Thoughts on the Night Shift Eater

I separate people into two categories. Those that “eat to live” and those that “live to eat”. Of course, I fall into the latter. My fondness of healthy foods (most of the time) and working out kept my weight down the majority of my life. When I first started working as a night shifter, I worried about sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. Never did I imagine my biggest struggle would be my weight. I gained 18 lbs. in less than two months making no obvious changes to my eating and exercise habits . 

So, I’m a nurse with my first degree in Biology and a personal interest in nutrition but I wasn’t pulling myself out of this hole. Understandably worried about the rapid gain I talked to a few friends. One of them recommended a Registered Dietitian with a M.S. in Exercise Physiology who happens to kick butt at Endurance Triathlons. Her name is Marni, also known as Trimarni.

Marni was fabulous. She offers a consultation service that examines what you are eating and why you are eating what you are eating. That seems like a mouthful. The logs were the most helpful because she identified my trouble spots. For example, I would think a healthy snack on-the-go was an apple, she would remind me about the satiety that an added protein would provide. Reviewing my logs really showed how my “healthy” eating wasn’t always that healthy especially when I didn’t plan ahead. 

So did I lose any weight working with Marni? Not immediately. I also wasn’t looking for a quick fix. My stress and emotional eating habits were difficult to break. The most important lesson I took from her was how to “mindfully eat”. 

Here are some eating lessons I’ve learned working night shift the past two years.

Tips for the Night Shift Eater

- Plan ahead. This may seem like a no brainer but not planning leaves you with Cafeteria food. At my hospital during night shift, this means quesadillas, Philly Cheesesteaks, and onion rings. The only healthy option is grilled chicken or the typical salad bar. 

- You don’t need to eat full meals at normal times. My biggest mistake was trying to have “typical meals” which going into a night shift could mean breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12 pm, dinner at 5 pm, “lunch” at 2 am, breakfast at 8 am and then sleeping. Marni is really big on not letting your blood sugar drop too low and encourages eating smaller meals or snacks more frequently. Low blood sugar leads to bad food decisions. So now I split a lot of meals.

- Calorie tracking isn’t the devil. Calorie tracking made me nervous at first. My fear was setting myself up for restricting calories. But I had a really difficult time grasping just how many calories I was consuming. My first time I had well over 2,000 calories in a 24 hour period. Yikes. MyFitnessPal App is my tracker of choice.

- Brush your teeth. At 4 am, the carrots and hummus you brought sounds less appealing than the cupcakes a coworker baked for everybody. For some reason, brushing my teeth seems to lead to better decisions at the more difficult hours.

- Think about the true purpose of food. I’m a self-proclaimed foodie. I love finding good restaurants and cooking fabulous meals to share. Indulgence isn’t a four-letter word to me. And yes, it’s okay to treat yourself occasionally. Food shouldn’t be a reward or a coping mechanism. My first year of nursing, I would reward or cope on a daily basis. “You had a rough night. Let’s stop here for food.” “You survived this week. Treat time!” All those rewards add up to extra weight. Food should be nourishment. Nutritious doesn’t have to taste bad either.

-Crock pot meals, stir-fries, salads, and smoothies. These are my go-to night shift saviors. Crock pot meals can be cooked in large quantities and frozen in portion sizes for later use with minimal work. Stir-fry is one of my favorite healthy quick meals. I use a pre-mixed vegetable bag and sauté with some sort of protein adding some spices. Our hospital gave us one of those reusable containers with separate sections. Perfect for keeping salads from getting soggy. Doesn’t hurt I found out about ginger dressing. That stuff is incredible. Lastly, smoothies allow for jam packed quick nutrition that I can sip on during my commute.

In conclusion, with these changes I’ve lost most, but not all, of the weight. Numerous studies prove night shift isn’t ideal for our bodies. You don’t need research to tell you it’s not natural. Night shift really exaggerated my bad eating habits. I’m much happier now than I was last year mostly because I feel better. Any night shifters out there have additional advice?

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Whelp…I registered



I’ll let the picture speak for itself. 

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Hello body. My name is Courtney.

As an athlete, you learn about your body in different ways. You learn to separate the pain of pushing harder and from the pain of an oncoming injury. You develop an awareness of when all cylinders are firing or when you are about to run out of fuel. Hopefully, you learn how to best nourish your body before, during and after a workout. You acknowledge when your body needs rest and when to be relentless. If you get really in tune, your internal clock starts ticking and you can speed up or slow down so that each lap is within seconds of the previous one.

Right now, I’m going through a reintroduction. Muscles are complaining that I forgot existed. Where have my calf muscles been for the past year? Maybe too much information, but I think there’s actually bruises over my sit bones. Currently, my body is in a state of shock. the past year has mostly been “do what you feel like” or “get some type of workout in for the day”. I didn’t “feel” like getting up this morning and riding 100 km. But I did. And I’m glad.
I’m not in tune with my body anymore. I don’t know what it needs and I definitely don’t have a good sense of how to maintain proper pacing. So welcome back body. I’m going to use and abuse you. I’m going to push you and test you but I’ll also feed you quality food and get plenty of sleep. I’ll pay attention and back off if injuries come about. “Hello body. My name is Courtney…I don’t know if you remember me. It’s been awhile.”

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Courtney’s Levels of Bike Fitness

Since 2007, I have battled with the saddle. Sometimes I love the rush of speeding along the road and other times the bike is my personal torture device. The only thing consistent about my bike training is inconsistency. I definitely prefer riding in groups over alone. Yes, I know triathlon is raced without drafting but riding in a group is better than not riding at all? Right?

During off-season the bike is usually my first sport to get the boot. I’d rather brave a heated outdoor pool than the crazy freezing Florida winter. Given the numerous times I’ve had to get “back into bike shape” I developed my own scale of bike fitness. Instead of a well researched and methodical measurement system, I determine my bike fitness by my thoughts.

Courtney’s Levels of Bike Fitness

  1. “Not happening” – this means a bike ride just isn’t happening. I’m not motivated and don’t care to even check my tire pressure. I was probably at this level a month ago. No bike fitness exists at this point. 
  2. “Alright fine, I’ll ride. Just for a little bit though.” – Motivation is starting to creep in but my fitness involves being able to push and pull the pedals in a circle to move me forward slowly
  3. “Let’s do this. Oh shit. I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ll hold on as long as possible.” – Fitness is coming back but I get dropped a lot. I’m somewhere in this phase now. My main goal is to cling to the back wheel of the person in front of me as if it were my life source. Do not ask me to bridge a gap, climb a hill, or handle sprints well.
  4. “Okay. Hmmm. I’m hanging on. Let’s have some fun.” – Drops are rare. Motivated and have enough fitness to handle the unexpected need for power or speed. Pulling other people without fading remains a challenge.
  5. “Bring it on. I can do this. Keep going. Faster. Harder. Push it.” – Finally happens after months of consistency. Not getting dropped. Handling speed changes while drafting and able to pull my weight in a group. This is when I LOVE the bike and kick myself for ever taking a hiatus. 
  6. ??? I actually don’t know because I’ve never reached that level. Maybe this season. Feeling determined.
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Friendly Competition

I’m lucky to have found such great training partners. My only regret is my crazy schedule preventing me from training consistently with them. This season, however, I’m committed to training as much as possible with them even if it’s not convenient. 

I know I’ve mentioned once or twice that I’m competitive. Let’s face it, competition can be a lot of fun. Competition can also have an ugly side. Fifteen-year-old Courtney didn’t know the difference between friendly competition and good ol’ fashioned rivalry. My swim team was supportive of each other to a degree. It was definitely best for friendships if our best events were different. There were some tense moments when one friend would beat the other for whatever reason. Sometimes that person simply worked harder, sometimes the other person had a bad race, sometimes things just happen. If I could talk to my fifteen-year-old self, I’d say “Chill out. It doesn’t matter now and it DEFINITELY won’t matter in 10 years when none of you swim anymore.” Mostly, I was competitive with myself and the clock but there were a few times I saw the ugly competitor not be genuinely happy for my teammate’s stellar performance. Ah, thank goodness we grow up.

My group of IM Cozumel training partners have different strengths and weaknesses. We are varied in speed but not so drastic that it’s obvious who is going to come ahead of whom. Race day will be unpredictable. Injuries, weather, nutrition, etc. can all play a role in somebody’s performance. The great thing about understanding the difference between friendly competition and unhealthy competition is I will be proud of my group no matter what. 

For instance, my friend J is a long time runner turned triathlete. One nickname for her is Tasmanian Devil, I’ll call her “Taz” for short. She earned this nickname because she is speedy! Taz kicked my butt her first triathlon season. And I was proud of her. I wanted her to succeed. I also loved trying to hold her off or chase her down on the race course. 

I’m pretty sure Taz will come ahead of me at IM Cozumel. Who knows and it really doesn’t matter. This won’t stop me from thriving off mutually pushing each other in training or on the race course.

I can say the same thing for the other ladies in our group. Today’s morning run wouldn’t have happened thanks to my love of the snooze button…actually I just usually just reset my alarm. If I had managed to wake up I am not in shape to hold the pace H and I held all by myself. Nothing crazy since it was supposed to be an easy run but the competitor in me wouldn’t back off since she was by my side.

All this to say, I’m really excited about going forward with IM training with people by my side. I truly will be proud of them throughout every hard workout and early wake ups. I will also be proud of great performances and empathize with rough races.

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And my body goes “Like Whoa”

Whoa. What is this feeling? Soreness? Exhaustion? Generalized muscle fatigue? My body only vaguely remembers being pushed this hard.

Saturday my group did a ride a little too late for me to get back in time for a nap before my 12 hour night shift. So instead, I slept in (for me) And hopped on the trainer for 1.5 hours. I’m not a lover of trainers. They just don’t motivate me. No way around using one this year. Anybody have any tips?

Sunday kicked my butt. The plan was to bike 30K out and then Time Trial 30k back in a draft line. Afterwards we had a 4K run. Now usually I prefer miles, mostly because that’s what I’m used to, but Felipe creates the workouts and so kilometers it is.

Majority of our rides take place near Alafia because there are a lot of open roads with minimal traffic. Only complaint is the wind. It’s a four letter word to me. Wind switches directions so you don’t seem to get the same return as hills. Although I do love those nice and rare stretches of a tail wind. Who doesn’t? Cozumel is going to be flat and windy which makes Alafia the perfect training spot.

First half of the ride was steady and somewhat enjoyable. The second half hurt. Really hurt. The wind gusted and just didn’t seem to stop. I only remember one or two spots with a tail wind. The last 10K I struggled mentally. My quads and hamstrings burned in protest. “Dig deeper” became my mantra towards the end. Our usual route takes us up a stretch with a steady incline with about 5K to go. I’m not as familiar with the routes so I was preparing for that hill knowing I’d get dropped. It didn’t happen…we took a back way fortunately. The last mile I mustered some type of willpower to hold onto Steph’s back wheel.

First brick of the season. I had no clue what to expect. My goal pace was about 5:00 min/km but the ladies all started in a pack but after the first kilometer we settled into our own pace and I focused on having a straight back and good form. Each kilometer was more difficult than the last. My pace reflected this struggle, with maybe 3-5 sec each km. Overall I was happy with staying under my goal with a 4:45 min/km average but need to improve with consistency. Phew. Done. I was EXHAUSTED. Especially since I worked those 12 hours Saturday night and took only a few hour nap before the ride.

Thanks to another shift Monday night I had to move my evening long run to the following morning. Knowing I had a busy day working both of my jobs there really wasn’t another option than 6 am. Woo hoo. This might be the norm for most people but waking up before 6 am and working a night shift means being up for more than 24 hours with a 1-2 hour nap in the middle. Does it make sense why I took a serious training/racing hiatus?

The run tested me. Easy enough pace around 5:30 min/km for the 50 min with a friend. The last 25 min I was ok my own and the excuses to stop early started to pile up. Nobody would know. I would. Does it really matter this early on? Yes it does. You’ve already had a good run and it’s going to be a long day. Dig deeper. My body was spent but I was proud of finishing. No short cuts this season. No slacking. I have a choice to do the training the right way or not.

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Why an Ironman?

Ironman represents the pinnacle of endurance sports for me. Ever since I became a triathlete I knew an Ironman was in my future. It was just a matter of time. And time is just one of the many things training for an Ironman requires.

I did my very first triathlon back in 2004 right before graduating high school. Even then, I didn’t consider myself a triathlete until March 2007 as a Junior in college. Since then, I’ve competed in a little over 60 races and even took a trip to China for one of them but I have yet to muster the courage to take on 140.6 miles.

After college, I moved around the country, explored various careers, went back to school, and moved a few more times. Recently I made the decision to apply to medical school which means I may not have the opportunity to fulfill this goal. So now is the time. I have a stable job and a great group of friends training for the same race.

I’m nervous. I’m scared. I’m excited. And more than anything I’m determined to leave everything on the race course so I don’t need to come back. 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run. No big deal. Right?

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