We think of high performance athletes when we hear sports nutrition recommendations, recovery strategies and fueling plan but there are other people who will benefit from these dietary guidelines and protocols as well.

Firemen for example, or musicians. Or hospital staff. They all have to go through long intense shifts, whether that’s a fire or a concert/rehearsal or an emergency. During the corona pandemic we see a lot of ICU staff do hard work. This is a good opportunity to highlight the cornerstones of performance nutrition because this will make a difference to them right now. How they go into their shift is important. They need to reduce and delay fatigue, and they need to recover between two shifts. And – just like athletes – they don’t have much time to cook, i.e. recipes should be quick and easy but nutritious.

Prepare - Fuel - Recover - Hydrate

A good preparation is a good pre-shift meal. It should contain a decent amount of carbohydrates, preferably whole grains, and some lean protein and fruits/vegetables. Fat content should be minimal. Remember you need to fuel up like you would for a race.

Examples:

  • Oatmeal with raisins, walnuts, cinnamon and yogurt.
  • Quinoa with zucchini, beets, some olive oil and a serving of ricotta.
  • Chicken breast with potatoes and a serving of cooked veggies, sprinkled with olive oil.
  • Whole grain pasta with tofu, peas and some walnuts.

During high-intensity work we need fast energy. Running from one room to the next, running up and down the stairs or pushing a bed through the corridor – it all requires muscle work and our muscles work best with adequate carbohydrate supply. And in order to keep our brain working, regular carbohydrate intake is even more important.

Examples:

  • Banana,
  • Diluted fruit juice,
  • Banana bread,
  • Fruit bar,
  • Sports drink,
  • Water with syrup.

After a shift it’s important to remember the three R’s of recovery: rehydrate, rebuild, refuel. It’s not alway possible to drink enough during your shift, so rehydrating to reach again a good hydration status is important. Some protein for your muscles is important to. Although you might rest, your muscles are recovering and need substrate to do this. Also, it’s not easy to eat and drink in the ICU. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon that ICU staff miss a meal due to high work load. Consuming some carbohydrates after your shift is important to replenish your empty stores.

Examples:

  • Chocolate milk,
  • Risotto with tuna and kiwi; tea or diluted fruit juice,
  • Bread with cottage cheese and apple; tea or diluted fruit juice,
  • Oatmeal with raisins, walnuts, cinnamon and yogurt; tea or diluted fruit juice,
  • Smoothie with fresh fruit, oats, some nuts and milk,
  • Recovery shake.

Low-carbohydrate diets are still very popular. A very recent study showed that few days of ketogenic diet lead to increased rate of perceived exertion and earlier fatigue during exercise.

So if you are working in the ICU, be aware that it’s a bad idea to go keto, especially now in corona times.

And finally, don’t forget quality. More than ever should your diet be of good quality to consume all the nutrients for a strong immune system. Whole grains or legumes (for carbs), lean meats and fatty fish or plant proteins, small servings of healthy fats (fish, olive oil, canola oil, seeds, nuts) and lots of color with your vegetables and salads. If you need ideas for snacks, here are some examples:

  • Fresh fruit and some nuts,
  • Sandwich with nut butter or cottage cheese,
  • Yogurt with fruit, cocoa powder,
  • Fruit salad with glass buttermilk,
  • Smoothie with fresh fruit, oats, some nuts and milk,
  • Crackers with apple,
  • Buttermilk and a piece dark chocolate.