Wednesday Workout: When You’re a Vampire
Don’t think I’m jumping on the Twilight bandwagon or anything, here. I’m definitely not, but I’ve had a few friends with wacky schedules — namely nighttime gigs — ask me how to stay fit when their lives are flipped upside down by work.
Two friends in particular have long night shifts and are dead tired when they get home, so they have a hard time figuring out how to fit in exercise. My friend John, a former college track star, wrote to me a while back asking about how he could stay in shape when he works all night as a police officer. Amanda is a sorority sister of mine who’s an avid runner, but now finds herself working the night shift as a nurse at the hospital. Both technically know what to do when working out, but they’re having a hard time figuring out how to actually get those workouts done.
I’ve never worked a night shift myself, but I have worked SUPER long days, and have started my day at 4am more times than I would like to recall. So here are my tips for fitting in exercise when your career makes it a little difficult:
1) Pay attention. What I mean by this is start keeping track of when you have the most energy after getting off of work. Is it right when you leave work? Is it right before? Is it sometime in the middle after you’ve slept a few hours? Start listening and figuring out what your body is telling you, and try to go with that. It’s not an exact science as some days you are just going to be really tired in general, but you’ll get to know your own energy cycles better and get the best workout in that you can.
2) Decide how your workouts make you feel. John was telling me that the reason he can’t figure out when to exercise is because he’s exhausted when he gets off of work, but if he does his routine before work, he’s dragging his entire shift. I’m assuming the workouts of a former Big 10 college athlete are pretty intense so he might want to wait until after so that he’s not wiped out. It might suck to get started since he’s going to be tiiired, but after he can just crash until he has to work again. Getting through an hour workout while drained is a whole lot easier than getting through a 12-hour shift feeling the same way. However, Amanda might want to do hers right before work if she’s going to be running. A lot of runners really like to get a workout in first thing because that cardio gives them a lot of energy. If this is the case for her, she might as well get it done before pulling an all nighter. But if she’s like me and feels a little sleepier after doing a hard run upon waking up, she might want to save her workout as well. Again, this all comes back to listening to your body.
3) Save the killer workouts for the weekend or your days off. If you’ve got a few lighter workouts scheduled for the week, then do those on work days, and knock yourself out doing intense strength training and circuits for when you feel rested and don’t have to worry about mustering up the energy to head to your job. Why make yourself feel like crap by lifting super heavy or doing your long run and then having to go straight to work? Switch around your schedule until you find something that works. You all know I am the biggest cheerleader for really pushing when working out, but you do need to cut yourself some slack when your job is just as tiring or physical as exercise. Plus, we all need easy cross-training and rest days if we really want to be fit.
4) Make sure your nutrition is on par. One of Amanda’s concerns was that there are always cookies and candy around the nurse’s station, and when she starts to drag, that’s what she reaches for. She of course knows that this isn’t helping in the long run, but when you’re really tired and the clock seems to be ticking by ever-so-slowly, I get why people do this. It helps for about an hour before you crash again, and well, sugar makes people happy — at least for a little bit. For those who can bring snacks to work, pack fruit and veggies, lean protein (even jerky!), and some healthy fat. If there’s one thing I learned from Leah, it’s ‘crave sugar, feed fat.’ (I learned other stuff too, don’t worry!) When sugar and starch cravings hit, reach for fat. Almonds, hard-boiled eggs, a little PB, even coffee with a splash of half and half (this tip has changed my life, no joke) will all do the trick. And don’t let yourself get too hungry!
So many of us know that nutrition is a key part of fitness, but it’s even more important for people with super physical jobs and careers requiring long hours. Sure, treats are allowed here and there, but make sure the majority of what you eat is properly fueling you to do your job well… and then be able to exercise after.
4) Remember how much better you feel when you work out. I know I say this all the time, but really, I almost always feel better after sweating a little. No matter how much I’ve dreaded a workout, I have never regretted one after the fact. I’ve always felt a little better physically and a little more accomplished (and tougher!) mentally for getting through it. Plus, I know how much energy I have when I’m working out and how cranky and lethargic I get when I’m not, so that alone really does keep me going — no matter how long my days are or how early I had to get up that day.
Anyone else out there a vampire? Do you work the night shift? How do you fit fitness in? DO you fit fitness in? What other tips do you have for our 3rd shift friends?