Trending Topics

What should I eat during a shift?

The secret to eating healthy on duty and on the go is planning

Editor’s Note: The National Volunteer Fire Council’s National Firefighter Health Week runs August 16-20. It’s an annual week-long initiative held each August to educate the fire and emergency services community and the public about a variety of health and wellness issues that affect first responders. Wednesday’s topic of focus is heart health. In addition to Bryan Fass’ take below, be sure to check out heart health tips from the NVFC here as well as its special Health Week page.

By Bryan Fass

It’s a question that is frequently asked by many medics and firefighters. If you are like many of us, you know that fast food is not good for us, but many times we feel forced into such a meal due to sheer lack of time.

I always found it interesting that when I walked into the station for the start of a shift, a small crowd would gather around my cooler. It quickly dawned on me that many responders make eating on duty far too complicated. So you may be wondering: what’s in Bryan’s cooler for a shift?

The secret to eating healthy on duty and on the go is planning. Once you are hungry, all bets are off and bad food choices result. I would always make some turkey wraps with whole wheat grains, spinach, mustard, and cheese. These are always quick and easy to eat on the go and one wrap is a perfect portion. Yogurt has around 6-8 grams of protein and contains healthy bacteria, which always provides a good choice.

In addition:

  • A few handfuls of trail mix make a good snack on the go as well, but beware of the trail mixes with added sugar and oils that negate the health benefit completely.
  • Leftovers from dinner are always a good bet for lunch the next day, but if no leftovers are available I would take a can of tuna (in water) and add it to some brown rice and veggies or spinach for a healthy lunch. Instant brown rice is great carbohydrate to add to any protein.
  • As a back-up option, I would keep a meal replacement bar on hand for the busy shifts that don’t allow time to have a prepared meal. By ‘meal replacement bar,’ I am referring to a food bar or a whole food bar. There are many kinds, and my advice to you is find one that you like and keep it on hand for emergencies.

Parting tips for you to consider include drinking lots of water, particularly after you eat as it makes you feel full. Fiber also makes you full, so whole grains, veggies, beans, and prunes are great snack choices. Eat every three hours but eat half what you normally do.

Follow these simple tips and before you know it, the pounds will be coming off and you will be feeling better with more energy during your shift.

Bryan Fass, ATC, LAT, CSCS, EMT-P (ret.), has dedicated over a decade to changing the culture of EMS from one of pain, injury, and disease to one of ergonomic excellence and provider wellness. He has leveraged his 15-year career in sports medicine, athletic training, spine rehabilitation, strength and conditioning and as a paramedic to become an expert on prehospital patient handling/equipment handling and fire-EMS fitness. His company, Fit Responder, works nationally with departments to reduce injuries and improve fitness for first responders. Contact Bryan at