T Nation

Strange Shift Work Patterns


I'm new to posting on this site although I've been reading it for some time. I have seen a lot of comments about various people being shift workers on many different treads. I'm curious to know if anyone has seen an entire thread on how different people cope with workouts and nutrition on shift work.

Some background on me and my schedule: I work a rotating 4 days on, 4 days off. Of the 4 days on I work 2 12 hour day shifts (6am to 6pm) followed by 2 12 hour night shifts (6pm to 6am). I've been following this schedule for a little over 2 years at this point.

Typically I am up at 4:30am before the day shifts (to cook for the day!) and I stay up late after the second day shift and get up late the following day(12 or 1pm) to prepare for the night shifts.

I am currently following the Art of Waterbury program (that sick bastard is going to kill me!)...(no really I like it!).

I try to make myself follow the same patterns when I am on the night shifts.
Ie: I workout say 4 hours after getting up regardless of the time of awakening.

I also eat all through the night when on the graveyard shift although some people tell me that this is not healthy.

At any rate, I'll stop rambling now, I just wanted to start a thread for any comments from others on these wacky schedules. (Workouts get interesting at 3am!)

Disclaimer: If anything seems strange or grammatically weird in this thread it's because I'm writing this at 3am on niteshift.


That's gotta suck Chris. I have a bugger of a time scheduling my workouts now that I've got a training partner. We've both got wives that work and kids. Making time when we can both get together and train is hard.


I worked 4 on 4 off 12 hr shifts until recently. The mill I work at is being curtailed, and I now work 12 hour shifts, but very strange schedules. ( The place is going under, and I likely will be looking for work by Xmas )

Anyhow, I do things a little differently. I don't workout on days I work dayshift. I try to get my workouts in as early in the day as possible. Days off, I usually go after getting the boy to school, and taking the dog to the park. And I usually go first thing after graveyard shift, in the morning. It can be a bitch, getting motivated at that time in the morning, after work.......... The gym opens at 6AM and if I get there early, I sleep in my vehicle until it opens. Once or twice I have woken up after 6AM and felt like I was on another planet. I just started the vehicle, and drove away......

I get up early on the morning of my first graveyard, and then nap for a couple of hours in the early afternoon.

As for nutrition, I don't vary my eating habits much on graveyard shift. I eat every 3 hours, basically. On my first graveyard shift, it seems like I am eating alot, because I start in the morning, and aside from the couple of hours nap, I am up until the following morning, including a workout and PWO shake. So, I eat about 8 times during that period. Good times. LOL.

Where do you work? Can I apply?

\|/ 3Toes


I work at a pulp mill in Castlegar, they only opening take apps usually in August-September... I'll let you know for sure when they do if you like.



I also have to agree with three toed, I eat every 3 hours all through the nite. I don't seem to have digestive problems with this either. So much for the theory of food not digesting at nite!!


The theory of food not digesting as well seems to be related to studies of the body's circadian rhythms. Most internal regulation follows a 24ish hour pattern. This is true of factors such as body temperature, resting heart rate, hormone/enzyme release etc. The 'body clock' also responds to external cues such as the light/dark cycle. So when working at night, temp and hr decrease and the body is in 'sleep mode', where it is accustomed to fasting. The effects of night work are similar to the effects of jet-lag, especially when only on nights for 2 shifts, as the body does not really have time to adjust its internal rhythms.

The literature is a bit vague on optimal eating habits during this time, but it seems to be accepted that good hydration, good fats and a high fibre diet are essential. Changes in levels of hormones, such as cortisol and insulin, may have an effect on metabolism, for eg. impaired glucose tolerance, impaired gastric emptying etc at night, but the good news is the fact that you train should alleviate some of effects of night work as exercise has been proven to improve hormone sensitivity and substrate metabolism.

If you're interested, the following are some studies into the metabolic responses to nocturnal eating:


http://joe.endocrinology-journals.org/cgi/content/abstract/157/3/443?ijkey=746d516512d43e2b1511e3e949b1aaddf580b385&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha (click 'full text pdf').


Thanks for the links. Nutrition.org looks like a keeper ( to bookmark ). It's a fairly well known fact that shiftwork takes years off your life. ( I'd have to google it for proof. LOL ) And shiftwork tends to affect all aspects of one's life. That is, eating and sleeping patterns are affected, as well as interaction with family, etc. etc. Shiftworkers tend to just adapt themselves in a manner that works for themselves. It seems to me that the older guys, ( who may tend to do less strenuous jobs ) sleep much less between graveyards, than the younger guys. I know I sacrifice sleep, to spend time at the gym or with my family.

Thanks Chris. I work in a paper mill near Vancouver. If you're aware of what's going on in the industry, you'll probably know which mill. We're on the chopping block, and an anouncement is supposed to be made any day now. I'm not ready to make the jump to Castlegar, in search of employment. Once I've been out of work for a bit, I'll be on your doorstep. hehe.

\|/ 3Toes


You're welcome! btw, another good site for nutrition journals is http://www.ajcn.org/, which has research from the 50s to today. And you're right, there have been studies suggesting an increased mortality risk with shift work, but to be fair, the subjects used probably didn't exercise or eat as well as the average t-person!


I agree. Shiftwork seems to be conducive to a poor lifestyle. It can be used as an excuse for not exercising, or eating properly, etc. Shiftworkers will often just complain that they can't exercise or eat properly, because they "don't have the time" or "energy" or whatever. I would like to think that by trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, that I'll outlive most of my coworkers. LOL.

\|/ 3Toes


I do the same thing 3 toes does as far as working out. I work 12 hour shifts 4 on 4 off 2 on 2 off, wednesdays are 6 hour shifts so when im on days i workout on my days off (3x a week). When im on nights I workout almost everyday 7 a.m. (6x a day)sundays off. As far as nutrition breakfast is my biggest meal of the day (either shift) and i too eat every 3 to 4 hours depending on work load. I work at a power plant.


Funny thing, I find that shift work can be conducive to a great lifelstyle. Having days off during the week leaves me to totally organize my meals and gym time during the week. I am almost guaranteed rest on the off days and only working a couple of nights or days at a time doesn't lead to exhaustion. The longer I have been working shift, tht better I have gotten at managing all aspects of my life. The only kink is when overimte coverage is needed. This can throw a wrench in the whole routine and this is where shift can lead to exhaustion and burnout.


I agree. I find that shiftwork ( 12 hr shifts in particular ) works for me quite well. If I find myself in a bank lineup, or rush hour, I kick myself for winding up on everyone else's schedule. I can get things done when other people are traditionally at work. I spend enough quality time with my family, yet I get some ME time too. I did work 4 on 4 off for about 20 years, but with cutbacks, my dept is currently working a wierd assortment of 12 hr shifts, on weekdays only. Unfortunately for me, ( sucks to be me, LOL ) things are going from bad to worse at the mill, and it looks like the place will be shut down permanently. So, wherever I go from here, I'll be starting at the bottom again. But my gym pass is paid for for another year, anyhow. <:slight_smile:

\|/ 3Toes


Thanks for the links! I have to agree with you guys that like shiftwork. I do like missing the crowds by being able to get to stores and the banks on weekdays. I also love having 4 days off at a time and week long holidays being 12 days rather than 7. I actually don't mind working the night shifts either. I do however wonder what the long term affects are going to be from missed sleep and constantly changing circadian rythms.


3toed, PM me your resume, if you want to move up North.

Chris, you and Panda should move up here. I'll hire you.
I lift in the shop at work.


Thanks alot for the offers, guys. It means alot to me, knowing that someone would help out. The place I work at, has been given a temporary reprieve. Our owners have anounced that they are shutting down a bunch of other plants, and we are for sale. Across Canada, 1800 people will lose their jobs. I think they have included the 285 people employed at our plant, assuming a sale is made. We'll be shut down as well, if no one buys us, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

So, aside from a lengthy shutdown in December, it looks like it will still be a merry Xmas for the Sloth Family.


\|/ 3Toes



Come to work for the railroad.

On call 24 hours a day 7 days week with no set work schedule, no set on call time, and you may be off 36 hours or you may only be off 10 hours between trips for weeks at a time.

When it's good it's magnificent.

Makine $6,000 a month and only working maybe 8 or 10 times but when it's bad it pays good.

Like 8 to 9 K a month but man is it rough on your diet and your workout schedule.

Good luck 3toes.


I too work this type of shift(7am-7pm X2 and 7pm-7amX2). been doing this for 13 years. I weight train every other day and try some cardio on the off days. I usually train on mornings when i have to work days and before work when working nights. I eat a solid meal around 9pm and use shakes after approx. every 3 hours.

I still have a ways to go in terms of what my body looks like but its a work in progress. I too wonder about the long term effects of this lifestyle but 4 days off rocks!


Hey chris,

I'm a shift worker, I work 4 different shifts. Rotation system, 6 days on two days off. Day shift 7am - 3.30 pm. Afternoon shift 3pm - 1130 pm. Night shift 6 pm - 2.30 am. And Late shift 11 pm - 730 am. Late shift roster is 7 days on two days off. Though u have 5 days off before this nightmare.

I Work in a government job so I'm well looked after when it comes to certain things, like holidays and PDO's and sick leave.

Currently I found that my workouts now are best suited to the one-lift-a-day-program.

And as you know with other commitments in life, energy levels can be low especially when work gets into the later shifts.

My schedule for training is:


Bench press: 10 x 5


Standing Calf raises: 10 x 5


Push Presses

10 x 5



10 x 5


Barbell Rows

10 x 5

My eating patterns are very good, I have 5 food meals a day along with 4 shakes. I use an australian brand (gen-tec) supplement for protein powder. Biotest Surge after workouts plus 10 gms creatine. And going to use Carbolin 19 for 6 months starting January 2006.

I'm using the Advanced GVT template for reps and sets for my exercises.

Anyway good 'typing to ya' ha. Stay in touch.



Hopefully we'll have some clearer answers soon - the National Prevention Research Initiative has just given my uni a 180,000 (about 320,000 dollars) grant to examine shiftwork and health. There is evidence that people working shifts suffer from an increased risk of heart disease, gastro-intestinal disturbances, sleep problems etc and they've got a quality research team looking into this over the next 3 years.


I work crazy shiftwork hours too and it has its good and bad sides. The one down side is the potential for too many stress hormones secondary to staying up at night and doing adrenaline-junkie kind of work, and secondly it can make your brain a bit fuzzy where you can't instinctually judge if you are becoming overtrained (this has happened to me in the past).

Anyway, I agree with the eating something healthy every 3 hours...planning meals becomes the utmost importance. Has anyone ever noticed that at places where many adrenaline-junkies or shift workers work, there is a TON of junk food? Hence, meal planning and preparation is so important to keep one from indulging in the cookies, cakes, candies, fried food that is so omnipresnt at our jobs.

One thing for me is that after working with tons of people in crisis, the last thing I want to do is go to a crowded gym and be around more people. I'd like to train to wind down. This has put a damper on my training as I belong to a commercial gym. I guess what I'm saying is a home gym may be called for.

BTW, I was just given a weight set by one of the docs I work with (second hand). And I believe I'm getting a power cage, adjustable bench, etc...for christmas...I'M SO EXCITED!!! Anyway, this will go far in terms of achieving my goals as I can train on my time and around my crazy work schedule much much much more easily. SANTA'S BEING GOOD TO ME THIS YEAR!! I guess this means I've been a good little girl!