Nutrition for Shift Workers

I previously worked as a police officer and loved the daily challenge of such a unique job.

But I witnessed chronic poor health amongst a number of colleagues. We regularly lived off ready-made, processed meals, fast food and caffeine to fight tiredness and to cope with the topsy-turvy wake/sleep shift pattern. This soon takes its toll. Shift work puts you at greater risk of chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, IBS, high blood pressure, heart disease and fatigue.

But all is not lost. Many of these conditions can be addressed and reversed with nourishing food and good lifestyle choices. I am living proof of that! I addressed issues with asthma, digestive issues/sensitivities and monthly mood swings, all by tweaking my diet. That was it. Oh, and I did stop shift work, but that is not a necessity! You can continue shift work and better manage your health, with some understanding of chrononutrition – the relationship between food timing and your body’s metabolism.

How, when and what you eat can keep your body’s wake/sleep cycle better in alignment with your metabolism, and this impacts your health.

Chrono-Nutrition – Feed Your Body Clock!

Our body clocks are designed to release certain hormones over a 24-hour period, known as our circadian rhythm. Our digestive hormones are triggered during the day

  • prompting an appetite to eat to maintain energy and fuel our activities
  • releasing digestive juices and stomach acid to properly breakdown the food we eat
  • absorbing our nutrients for energy production
  • telling us when we are full.

This all happens most efficiently during the day.

Sleep hormones rise in response to it getting dark, and our digestive hormones slow down. At night, our body is programmed to detoxify, particularly our brains and digestive tracts. Toxins, hormones, dead cells, and chemicals are flushed out of the body, cleansing and protecting it from the brain down. This is not the natural time for processing and digesting food, which presents a biological challenge if you are a shift worker.

The impact of eating against our natural circadian rhythm can be

  • Sluggish digestion. Food sits around in the gut for longer and can cause symptoms of painful bloating, indigestion and wind.
  • The lining of our gut is repaired and replaced when given a break from digesting. A break of 10-12 hours is ideal to restore and heal a gut lining that can easily become inflamed from the daily assault from processed foods, bacteria, viruses, high sugar intake, alcohol and stress.
  • Energy peaks and troughs – insulin production drops at night. Insulin helps to take sugar, or glucose, out of our blood and into our cells to produce energy. As metabolism also slows at night to encourage rest, excess fuel is more likely to be stored as fat. Weight management can be an issue, and shift workers are more likely than non-shift workers to be obese.

Why do we crave the wrong foods?

When tired, we tend to crave simple carbohydrate foods that have a high ‘glycaemic value’, giving us a quick sugar hit – biscuits, cakes, pastries, chips, crisps, chocolate, sweets, and carbonated drinks. They also release dopamine that gives us a little ‘high.’ But two things happen. We crave more. That’s the role of dopamine. And we experience an energy crash. So the rollercoaster energy ride begins, meeting each crash with more sugar and caffeine throughout the day/night.

A Healthier Plate

Use this brilliant template to balance every meal with

  • good sources of protein (eggs, chicken, fish, nuts, some red meat, oats),
  • healthy fats (eggs, oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, natural, organic yoghurt)
  • an abundant colourful variety of vegetables and fruit at every meal to increase your fibre, vitamin and mineral intake (1/2 your plate!) is a great way of keeping your body and mind nourished and energy consistent. You stay fuller for longer than choosing higher glycaemic foods. You are less likely to have peaks and troughs of energy, and less likely to crave sugary snacks and caffeine to stimulate energy.

Top night shift tips

  • Plan your meals and food shop in advance to make healthy meal planning and prep easier.
  • Eat a meal before your shift starts, including a good source of protein to keep you full.
  • Take plant-based dishes, homemade soups and smoothies with you, which are gentler on your digestive system, and reduce the temptation of fast food and snack machines.
  • Drink water and herbal teas instead of caffeine and carbonated drinks, to reduce the impact on your stress hormones.
  • Protein & fibre with breakfast balance your blood sugar and appetite whilst you sleep.

Supporting your body’s natural circadian rhythm and energy metabolism is a simple and effective tool for reviving your vitality.


If you work shifts, I can support you in three ways:-

  1. Your organisation – I can deliver my programmes Feed Your Body Clock, Eat Well 24/7 and It Makes S.E.N.S.E. to support your workplace.
  2. Group programmes  – run for 4 weeks online, these can motivate, support and teach you how to eat well as a long term dietary lifestyle. It’s not a diet, we don’t count calories, we don’t ban all the good stuff! It’s about nourishing food for real life.
  3. 1:1 – if you need individual support to address ongoing health symptoms, concerns and goals, my range of three private programmes could be for you.