Search our site here

Shift work, survive or thrive?

“On you’re way back in can you just sort a quick….”

I think we can all agree that there is no such thing as a quick anything in our line of work. You’re on afternoons, getting dragged from pillar to post and when you try to get back to the nick for a bit of sanctuary and refreshment you get asked to do that “quick job” which inevitably turns into a “long job” and you start to miss any time for a meal. Before you know it your back at the nick and it’s nearly time to go home, you’ve got updates to finish and no time to sit and relax for food. Often meaning you either go hungry or worse than that reach for the convenience of fast food. I’ve definitely been there! You get home gone 2300 hrs, the families in bed, your creeping around and wanting food. Do you have a proper meal or something convenient and 9 times out of ten bad for you? I know which option I used to go for and it was the latter…..

Shift work doesn’t agree with anyone, it throws off your sleep, often making you feel like a zombie. It throws off your motivation, not wanting to prepare food, not wanting to get in the gym and most of the time pushes you to reach for the convenience of junk food, take aways and quick fixes while you’re running around at work. I fell into this trap many times. I started to search for answers, some little nugget of knowledge that would help me crack the key to working shifts, losing weight and getting healthy. I was way over weight, in excess of 4 stone. Not good when your only 5 feet 6 inches tall! I was running around on response, desperate to improve my health and fitness, not only for my job but for myself. I think this is even more prevalent now that the government has decided that everyone should pass a fitness test to keep our jobs in the near future.

shift work police

I was always tired and knew that the key to this was improving my sleep (er…obvious statement of the year, right?) when it was hardest to do so, for example when i’m on nights, its bright outside and my little cherub daughter was creating havoc downstairs. I was always waking feeling hungry and needing the toilet, surely the human body can go longer than a few hours without needing the toilet! Too right it can , but the reason I was waking with this feeling was due to stress. All the little things build up when your working shifts, tired, not enough sleep, having to sort family out, the pressures of work and all of this compounded by poor nutrition! This was the key, FOOD was the answer for me. A poor diet was the problem and REAL food was the answer. Yes I did things like, got blackout curtains, shut doors, got a good set of ear plugs and yes they helped but FOOD was they missing link.

I started to educate myself with my diet…if you read my blog you will see more of this journey in a bit more detail but in short I simply started to eat REAL food. One ingredient food, for example there is only salmon in salmon, there is only broccoli in broccoli, and there is only an egg in an egg. I started to discard all packet foods; I said to myself if it hasn’t been killed or grown I’m not going to eat it. How did this fit in with shifts and a non-stop day. I just made TIME for myself at home the night before or in the morning to make my dinner and snacks and take them with me. I have Tupper ware coming out of my ears at home!! So a typical lunch would be a good size fillet of salmon boxed up with a chunky salad, pepper, lettuce, onion, nuts a little feta cheese and balsamic dressing (a little!). At first it was an extra chore to be done but now it is the norm and part of my daily routine.

Now if you’re putting the right kind of calories into your body you don’t need to worry about the amount of calories you’re putting in as much, I learnt to eat to my appetite and listen to my body. I found a lot of the time that I would return home from a night shift hungry but wouldn’t eat because that would be a bad thing to do at 0730 in the morning before I go to sleep for the day. I was wrong and had spent way too much time listening to bullshit spread by all kinds of fitness “pro’s” and “healthy eating tips” in magazines and other rubbish! “Don’t eat after 8 o’clock at night, you’ll store it as fat.” It’s all rubbish. Your body is a smart machine and if it is telling you its hungry there’s a reason for it. So I started to have a small meal when I got in from work early hours and unwind for a short while, sit at the table eat some food, have a de-caffeinated tea and read some of whatever book I was currently on or the paper. Enough time to fill my stomach and switch my brain off from the hectic night I’d just had. After all you wouldn’t go to bed without any tea or putting your feet up for a little while after an early shift. When you work shifts like us you have to discard “normality” to some degree because it certainly is no normal life to lead. Whatever normal is?!

Now, training, you don’t have to go ridiculous with some crazy training plan 6 times a week to see some results. It can be a physical job anyway, you carry 10kg of equipment and body armour around with you all day for start! You can simply just start to move more, get out for walks with the family, run around with your kids, walk the dog further! It can come in many shapes and sizes. If you are going to train in the gym, make it a quick intense hit. 45 mins to an hour, I found this a lot better being on shifts and never really went above 4 sessions a week. You’re already putting your body through a little more stress anyway being on shifts!


I’m not saying that it’s not going to take a bit of sacrifice and hard work, it is, I’ve worked my arse off to get where I am physically and more importantly mentally but I’m telling you now that if I can do it you can do it too. I will always have a fat bloke inside of me trying to get out, because I’ve spent years of my life conditioning myself to reward myself with crap food and this will take years to condition out of me but I’m definitely getting there. I have 2 kids and all the pressures of having a family and of the job too, but selfishly I make a little time for myself, however I know that ultimately this little selfishness will give back to everything. I will be a better Dad and partner, less stressed and a better cop with the motivation to do my best in every aspect of my life.

Don’t let working shifts hold you back, yes they give you added pressure and pitfalls to health and fitness but this is what we chose at the outset. Start treating your body like it deserves, feed it with good, real food and start to move your backside more, you will reap the benefits I promise.

Thanks for reading,

Dan Shaw

Twitter: @thebjjboxer

Facebook: The BJJ Boxer





Leave a Reply

Follow on twitter

Follow on facebook