When Should I Eat on Day Shift? Your Stomachs Perfect Guide

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Knowing when to eat as a day shift worker, is just as, if not equally important as what you are eating. Our body clocks like routine and abiding by its finely tuned rules leads to less indigestion, bloating, nausea and chronic health tummy problems. So when should you eat when working the day shift?

Before a morning shift, limit food and beverage consumption whilst dark outside as your digestive system is resting. Once the sun rises, enjoy your morning coffee, hearty breakfast and healthy lunch, coupled with nutritious snacks when necessary. In the afternoon, limit caffeine and enjoy your last meal before 8pm.

keyboard and salad bowl

Knowing when to eat when working shift work is not always straightforward due to the various start and finishing times. But there are some golden “rules” to abide by and I’m excited to show you what they are throughout this post.

Why It Matters When We Eat as Shift Workers

You may have read or heard whispers that shift work can lead to some pretty dire health conditions like diabetes, cancer, Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD) and insulin resistance because the pancreas, among other digestive organs, becomes upset when we eat at the wrong times.

But are we at a higher risk of this stuff because we actually don’t know what we should be doing? Maybe. 

If you have been working shift work for a while, you have probably been simply doing your best without really knowing what’s good and what’s not.

These are the “golden rules” I mentioned earlier;

1. Our bodies are basically one big clock

Each and every cell is programmed to do a job at a very specific time. This is generally regulated by the sunlight (or darkness) and importantly when we eat. When we mess around with these “signals” such as eating excessively overnight and being exposed to light when we should be asleep, the system “breaks” causing the health conditions which research articles are obsessed with talking about.

But we can help this by modifying when we eat, what we eat and getting enough sleep despite working odd hours. 

2. Your digestive system slows overnight

This includes the organs which play a vital role in breaking down every mouthful of food you eat, drink and swallow.

The big players here are the pancreas, kidney, liver, stomach and intestines. What these organs do during the day is different from the roles they play at night. So we have to change in order to play their game. These rules, unfortunately, can’t be changed like you might do when playing family Monopoly when somebody gets upset…

If you have been scoffing down a bowl of oats in the car on the way to work before the sun has had a chance to rise before an early shift there is a more “digestive system-friendly” way of timing your meals.

VIDEO – If you’re confused about meal timing and your digestive system as a shift worker, I explain it in simple terms inside the video below.

Night Shift Hot Tip…
Don’t just “swap” your meals to suit your night shift schedule. Eating a big, heavy “lunch” between 2 am – 5 am is not what your digestive system needs. It is “asleep” and doesn’t need to be “woken up”. Stick to small, filling snacks instead at this time making sure you’re drinking plenty of water.

The below table helps to explain when and what to eat on particular shifts which are in tune with what your body wants. 

When Should I Eat When Working the Day Shift Schedule?

Shift Start TimeWhen to Eat
7 am – 3pmBefore a shift, consume a small amount such as a small hot drink like black tea and a few nuts. Then have breakfast and coffee between 8-10am as your digestive system is now fully awake. Enjoy lunch at the typical time of 12 pm – 1.30 pm then dinner between 5.30-7pm. Try not to eat anything after 8 pm.
8 am – 4pmAgain, if you’re an early riser, avoid eating before the sun rises. Enjoy breakfast like a low-fat smoothie on the way to work, lunch between 12pm – 1.30pm and dinner between 5.30 – 7 pm. Drinking a peppermint tea after dinner with some dark chocolate around 8.30pm aids in digestion.
1 pm – 10pmEnjoy a filling lunch before your shift at 12 pm or leave it until 2.30pm if you have a break at this time (but don’t leave it too long), then have dinner around 6pm. The important note here is to avoid eating once you get home at 10pm despite how horrible and busy the shift was. If you’re “starving” a chamomile tea with x1 piece of whole-grain toast with a cut up banana and honey is delicious and filling.
5 pm – 1.30am (Swing Shift)Try and eat your main meal just before you start at 4.30pm or wait until 7pm to have dinner. It’s your choice. Enjoy healthy snacks throughout the shift but avoid eating a large, filling, greasy meal after you complete your shift at midnight (despite how tempting it is). Bring healthy snacks in the car, stay hydrated with water, coconut water or herbal tea and avoid stopping for takeout.
11 am – 7.30pm (Swing Shift)This shift can be pretty aligned to a “normal schedule.” A filling breakfast between 7-9.30 am should fill you up until you first break around 1 pm. Enjoy a lunch with protein (chicken, tuna, pork, tofu), healthy fats (oils and avocado) and complex carbs like veggies and dinner a little later than “normal time” around 8 pm. The later you leave this meal, the slower your digestion becomes, leaving a high chance for bloating and feeling uncomfortable.

Digestion Tip…
Eat warm foods. The spleen, in particular, likes warm food and our digestive system needs heat in order to break down our food properly. Eating soups (make sure the lid is on tight!), tea and cooked veggies are great foods to add into your day shift.

source (1)
Too tired to cook book
“Too Tired Too Cook”
Such as great read for every shift worker to learn more about how to be healthy!

What Should I Eat When Working Shift Work to Stay Healthy?

While this post specifically talks about WHEN to eat we are also pretty passionate about WHAT to eat in order to stay healthy. 

These posts we recently published will help answer this question.

VIDEO – How To Stop Nausea and Bloating Ruining Your Night Shift

The timing of when to eat your meals and snacks as a shift worker should be entirely based on your digestive system and sleep cycle.

They are the boss of this game until we evolve into “shift work machines” who are able to eat at crazy hours, but I doubt that happening in my lifetime.

Thanks for reading our post on when to eat as a shift worker and we hope you got something out of it. When do you eat when working shift worker and when are you now going to chow down on a meal? Let us know in the comments below.

If you’re interested to learn more about the different types of diets other night shift workers have found success with, here are a few to browse through:


Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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Recent Posts

How often do you talk about meal timing? The subject of food choice is commonly discussed but not so much about when we eat. Here we discuss the ideal food timing schedule for those working the day shift which happens to align nicely with your digestive system.