For a lot of travel nurses, maintaining a consistent and healthy lifestyle can be a daunting task. When your job requires you to put others first and you’re constantly moving from one assignment to the next, it’s easy to put your own health on the back burner.
We’ve all been there.
While consistency can sometimes feel a bit like a unicorn (you want to believe it exists, but can never seem to track it down), it’s important to start treating yourself as your most important patient. In addition to making movement a priority, taking steps to elevate your nutrition will not only leave you feeling better, but it will also fuel your body to go the extra mile for your patients.
Along with fats and carbohydrates, protein is considered a macronutrient, meaning you need relatively large amounts of it for your body to stay healthy and function properly. However, unlike fats and carbs, your body doesn’t store protein. Without a reservoir to draw from, it’s up to you to stay vigilant and ensure that your body is getting the protein that it needs on a daily basis.
If you’re not packing in enough protein in your diet, one of the first things you’ll notice is that your energy levels will be low. But keeping you awake and alert during your long shifts isn’t the only thing that protein is good for.
In addition to powering our bodies, protein also plays a key role in:
- • Reducing appetite and hunger. Eating a protein-rich meal or snack will help you feel fuller thanks to its ability to reduce your level of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and boost your peptide YY levels (a hormone that makes you feel full).
- • Cell maintenance. Protein is made up of amino acids (often referred to as building blocks) and is responsible for building and repairing tissue.
- • Boosting your metabolism. Protein-rich foods have a high thermic effect. This means that your body will burn more calories while it’s digesting and metabolizing foods that have a high protein content.
Do your best to include a protein source in every one of your meals. While our favorite protein-rich foods are Greek yogurt, chicken, beans, seeds, and nuts, there are plenty of options to choose from, making it easy to find something that will satisfy your taste buds.
Snacking often gets a bad rap, but if you choose your options wisely, indulging in a snack or two can help keep you going throughout the day.
Snack smart by:
- • Choosing whole foods and superfoods. Opt for foods that are in their natural state or nutritionally dense and avoid picking snacks that come pre-packaged or are processed with extra salt, sugar, and additives.
- • Pre-planning your snacks. Washing, cutting, slicing, and packing snacks ahead of time not only allows you to proportion what you’re eating, but it also makes it easier to grab on the go, stuff in your scrub pockets, or stick in your locker.
- • Snacking only when you’re actually hungry. Avoid mindless eating and snacking out of boredom by rating your hunger before reaching for a snack.
- • Keeping healthy snacks at close range. Don’t give yourself an excuse to take a detour to the vending machines on your breaks. Instead, save your quarters and keep your favorite healthy snack close by for when you’re in need of a little boost between meals.
As boring as “healthy snacks” may sound, you might be surprised by just how many options there are. The snacks that are high on our list are:
- • Cherry tomatoes and hummus
- • Crisp carrots and celery sticks
- • Zucchini and cucumber rounds
- • Air-popped popcorn
- • Frozen grapes
- • Low-fat string cheese
- • Baked apple slices
- • Homemade trail mix
Mix things up to keep yourself from getting snack burnout and don’t be afraid to try something new!
Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!
It’s no secret that every cell, tissue, and organ in your body depends on water to survive and thrive. Not only does fluid carry nutrients to your cells, but staying hydrated also helps your body flush out waste, lubricate your joints, maintain its temperature, facilitate daily bodily functions, and ward off hunger.
On average, people need to consume 30 to 50 ounces of water per day to prevent dehydration. But it’s important that you consume this amount gradually—not all at once.
If staying hydrated throughout the day is difficult for you, try these tricks:
- • If your position allows, make sure to keep a reusable water bottle at your side whenever possible.
- • If plain water isn’t your thing, try adding a slice of lemon or a few berries into your water bottle.
- • Whenever you’re feeling a bit peckish, drink a glass of water. Thirst can often be mistaken or confused for hunger by your body.
- •Drink water on a schedule! If you have trouble remembering to reach for your water bottle throughout the day, make a point to rehydrate on each of your breaks and anytime you have something to eat.
While water is always going to be one of the best (and most accessible) options to keep you hydrated, you can also drink milk, 100% fruit juice, caffeine-free teas, and coconut water. Be wary of consuming too many sodas, coffees, and energy drinks as these can actually work against your hydration goals because of added sugars and caffeine.
It’s important to note that prioritizing your nutrition doesn’t mean you have to eat healthy 100% of the time. Don’t forget to treat yourself! We recommend following an 80/20 lifestyle: 80% clean, 20% dealer’s choice. After all, one of the best perks of travel nursing is getting to try the locals’ favorite dishes and desserts in every new city you work in.
Looking for more tips and tricks that you can follow while working as a travel nurse? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Travel Nursing!