What nurses eat for maximum energy during long shifts

WWorking 12-hour shifts can be exhausting, especially for nurses who see hundreds of patients in a day (or night). It’s no secret how physically and mentally demanding breastfeeding can be, and while loading up on caffeine can be one way to stay energized, it will only help for so long. For that reason, it’s important to fuel your body with energy-boosting foods that can combat brain fog, hunger pangs, and exhaustion.

However, before searching the internet for meal prep ideas, it may be helpful to learn about other nurses’ meals to see what might be useful to implement into your meal rotation. We sat down with two ICU nurses with more than six years of experience working three 12-hour shifts a week to see what nurses eat during the workday to combat fatigue and stay alert.

What Nurses Eat: 7 Foods That Help Two ICU Nurses Gain Energy and Mental Clarity During a 12-Hour Shift

Nurses can work day or night shifts: night shifts are between 8 am and 8 pm, while day shifts are between 7 pm and 7 am -hosts Cup of Nurses podcast, prefers good food in protein to keep you full during the last few hours. “My eating pattern looks a lot different when I work night shifts compared to day shifts, so I try to have a high-protein diet with minimal sugar to feel my best,” says Findura.

Mateusz Solarczyk, CCRN-N, an ICU roving nurse who works day shifts and also co-hosts the Cup of Nurses podcast, focuses on eating well-balanced meals for long-term energy. “There are four main categories that I think of [when planning meals]—a form of protein, both vegetables and fruits for great sources of minerals and vitamins, and nuts or seeds for healthy fats,” she says. The bottom line is that both nurses try to eat balanced meals to ensure they are fueling the body with the energy needed to stay alert until the end of your shift.Ready to learn more about what nurses eat?Read on.

1. Overnight oats

If cooking in the morning isn’t your thing and you prefer an easy breakfast to prepare before or during your shift, you can opt for overnight oats. “Usually as a nurse, you’re constantly on the go, so [preparing] make-ahead overnight oats can be an amazing meal or snack for busy shifts,” says Solarczyk. Like traditional oatmeal, overnight oats are a great source of fiber and protein and packed with essential nutrients like iron, zinc and magnesium And everyone knows how important eating breakfast is for boosting energy levels.

“I also like to add oatmeal, water or milk, peanut butter, berries, toppings like nuts, chia seeds, or flaxseeds for overnight storage,” adds Solarczyk. But before you load up with ingredients, try to set them aside to prevent them from getting soggy in the fridge.

2. Salads rich in protein

Timing is of the essence when working a 12-hour shift, so both Findura and Solarczyk opt for high-protein salads during busy shifts. Salads provide convenience and easy meal prep, and are a great way to add nutrient-dense ingredients to an already versatile meal.

“I usually add proteins like chicken, steak or turkey, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion and avocado for healthy fats,” says Solarczyk. Findura, on the other hand, likes to make a bacon and broccoli salad with a salad dressing made with mayonnaise, vinegar, and honey.

3. Protein with a side of vegetables

Findura works night shifts that usually start around 7 pm, so when she plans her lunch for the day, she prefers a high-protein diet. Prioritizing protein in your meals also helps you feel full for the rest of your night shift, which usually ends around 7 a.m.

“I prefer about a pound to a pound and a half of some kind of meat, like chicken or beef steak, with vegetables like spinach, kale, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, kale, bok choy, and a side of fruit.” , adds Findura. “Certain carbs, like rice, don’t usually sit well with me when I’m working, so I try to limit them to avoid digestive upset.”

In addition to chicken and turkey, Solarczyk considers North Atlantic salmon a staple for his meals and tries to eat it once a week. Salmon is considered one of the best sources of vitamin B12, which is an excellent source of protein that can help reduce fatigue and increase energy levels.

4. tacos

Tacos at lunch are always a great option (especially on Tuesdays), but they can also act as a quick meal offering protein, carbs, and fat. “I like tacos with ground beef for my protein, tortillas, salsa verde, or vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy with quinoa on the side,” says Solarczyk. Quinoa provides slow-release carbohydrates and amino acids that can provide sustainable energy, especially on busier days with less downtime.

Tacos also come together quickly during shorter lunch breaks, making them easier to fuel your body in less time. Similar to overnight oats, having the ingredients on the side can be helpful to keep them from getting soggy at rest.

5. Yogurt parfaits

Yogurt parfaits are easy to make and make a great snack or light breakfast. “I prefer to mix Greek yogurt, granola, chia seeds, and fruit like cherries for an easy snack,” shares Solarczyk.

The protein in green yogurt can help keep you full until your next meal, while the fruits can provide excellent antioxidants and vitamins needed to help you feel alert and focused. You can make your own yogurt parfaits or buy pre-made parfaits to go.

6. Rx bars

In an ideal world, there would always be time to sit down to lunch, but that’s not always the case as a nurse. For that reason, Solarczyk and Findura try to keep RxBars on hand for an easy snack made with simple ingredients and packed with lots of flavor. Each bar offers 12 grams of protein and five grams of fiber, making it an easy snack to save for lunchtime or a mid-shift snack to help keep you on your toes.

7. A protein shake

In addition to high-protein meals, Findura also enjoys protein shakes for days when her meals are lower in protein. “This is an easy way to get protein to keep me in check for the rest of my night shift when I know I won’t get a break for a few hours,” she says. “I’m looking for whey protein with a complete amino acid profile, high protein, low carb, and no preservatives.”

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