Diets for a 12-Hour Shift

When you're working long hours, you need a healthy, high-energy diet to keep yourself going. On a tight schedule, it can be tempting to have coffee for breakfast and fast food on the run for lunch. If your work hours extend beyond dinnertime, you are less likely to eat a meal, but instead may rely on the vending machine. Such quick fixes may lead to obesity and a host of other health problems, as well as reduced energy and focus at work.

Bowl of oatmeal with fruit (Image: antares71/iStock/Getty Images)

Plan Ahead

If you think about your meals ahead of time, you're less likely to indulge in last-minute fast food. Plan your meals and, if you know you won't have access to healthy foods at work, pack and bring them with you. Freeze portion-sized containers of pasta, casseroles, sandwiches and more for your dinners; move them to the refrigerator the day before you need them. Keep fresh vegetables and fruits, whole-grain crackers and peanut butter, and cheeses on hand to bring as snacks.

Better Breakfasts

You've heard it before: breakfast gets the day started right. After a night of sleep, your body needs a boost of energy. Caffeine can wake you up, but its effects are short-lived, leading to a caffeine crash and a need for more, according to the Bastyr Center for Natural Health. And too much coffee can lead to dehydration and insomnia later. Breakfast should consist of a whole carbohydrate like oatmeal, a lean protein like a turkey sausage or hard-boiled egg, and fruit in season.

Pace Yourself

The U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services's 2010 dietary guidelines limit daily intake of calories to the amount necessary to meet physical needs. Rather than packing three enormous meals, make your meals moderate and include healthy snacks to eat in between. Carrot sticks, granola bars, rice cakes, fruit, crackers and cheese all are good options. Then pace yourself, eating something every three to four hours instead of once every six hours. This will keep your blood sugar levels steady and your energy high.

Avoid Sugars and Refined Grains

We all know that sugar gives us an almost-instant high. But like the high of caffeine, it is temporary. explains that the sugar rush can wear off to leave you with hunger cravings. Processed, or white, flour works much the same way; it hits your system in a rush of glucose, which then wears off, leaving you depleted early in your shift. Choose whole grains and foods sweetened with fruit juice or honey. Nutrient-dense whole grains take longer for your system to process, meaning that the energy is released slowly and consistently.

Brain Food

According to, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be crucial to the development of brain cells, particularly of the fatty membranes through which nerve signals must pass. The brain needs these fatty acids to receive and transmit messages, and to regenerate and refresh itself.

Although Americans eat plenty of fat, most of us don't get enough omega-3s. Try a fish oil supplement, walnut oil or fish for more of these important fats. Additionally, supplementation with B vitamins can help. Choline, a B vitamin found in eggs, has been shown to enhance memory and decrease fatigue in animals, according to

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