Shift work, particularly if through the night, can place a huge strain on the body. Here are some foods that help sustain energy and concentration levels.
The demand for a 24-hour working day has meant an increase in the number of people who work shifts. People with occupations such as call centre workers, drivers, cleaners and emergency medical staff are often still working after most other people have gone to bed.
It is also critical for these people to stay alert and maintain their energy throughout the night as they may need to make important decisions that could impact on the lives of others. Here are some suggestions for foods that will help maintain concentration levels throughout the shift and other foods that are best avoided altogether.
Foods That Can Help Concentration and Maintain Energy Levels
Foods that release energy slowly are a good choice for shift workers. These include wholegrain foods, such as cereals, porridge and wholegrain bread. Pasta is also a good option, as long as it is not coated with thick, fatty sauces, and fresh fruit and vegetables provide essential nutrients and refreshment throughout the night.
Instead of doughy meat-filled sandwiches, consider packing a salad. They can be more refreshing as well as often more filling. This reduces the risk of snacking on sugary or salty snacks later on. Plenty of fresh water should also be sipped throughout the shift. The brain is made up of a large percentage of water and this will aid in concentration and alertness. An article written in the Daily Mail even suggests that the brain physically shrinks when dehydrated. Try also adding watery fruits and vegetables to a packed lunch. Cucumber, tomato, celery and melon are all good choices.
It is also important to opt for a series of light snacks rather than one large meal, as this can leave the worker feeling sluggish and tired. Fish, lean meats and vegetables are more easily digested and are healthier than deep fried foods or fatty, processed meats.
Foods to Avoid When Working Shifts
When people feel hungry or tired, they often have a tendency to choose fatty, processed “instant” foods rather than their healthier counterparts. One of the downsides of night work is that at this time of night there is often a wide range of takeaways to choose from or convenience foods from late night supermarkets. As stated by an article in Medical News Today, greasy, fatty foods can be difficult to digest, making the late shift uncomfortable and resulting in the worker feeling bloated and lethargic.
As well as fat, many takeaways and processed foods can also contain large quantities of salt, leading to thirst and leaving the person working the shift more susceptible to dehydration. This in turn increases the chances of making mistakes, caused by headaches or by being easily distracted.
While chocolate, coffee and tea are often relied on for a quick energy boost, their impact on the entire shift is a different matter. All three of these groups contain caffeine, which acts as a stimulant, making the person feel more awake and alert. However, after the initial rush, there is a down-turn – the body runs out of energy and craves the next sugar or caffeine fix. Too much caffeine can also upset the body’s natural rhythm of sleep, making it harder to get adequate rest before the next shift starts. This means starting the next day more tired than before and craving more caffeine.
In short, recommended foods for shift workers include lean, unprocessed meats, wholegrain foods, fresh fruit, vegetables and salads. Avoid eating large stodgy roast dinners that can result in sluggishness. Burgers, hot dogs and chips at the late night stand are often used as a quick fix, but do not really constitute a sustaining meal when working through the night. Plenty of water must also be consumed, to keep an alert mind and prevent dehydration, which can lead to headaches, tiredness and a lack of concentration.