

Kat: Okay.

Kat: Yes.

Kat: Yeah. Thanks, Jenny.

Jono: in the future if more questions pop up. But yeah, awesome. Thanks, bye.

Kat: Yeah. Yeah, I'd love to. Sounds good. Great. Thanks. Bye.