As a shift worker, attaining an optimal physique can sometimes be quite difficult since there are many different variables needing to be controlled, which often times are not accommodating to those of us working irregular hours.
As a shift worker, you’ll need to have a strong plan of attack when it comes to scheduling your training sessions, planning your meals and getting the adequate sleep you require to actually rest and recover optimally.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to ensure that, even if you have to work through the night, you’ll be able to attain the physique and level of health that you so desire.
In this article, I’ll discuss some best practices for setting up a training program and nutrition plan as a shift worker to optimize your physique.
Have A Plan Of Action
Typically, with any suggestions I provide with regards to training and nutrition, my first suggestion is always to sit down and formulate a plan of action.
With a normal client, who has a normal schedule, planning out training and nutrition is fairly straightforward, since the time available is really at their disposal.
For a shift worker on the other hand, you’ll have a much more restricted amount of time to prepare food and even to train, especially if your training facility isn’t open 24 hours a day.
Deciding which days you train, what workouts you’ll perform and how long you’ll be able to train for, all make a significant difference to your progress efficiency and effectiveness.
I suggest planning your weeks out in terms of when and how you train. Even if you can’t stick to this schedule 100%, you’ll at least have some direction to keep on track.
Consider Meal Prepping
Even for someone with a completely normal schedule, meal prepping is a great idea to help you stay on track with your goals, even if you like to track calories. Without a doubt, sticking to a diet is far easier when the meals are already available.
As a shift worker, the notion of meal prepping becomes almost paramount to anything else, since the times you’ll need to eat will be sporadic, potentially leading to veering away from your diet.
Not to mention, if you’re working through the night, the chances of healthy food options being available, apart from the food you prepare yourself, is not very likely.
I suggest attempting to at least prep the foods you need during work hours, as this will likely be the time when other, healthy food options are scarce. By prepping ahead of time, you set yourself up for success, making the fact that you work through the night less of an issue.
Eliminate The Junk From Your Training
In addition to setting up a sound training program, as a shift worker you should consider eliminating the junk from your training to ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
Since your time in the gym and time recovering will be hampered, I suggest having a specific goal in mind for each workout, while focusing on distinct compound movements and limited accessories.
The reasons for this are as mentioned, that you’ll have a limited amount of time in the gym and will need to make the most of your time there. By using whole body, compound movements, you’ll stimulate the largest amount of muscle, in the most efficient way possible.
Surely you can add accessories as needed but your focus should be on exercises, set ranges and rep ranges that will give you the largest return on investment. Rather than working out using subpar exercises, determine those which will provide the most benefit and stick to them.
Optimize Your Sleep
A major factor related to improving your physique is the quality of your rest for recovery and repair. As a shift worker, your sleep will no doubt be impaired, which means so will your progress in terms of physique enhancement (1).
First, you’ll need to acclimate your body to this new, awkward schedule. In other words, you need to optimize your new circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm is a natural process of hormonal releases, related to certain environmental factors, all of which regulate when you sleep, wake and how effective your sleep actually was (2).
Once you have a distinct schedule of work, you should consider having a distinct schedule of when you sleep and wake. Doing so will allow for more optimized function of your bodily processes.
Second, consider finding ways to completely darken your room.
One of the primary triggers of your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as a zeitgeber, is light typically from the sun. This light acts on photoreceptors in the eye, which tell the brain it’s daytime, which makes sleeping difficult (3).
By completely blacking out your room, it’s possible to “trick” your body into thinking that it’s nighttime. Alternatively, pick up a cheap eye mask, as it should act in a similar manner.
Lastly, consider using melatonin, as a sleep supplement, once you have a distinct schedule. Studies have shown that supplementing with melatonin may be an effective way to optimize your circadian rhythm. This may be even more effective for a shift worker (4).
Lastly, ensure that you have a plan to avoid complacency.
As a shift worker, you may find yourself rationalizing skipping the gym or skimping on your nutrition, due to fatigue and strange hours. Surely on occasion this is acceptable but, done too often, it could become a bad habit.
I suggest having some sort of personal mantra or plan of action for times when going to the gym just doesn’t seem like the right idea. Whether that’s going anyways, cutting your workout in half or doubling up on another day.
Find what works for you to maintain motivation and stick to it. Afterwards, you’ll be thankful you did.
Optimizing Your Physique As A Shift Worker
Even though shift work can be hard on any individual, it doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the goals you’ve been striving for your whole life.
Certainly shift work can make maintaining control and moving in the right direction feel quite difficult, yet achieving consistency is still possible. Having a clear plan of action, using meal prep and training appropriately for your circumstances and goals will be essential for success.
- Dattilo, M., Antunes, H. K. M., Medeiros, A., Neto, M. M., Souza, H. S., Tufik, S., & De Mello, M. T. (2011). Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Medical hypotheses, 77(2), 220-222.
- Kripke, D. F., Mullaney, D. J., Atkinson, M., & Wolf, S. (1978). Circadian rhythm disorders in manic-depressives. Biological psychiatry.
- Roenneberg, T., Kumar, C. J., & Merrow, M. (2007). The human circadian clock entrains to sun time. Current Biology, 17(2), R44-R45.
- Celinski, K., Konturek, P. C., Konturek, S. J., Slomka, M., Cichoz-Lach, H., Brzozowski, T., & Bielanski, W. (2011). Effects of melatonin and tryptophan on healing of gastric and duodenal ulcers with Helicobacter pylori infection in humans. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 62(5), 521.