I’m currently working in a fairly isolated location across town, and some weeks I’m working longer than 8 hours. My schedule many workdays is wall to wall booked:
- Wake up
- Perhaps run as time allows
- Prep for work
- Go to work and work 8-10 hours
- Commute home
- Work out if I didn’t get to in the morning
- Eat dinner
- Prep food and clothes for tomorrow
- Go to bed.
On many workdays I can’t leave the client facility because I only have 30 minutes for lunch, plus even when I can the best food options are halfway across town. In this location there’s no supermarkets or viable restaurant options nearby. I won’t eat garbage fast food or something off a vending machine or convenience store counter. Even if any of it was satisfying (hint: doubtful), the near total lack of useful nutrients will crash my energy levels in the afternoon, in a job where I need to stay engaged and proactive.
And, of course, I’m now endurance training. I need to stay fueled for those morning and/or afternoon runs. I can’t just eat a minimal diet or whatever happens to be available and expect to perform as needed in these workouts. Plus, I have to maintain my overall health and not make choices that will contribute to illness or burnout. The food I eat has to support not just my general day to day health but what I am doing in training.
Because of this, my meal prep and planning between shifts has to be totally on point. My work meals also have to be simple, portable, and suitably nutritious to ensure my energy naturally stays above tired the entire day. (Beyond morning coffee, I do not take any stimulants, and I won’t.)
It’s not always the nutritionally best option, but my go-to meal on this assignment has been 3 cups of cooked (lightly seasoned) brown rice, and a can of wild caught tuna. Aside from using my portable plug-in hot plate to warm up the rice (I plug it in at my desk the hour before lunch), it requires no reheating or prep. It’s 750-850 calories (depending on what tuna I bring), and 40+ grams of protein plus a lot of fiber and carbohydrate. It’s enough to get me through the rest of the workday.
Other than slamming a few almonds in the morning before commuting to work, I typically don’t eat in the morning unless I run. I stir a serving of collagen peptides into my morning black coffee, which sneaks the amino acids of about 18g of protein into my system during the work morning.
I bought a week’s supply of protein bars as well as a batch of bananas. After morning workouts, or before evening workouts, I’d eat a couple bananas and the protein bar to aid recovery from the run plus help restore glycogen and muscle tissue.
I made a point this week to buy and cook chicken thighs after work, as I did in Chicago. By making a point to eat antibiotic-free chicken over the other mass-produced meat mostly sold in Vegas, that improved my digestion and energy over subsequent days. I’m sure the Vitamin K2 present in the dark meat also helped.
My schedule and work situation forced me to be more disciplined and consistent. While previously not working, I had plenty of latitude to make all sorts of different choices, time meals differently, and so on. Now that I’m landlocked the entire workday and my daily schedule is almost wall to wall booked, I need to make sure I eat when I need to, and I’m getting nutrients I need everyday while doing so.
My weight hasn’t substantially changed in either direction (and even if I had slimmed down I’d have actually be worried). But my energy levels and appetite have been far better than when I didn’t work, or during my prior work when I was partially remote and had more flexibility. With no room to forget to bring lunch, or leave a meal to fate and impulse, my nutrition is clean and on-point at least 4-5 days a week.
Even though I still make solid choices on the weekend, I can afford on the weekend to eat what everyone calls “cheat meals” as desired (and I certainly do). Plus, with a long Saturday run scheduled every week (plus swolework, as I’ve now had to relegate my strength training to 1-2 sessions on the weekends)… even if I overeat badly, not only does the long workout absorb some of the overeating but the extra food is actually useful to refuel and recover from the long workout.
Along with all this, I noticed I am sleeping better than recently before. I had been struggling with waking up during the night after 2-5 hours sleep and not being able to drift back off. Along with locking in my meal planning, I made a point to start adding bananas and cooking organic meat to improve nutrient intake so the lack thereof wouldn’t disrupt my sleep. A lack of magnesium, potassium, and other amino acids can lead to insomnia and associated problems. My supplementation can only do so much.
By making conscious food choices to close that nutrient gap, my sleep became more consistent. I still wake up at 4-5 am, but that’s in large part because I’m wired to wake up early (and I make sure to turn in by 9pm every night). But even if I get just 6-7 hours sleep, I’m sleeping full nights again with consistent measured deep and REM sleep.
Given all this, I will also note my running has noticeably improved within my current training. The more demanding easy paces I’ve had to run quickly felt more comfortable to where I’m now exceeding them more often. I started doing speedwork (for the first time in over a year! It’s about time), and those workouts have felt easier than they ever did in Chicago, not to mention I’m nailing all the assigned reps.
Best of all, as I’ve always struggled to stay strong at the tail end of long runs… I’m starting to finish strong on long runs, which I’m also doing at a faster easy pace than I had ever done before. On last weekend’s 10 miler, even with a hilly route and on an empty stomach (the only “fuel” I brought was my water bottle), I finished so strong that on mile 10 at an easy effort my watch was telling me I needed to slow down! That would have never happened on my Chicago long runs. I had set a goal to finish my next Half Marathon in January at under 2 hours, and now I’m beginning to think I might be able to not just do it but exceed my original 1:58 time goal by quite a bit.
So, in effect, I improved my nutrition to help meet my running goals, but not in the way most would have done it. I pretty much had to do so to keep myself going in a new, busy work schedule… one that ultimately, for these and other reasons, might have been a blessing in disguise.