Over the last year, as the first line of defence against the coronavirus pandemic, front- line healthcare workers have been put in long hours of duty to give people the medical attention they need. The real heroes in white have to constantly wear personal protective equipment (PPEs like face shields, masks, gowns, gloves and goggles) while treating patients. Health care workers are at the highest risk of the Covid-19 infection. With longer work shifts, PPEs insufficient rest, high-stress levels, poor diet and eating patterns; adequate nutrition and hydration is very much important for them.
Frontline healthcare workers have a very small window of time to nourish and hydrate themselves. Nutrition and hydration are critical as they will help to combat dizziness, fatigue, dehydration, headaches and other symptoms. Overall, nutrition and hydration will help to support the immune system and reduce the susceptibility and risk of Covid-19 infection.
With the short hand in time, it is essential for frontline workers to work on essential nutrients listed below:
Fibre, a type of carbohydrate helps to regulate the body’s use of sugars. It helps to keep the hunger and blood sugar in check. It aids in contributing to satiety and fullness.
Incorporate fibre-rich foods like whole-grain cereals, fruits, beans, legumes and pulses.
Protein is an essential macronutrient, combining meals with small amounts of protein throughout the day helps to feel full.
Incorporate protein in the form of lentils, beans, pulses, dairy products, nutrition bars, nutrition supplement or shake, nuts and oilseeds.
Carbohydrates are the major energy fuel source for our bodies. Just like how our cars require petrol/diesel to function, similarly our bodies require a good amount of carbohydrates daily.
Avoid too much of simple sugars or carbohydrates – usually found in processed foods, bakery products, maida, cornflour, sodas, sweets, carbonated beverages.
4. Vitamins & Minerals
Meeting the nutritional recommendation is an important step to building immunity. Important vitamins A, C, E and minerals like zinc are essential.
Include small portions of fresh fruits, vegetables, functional foods, nuts and oilseeds
Adequate amounts of foods sources listed above from diet alone becomes quite a tedious task – hence, frontline health care workers can take support of nutritional supplements – Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc supplements.
Long–Lasting Hydration Tactics
Adequate hydration is essential to proper bowel function, circulation and body temperature regulation. Water also carries nutrients throughout the body and removes waste. Dehydration on the flip side can stress the heart, increase core body temperature, and contribute to fatigue.
Healthcare workers wearing PPE kits have to be extra careful about staying hydrated.
To promote immune health and avoid extreme forms of dehydration, follow these few hydration tactics
1. Drink plenty of water after work at frequent intervals. Bring a large bottle of water to work and keep it filled throughout your shift hours.
2. To ensure complete consumption of water throughout the day, add fruit slices or fresh herbs to your water to level up the nutritional value.
3. Use electrolyte solutions instead of water – sometimes it’s tedious to take water breaks, instead carry an electrolytes solution to combat dehydration (You can check out rehydration solutions from Fast & Up India, Pedialyte or any products from Abbott India or tender coconut water).
From double shifts, to missed meals, little to no sleep and staying for days away from family – the mental and physical stress that the frontline workers are going through is unimaginable.
Here are a few self-care tips for the frontline workers:
1. Do not SKIP MEALS
When you skip a meal, your body goes into fasting mode and uses less efficient energy sources. As your blood glucose levels drop, you feel fatigued and irritable. Skipping meals leads to cravings and this in turn results affecting your decision-making skills and you may become physically unsteady.
2. Do not BINGE on One Single Meal
This is very difficult to follow due to the long work hour shifts – but try as much as possible to divide your nutrient load over the course of the day instead of consuming it all together in one meal.
3. Limit your CAFFEINE intake
While caffeine may increase your alertness, consuming caffeine in large quantities frequently during the day may result in insomnia and other stomach related issues
4. RELAX when consuming food – Practice Mindful eating
High stress levels or distracted with work while eating results in curbing hunger and poor consumption of food. Spare 5-10 minutes solely on what you are eating without any distractions as this will help to properly digest your food and you will feel energized.
5. Schedule your Routine Meal Times
Stick to your meal schedules as much as possible. Inconsistent or sporadic meals may lead to fatigue. Mealtimes may vary with shift hours but avoid going longer than 6 hours between your meals.
6. Opt for 10-15 minute mini-breaks
During this time, try to do some stretching exercises or light walks to help relieve stress and accumulated muscle tensions or sores due to long hours of work.
7. Ensure adequate amount of sleep
With erratic work hours – sleeping is quite difficult. Ensure sufficient hours of sleep or any other forms of relaxation techniques (yoga or meditation). Workout on your sleep schedule timings and practice sleep hygiene too.
8. Practice Food Hygiene & Safety.
When handling or preparing food, make sure to:
o Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap before and after preparing or eating food
o Cover your mouth or nose with tissue when you cough or sneeze and remove to wash your hands after
o Wash fruits and vegetables with water or sanitize with fruits and vegetables washing liquid
o Keep raw and cooked foods separate to avoid harmful microbes from raw foods to spread to ready to eat foods
o Make sure to cook and reheat foods to adequate temperatures (>72c for 2 minutes)
9. Prepare for the Unexpected
Remember that during changing shift hours. You won’t be able to sit down for a break. When this happens, make sure to carry a box of dry fruits, or a high protein high-fibre protein bar or a protein meal replacement drink.
Healthcare workers have played a major role in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Safeguarding your patients’ health is of utmost importance to you, but before that make sure not to jeopardize your health wellbeing. Making a slight change to your eating habits will have a huge impact on your energy levels and build strong immunity.
Consulting Clinical Nutritionist and Dietician
Certified Eating Disorder Specialist