Guest Article: Eating Right on the Job

Its three O’clock in the afternoon, you still haven’t had lunch, and dispatch just hit you with another nursing home transfer. Your engine company has just returned from three hours of training at the tower, the tones just dropped for an EMS call. When you back the rig into the bay you can smell the pizza that was just delivered.

I can remember my Styrofoam container full of lunch sitting in the floor of the ambulance for what seemed an eternity before I got a chance to open it when I was on the box. And I can certainly remember dishes full of spaghetti and pans of buttery garlic bread sitting on the fire house table after coming in off of multiple runs famished.

It’s hard to eat right on shift. Trust me. I get it and I’d be lying if I said I never give in to the temptations because I do but I’ve learned that there are strategies you can use which will enable you to win if you really want to get your health in order and start eating right.

Preparation is the key, mental preparation and physical preparation. By mental preparation I mean you have to want it, really want it. You have to reach a place in your mind where you’ve said “enough is enough”. You’ve gotten tired or disgusted enough of your back hurting, being out of breath, your pants not fitting, heartburn, you name it that you’ve decided that you are absolutely going to turn it around.

The physical preparation is what will make the pieces all fit together though. I’m not talking about physical as in pushups and burpees. That’s a topic for another day. I simply talking about the practical preparations needed so that you’ll be ready when your partner suggests eating at the buffet or your captain has announced he is making his world famous “Sugar Crisco Casserole” for dinner tonight at the station.

It really boils down to being prepared to eat something decent BEFORE you get hungry in order to keep the hunger wolves at bay before temptations arrives. So, to that end, here are some humble suggestions.

EAT BREAKFAST: This is especially true if your partner likes to head out to the fast food place for a sausage biscuit or your shift’s cook always cooks up mountains of pancakes and bacon while the crew is checking the rig. Show up to work hungry…and you’re toast…I just made myself laugh, get it?

A good choice is a protein shake or smoothie. You can make a quick one as you head out the door. Protein is going to help satisfy you longer because it takes longer to digest. Additionally though it’s going to help keep your insulin from spiking. There are plenty of commercially available protein powders but you can also use things like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, or Egg Beaters along with some Almond or Coconut Milk and a handful of fruit in a pinch. I usually throw in a handful of Spinach as well. It may sound gross and it does turn the smoothie a little green but it adds fiber and vitamins and you never even know it’s in there.

BRING YOUR FOOD IN PREPARED: A $10 cooler bag is invaluable! Pack it the night before with a premade salad with some deli-meat on it in a Tupperware, a meat or tuna sandwich with some decent WHOLE GRAIN bread in a sandwich bag, a can of lower carbohydrate soup (20 grams/serving or less) and a can of chicken to add to it a couple of snacks and you’re good to go.


SPEAKING OF SNACKS: Snacking isn’t bad. Bad snacking is bad. Put a couple of protein bars in your bag, or a double serving of a protein shake mix, along with a Tupperware of Almond or Coconut Milk. Mix up the shakes but only drink half of it at a time for a snack. Pre-packaged nuts, especially almonds and cashews and peanuts are really good too.

SELF-CONTROL: When the crew sits down for dinner at night you want to be part of the family and you should be. There will be meals that you should probably just say NO to but I’d suggest just scaling back, maybe way back, on your portion size when dinner is country fried steak, mashed potatoes, gravy, hot rolls, and English peas with sweet tea. This is one of the traditional meals at our department. When a meal like that is coming up eat one of your protein bars 20 minutes before dinner time in order to take the edge off and have a small plate with the team. It’s okay.

Beyond that though, let the crew know that you’re trying to eat better and ask that a couple of leafy or green veggies can be included in the evening meal. At dinner time have a portion of protein but eat all of those veggies you like. Eat them until they’re coming out of your gills but skip the baked beans, white potatoes, breads, pastas and so forth.

One final thought, if you’re like me, you may not have time to cook a bunch every night to pack before shift. Don’t be afraid to take short cuts. Buy precooked meats, canned meats and soups that can simply be heated up. Make sandwiches. They’re easy. Salads are relatively easy as well. If you don’t think you have the time even for that then take a look at Personal Trainer Foods or a similar company ( Personal Trainer Foods will send you a very reasonably priced box full of healthy prepackaged and precooked foods that are really good. I’ve tried them and can vouch for their quality and service.

Like I said, “I know it’s hard” but isn’t your health worth a little investment of time and effort? Sure it is.



About the Author Bryan Reid:
Finished Paramedic Training at UAB in 1985 and has served in many capacities since that time working for EMS providers in urban areas around Birmingham, Alabama and the metro areas north of Atlanta, Georgia.
I’ve also worked, first, as a Firefighter/Paramedic with Cobb County (Georgia) Fire & Emergency Services since 1991 and presently as an EMT-I and lieutenant on a BLS engine company in the southern part of Cobb County.
I’ve also served as an Instructor for our training division and written a 12 class curriculum for our probationary firefighters.
I previously owned and operated INFERNAL DALMATIAN Emergency Training Alternatives INC. We provided economical tactical and firefighter survival/MAYDAY classes and practical training for fire departments and represented several fire equipment manufacturers.
I’ve given tactical and fitness lectures at the Metro Atlanta Firefighters Conference for the past four years.
Along with being an Escaping Violent Encounters for FIRE/EMS Instructor I’ve been a lifelong fitness enthusiast, especially in areas pertaining to public safety personnel. I became TacFit Field Instructor Certified in September of 2013 and presently assist in our department’s Fitness Unit. I’m also pursuing my Associates Degree in Exercise Science through the International Sports Science Association.
I’ve been married for 10 years and have three children at home.