How to Eat Healthy As a Nurse

How to meal plan, for nurses.

Several of my clients are nurses. My grandmother was an emergency room nurse as are a few of my aunts. The healthcare profession is ironically hard on your health.

As a nurse, you spend all day taking care of patients that challenge you physically and emotionally. You see exactly what can happen when you hit rock bottom.

Lifting 600 lb patients, you know that is not a place to you want to end up yourself. With your schedule, how can you take care of yourself?

In this article I'm going to show you how my nursing clients overcome this problem.

If you would like to skip down I will be covering these things in order:

  1. The problems you face as a nurse
  2. The solution that has helped my clients
  3. The logic behind this approach (sciency)

Problems You Face as A Nurse

The nursing profession has some unique challenges. It may not be unusual for you to:

  • Have a split schedule, working some nights and some evenings
  • Work long shifts where you forget to eat
  • Take overtime shifts
  • Have difficulty finding an appropriate time to eat
  • Feel some guilt when you do decide to take a break-unless you skipped it again

It’s a part of the culture but, believe me. That few minutes you give yourself to eat helps you work harder and more effectively than you would otherwise.

Food is the fuel that keeps you and your brain working. You need to bring something that makes sense to eat in the time you have.

A strategy that my clients have had success with to this point is eating one of their “meals” in smoothie form.

It might look like this:

Example Nurse: Female

  • Age - 32
  • Height - 5'5" or 165.1cm
  • Weight - 180 lbs or 81.646kg
  • Activity Level - Moderately Active-1.72
  • Desired Goal - Weight Loss

Starting Macronutrients:

  • Protein - 180g
  • Fat - 77.56g (30% daily calories)
  • Carbohydrates - 227.23g

Starting Calories: 2327

This woman can hit about half of her daily calories in a smoothie with:

  • 2.5 servings of crunchy peanut butter (Hy-vee) - 450 calories, 17.5g protein, 37.5 g fat, 22.5g carbs.
  • 2.5 Medium Bananas - 263 calories, 3.22g protein, .97g fat, 67.38g carbs.
  • 1 Scoop of Gold Standard Casein Protein (Banana Cream) - 120 calories, 24g protein, 1g fat, 3g carbohydrates
  • 2 Cups of Plain Greek Yogurt (Hy-vee) - 260 calories, 46g protein, 0g fat, 20g carbs

Smoothies are very practical. You can drink half one at the beginning, middle or end of your shift without needing to sit down.

A meal before/after and during your shift may come out to 2-3 meals per day. You can split those calories as you see fit depending on your goals.

The Logic Behind Very Low Frequency Dieting

You may be wondering if you can get away with 2-3 meals in a day and still lose weight. This systematic review may give us an answer for that.

Effect of Meal Frequency on Weight Loss and Body Composition: a meta-analysis

Purpose - Evaluate meal frequency and it’s effects on body composition.

15 studies were evaluated using a statistical regression. Initially, it appeared that more frequent meals meant more positive results. The authors found that one study in particular skewed the results.

Once the study was eliminated, it appears that meal frequency didn't matter. This flies in the face of 6 small meals for weight loss.

There were also four limitations acknowledged the study:

  • The majority of the data pooled came from a sedentary population.
  • Studies used a lower-moderate protein diet. A higher protein diet showed there may be some benefit to increased frequency.
  • The design of the studies allowed an assessment of body fat but, not in cardiometabolic risk.
  • There was not an assessment of appetite suppression and meal frequency.

What can we take away from this?

Well, given that you work an active job, that might affect the results you get applying this to your life. The great news? It seems like you can get away with what you’re likely already doing, very low meal frequency!

Start your journey today »

I most want to see changes in my
I want to start:
I am interested in training: *

Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.