If you’re a shift worker working in the hospital, health care, aged care and/or protective services it can be hard to get yourself motivated to get back into the gym to improve your fitness and shred body-fat. Your sleep cycle is already the opposite of a natural circadian rhythm, you’re on your feet all day running on adrenaline and the last thing you want to do after you finish work is go into the gym and make yourself more tired.
You need a plan that’s flexible with your work schedule and nutrition and training protocols where you get to see your results moving in the right direction to keep your motivation and fitness goals going.
Here’s what we’ve applied at Athletic Studio to help our shift worker clients get better results with their fitness and body-composition right away.
1. Set Yourself The Right Expectation From The Start:
0.1-1kg or 0.5-1% of body-fat% reduction every week to a week and a half is a conservative, achievable and reasonable target. This is what we even recommend to clients who work 9-5. If you’re a shift worker, you’re not going to have the same consistency in sleep, meal and training times as someone working 9-5, so setting yourself a realistic and achievable weight loss, body-fat% loss and fitness goal is going to go a long way to helping you start your fitness journey successfully.
If you want to lose 10kg’s, let that be over 4-6 months. It’s less than 1kg a week and you’ll likely still lose a quarter of that total weight loss goal within your first 2 months of training. Once your brain sees a successful shift in weight where you’re ahead of schedule, that’s going to keep you going.
2. Focus On Meals That Balance Your Blood Sugar & Track Your Meals:
As you’re on your feet all day caring for others and running errands, you need steady levels of energy to keep you going, you can’t mask low energy with caffeine. It will catch up on you by making you feel really tired on your days off, sleeping all day and not being productive (e.g. not being able to get your training sessions in) or by making you overeat with poor food choices when your blood sugar drops.
Make your main meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner your most important meals and aim for whole foods that will balance your blood sugar and give your energy for your work, training performance and training recovery.
Don’t eat to survive.
Nourish your body to fuel your work and training performance.
That’s where shift workers and people beginning their health and fitness journey go wrong. They don’t take into account that they require more energy than what they initially expect to train optimally and recover.
Your best results for weight loss and improved fitness come from the adaptation phase (recovery and post recovery), when you’re training, we’re breaking our body and muscle tissue down, when we’re recovering, that’s when we’re creating new cells and muscles to get fitter and stronger.
Your body uses calories in that process, so we continually need good nutrients to keep repeating that cycle.
An e.g. meal template for a shift worker:
Breakfast: 2-3 whole egg omelette with vegetables, coffee
Lunch: 100-200g of lean meat or fish with salad/vegetables, 1 cup of rice or a wholemeal wrap. ½ an avocado
Dinner: 100-200g of lean meat or fish, rice, potatoes or wrap and salad/vegetables
Snacks throughout the day: Protein yoghurt, protein bar, dark choclate and 1 X fruit
Water: 2-3L a day
Depending on the portion sizes and if you’re a M or F, the calories for the above template would be between 1400-2200 calories. For a F, 1400 calories is not a lot if you’re on your feet all day and training 2-3 X per week, same if you’re a M and on 2200 calories/day. It’s most likely going to be at a slight deficit so you lose weight and fat, yet more than what you’re currently eating to reduce stress and better optimise your training performance and recovery.
Weight and fat loss is a game of push and pull. Once you implement exercise and training, you can’t be on a calorie deficit for too long, it’s a stressor on your body. This is why it’s also important to track your daily intake at the start, if you’re busy at work it can be easy to skip a meal and forget about making it up at the end of the day. That’s going to impact your energy and training performance later on. I recommend using MyFitnessPal to get a rough idea of how many calories, protein, carbs and fats you’re consuming. That way you know if you’re eating too little or too much when starting.
Shift workers start in either 1 of these positions:
They’re eating well and need to create the energy deficit through training, which they’re not doing due to not having the training confidence or not knowing what to do in the gym.
They’re not eating enough to fuel their work and training performance goals which makes them feel tired all the time, which also leads to them not being physically motivated to go into the gym.
For shift workers, we get them eating solid meals and training effectively which gets them moving instantly in the right direction.
3. Apply The Right Training Methods To Build Fitness & Torch Body-Fat Without Burning Out
Too much running and cardiovascular endurance produces more stress on your body and doesn’t help with burning fat outside of training. You don’t just want to be cardio fit, you want to look good, feel good and perform even better.
The best way to do this is to learn and apply resistance training to build lean muscles where you want it E.g. Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms & Legs for guys and Shoulders, Back, Arm, Glutes & Legs for women. This will not only make you look like an athlete but improves your cardiovascular endurance more effectively and safely than what traditional cardio would.
Training principles to help you torch body-fat:
- Train your full body alternating between 2 exercises, 1 upper and 1 lower in the beginning to more efficiently get blood flowing throughout your whole body. Training produces adrenaline which flows through your bloodstream to unlock free fatty acids from your fat cells to utilise them as energy.
- Train in the 10-15 rep ranges and use weight heavy enough for the rep ranges to get your great rate up to the desired levels to improve your anaerobic energy system. Your anaerobic energy system uses more of your stored carbs as primary fuel source so you’ll deplete muscle glycogen to get leaner as long as you’re not over consuming calories.
- Training in the anaerobic energy system with resistance training and implementing rest times is less stressful on your body compared to traditional cardio. You’ll not improve your cardio fitness more efficiently, you’ll reduce your chances of injury so you can keep training to get better results.
4. Take Advantage Of Your Days Off & Know Your Body’s Ability To Recover
If you work 6 days on and have 3 days off, you can train those 3 days at a fairly good or hard intensity knowing that your body is going to recover. For shift workers it’s about organisation and maximising the periods where you can commit more time to your training. You don’t need to have 1-2 days off between training sessions. Instead, look at your training and recovery time over the course of a week, fortnight or month.
Notes on training frequency and recovery for shift workers:
- You can train 2-3 days on (in a row) and have a few days off to recover
- In a week, you can train up to 4-5 days on as long as you have 2-3 days off resistance training
- You can taper your training weeks each 4-week cycle so you’re not training at maximum intensity every week to manage your energy, stress and performance. E.g. Week 1 you’ll train at 85% intensity, Week 2 you’ll train at 90% intensity and Weeks 3 & 4 you’ll train at 100-110% intensity knowing that in Week 5 your intensity will drop back down and that will be a “rest week’. Professional athletes do this all the time and so can you
5. Optimise Your Fat Loss With Supplementation
Sleep, meal digestion and training performance supplements I always prioritise for shift workers. E.g. a pharmaceutical grade chelated Sleep Magnesium to help shift workers fall asleep faster and have more energy. Thorne’s BioGest to help clients digest main meals and fully absorb their nutrients especially if the shift worker isn’t use to eating solid meals 3 X day; and BCAA’s (Branched Chain Amino Acids) & EAA’s (Essential Amino Acids) to aid their training performance recovery especially when they’re training 2-3 days in a row or if they’re coming into a training session straight from night shift or off only a few hours of sleep.
If you’re a shift worker, enjoyed this article and want to take your health and fitness journey to the next level with Professional 1-on-1 Personal Training, get in contact with us today.