Mission Nutrition

Fuel for Maximum Performance

What to eat & When to eat it.

  • Eat early in your shift. Eating smaller meals or snacks earlier in your night shift can make it easier for your metabolism to digest food and use your cells for repair.
  • When you eat matters. “So…when do I eat?”
    • Breakfast when you get home
    • Lunch when you wake
    • Dinner before your shift starts
    • Light snacks during your night shift

What to eat and drink

Healthy lunch including sandwich, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and water
  • Eat light at night. Science has shown that digestion and metabolism aren’t as efficient at night. Eating less at night can improve alertness and productivity as well as prevent negative health issues.
  • Consume high-performance snacks and water throughout your night shift. Choose foods that sustain energy. These include foods lower in fat and higher in fiber and lean protein. Choose fruits and vegetables, 100% juice, and protein-rich foods such as hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches made with turkey or chicken, yogurt, cheese and crackers, or a whole-grain muffin with peanut butter.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Among many other reasons, proper hydration can actually reduce fatigue and increase mental alertness. Make sure you have water available and sip it throughout your shift.
  • A word on caffeine. Small amounts of caffeine, a stimulant, can help mental alertness. For night shifts, try 200 mg (i.e. two 8-ounce cups of coffee) 30–60 minutes before your shift starts. Repeat every 3–4 hours as needed. However, don’t consume more than 600 mg per day (unless it’s sustained operations, where you can have up to 800 mg), and stop intake 4–6 hours before you plan to sleep. Be cautious about consuming popular energy drinks; they contain a lot of caffeine and sugar.
  • The key take-home point. The night shift is not an excuse to snack on junk food or eat a heavy meal at night.

One challenge of night-shift work is often lack of time and appropriate resources to eat nourishing food in the middle of the night. But that’s hardly an excuse if you’re prepared. Whether living on base with limited kitchen resources or skills or in a home with a fully stocked kitchen and spousal help, the following tips can help you maintain maximum alertness on night duty.

  • Bring some extra food with you from the dining facility (either fresh or pre-packaged light meal), the commissary, or home. Choose fruit, yogurt, nuts, cheese, milk, yogurt, or a deli sandwich.
  • Use an insulated lunch bag or cooler with ice packs to keep food fresh and lasting longer.
  • If possible, store perishable meals and snacks in a refrigerator or freezer and heat them in a microwave.
  • Another option might be to coordinate with your team on a rotating snack schedule. Try purchasing high-performance snacks and water at a local warehouse store. Charge teammates a small monthly fee to cover costs.
  • Finally, if vending is your only option, voice your desire to have healthier choices. Vending machines with healthy offerings—with and without refrigeration—are increasingly available at military installations. Refrigerated vending machines contain fruit and low-fat cheese and yogurt. Trail mix, energy bars, and other healthier snacks can be added to the rows of chips and candy bars. You also can ask for fruit and vegetable juices and water to be added to beverage machines, so that caffeinated drinks and soft drinks aren’t the only options at 0300.

Bottom line

The night shift is very much a reality in our 24/7 digital world. The role of the Service Member—even during the day—is challenging, but night-shift work poses additional concerns and threats. Other factors that contribute to optimal performance on the night shift include the amounts of light,sleep, and movement you get. Use the links to learn more about the roles they play in Total Force Fitness.

Doing the night shift right can help you optimize performance and minimize your own personal health risks.