The eternal EMS struggle: What should I be eating during a shift?

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

Updated August 14, 2014

"I'm on the go, my options are limited, so really - what am I supposed to be eating on shift?"

It's a question that is frequently asked by many medics, firefighters, and officers. If you are like many of us, you know that fast food is not good for you, 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. So here are some tips on potential meals that you can plan to bring on your next shift.

1. 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.

2. Yogurt has around 6-8 grams of protein and contains healthy bacteria, which always provides a good choice.

3. 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.

4. Leftovers from dinner are always a good bet for lunch the next day, but if no leftovers are available (or they aren't the kind of leftovers you should be eating two days in a row) 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.

5. 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.

About the author

Bryan Fass is a leading expert on public safety injury prevention. As the president and founder of Fit Responder, Bryan’s company works nationally with departments, corporations, and state and local governments to design and run targeted injury prevention and wellness programs. He is frequently contacted for expert opinion and content contribution for all aspects of public safety fitness, ergonomics and wellness. He authored the Fit Responder book used by departments and schools, and writes for numerous web and peer-reviewed journals.

Bryan holds a bachelors’ degree in sports medicine with more than 17 years of clinical practice, was a paramedic for more than 8 years, and is certified as an Athletic Trainer (ATC, LAT), Strength Coach (CSCS) and the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). Fit Responder developed the nation’s first validated pre-hire Physical Abilities Test for EMS. Bryan is a sought-after speaker on a variety of topics including risk reduction, employee self-care, real world wellness and How to Eat on the street. Fit Responder also offers a mobile app and program for Fire-Rescue fitness. Contact Bryan at

  1. Tags
  2. Health and Wellness
  3. Nutrition

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