Construction workers need good nutrition to stay strong and safe on the job

By Ligia Braidotti

A construction worker’s job can be demanding and physically taxing, especially on the body. With the nature of construction being what it is, workers perform physical labour in conditions that can put them at a higher risk for injury. While the employees’ long-term health is important, they must maintain a high level of performance while on the job. In addition, proper nutrition can prevent issues and improve recovery time when injuries occur.

A hungry construction worker can become tired and lightheaded, making them more prone to injury on site. A tired employee is more likely to be injured than one who has had adequate rest and eaten enough food throughout their shift.

However, it’s essential to understand that a healthy diet will differ for everyone. According to Brooke Bulloch, a registered dietitian and CEO at Food to Fit Nutrition, people should know that the complexities of their lives play a significant role in how, why and what they eat.

“There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet, and nutrition wellness involves so much more than ‘eat this, not that,’” said Bulloch. “We invite clients to dig into these aspects for a deeper understanding of how to best work with barriers that make it difficult to improve nutrition intake and wellbeing.”

Businesses can’t afford to have malnourished workers on construction sites. According to the International Labour Office (ILO), a poor diet on the job costs companies around the world 20 per cent in lost productivity. Bulloch adds that poorly hydrated, hungry workers can become inefficient, and it increases the risk for errors.

“Similar to sports performance, dehydration and under-fueling are major contributors to mental and physical fatigue causing reduced performance,” she said.

“Employers can help most by ensuring that employees have opportunities for hydration and meal breaks throughout the day. Certainly, the day can get busy, and I can imagine it’s tough to break up the day in the middle of an important project.”

– Brooke bulloch, Food to Fit Nutrition

A lack of quality nutrition can lead to many health problems – specifically weight-related issues. This can be especially true for manual labourers, who spend much of their workday on the move, physically exerting themselves. The ILO study found that one in six people worldwide is either malnourished or overweight. Although the food at the workplace is often not a priority, the ILO study states, “It is often a ‘missed opportunity’ to increase productivity and morale.

“Canteens, if they exist, routinely offer an unhealthy and unvaried selection. Vending machines are regularly stocked with unhealthy snacks. Local restaurants can be expensive or in short supply. Street foods can be bacteria-laden. Workers sometimes have no time or place to eat.”

The study asserts that food is essential for the employment of a productive workforce and the protection of workers. At the same time, the right to safe drinking water and freedom from hunger are fundamental human rights. Additionally, Bulloch says that employers should provide their workers with the nutrition they need to stay fit and healthy while working.

“Employers can help most by ensuring that employees have opportunities for hydration and meal breaks throughout the day. Certainly, the day can get busy, and I can imagine it’s tough to break up the day in the middle of an important project,” Bulloch said. “We encourage employers to add dietitian coverage to personal health benefits packages. This allows the employee to seek personalized care for unique health issues they may be running into – quick and easy meal and snack ideas; managing a health condition; struggling with physical symptoms that affect the quality of life, energy or focus. Everyone’s needs are unique. Therefore, one-on-one sessions seem to be most effective.” 

Tips for staying nourished on the job

Staying nourished on the job should be a priority for construction workers and employers.

Brooke Bulloch with Food to Fit Nutrition provides some simple tips on how you can ensure you’re taking care of yourself:

  • Eat every three to four hours to maintain energy levels and prevent blood sugar dips
  • Choose nutrient-dense meals that include carbohydrates and protein
    • Snack suggestions:
      • Protein bar and fruit
      • Fruit and nut trail mix
      • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread
      • Banana and hard-boiled eggs
      • Crackers, cheese and a few turkey-based meat sticks
  • Limit fatty foods to keep your energy up: greasy meals can slow you down, cause fatigue and upset your digestive tract
    • Meal suggestions:
      • Wrap or pita with lean meat, tofu, beans or chickpeas
      • Burrito bowl with rice, veggies and meat or beans
      • Vegetable soup and sandwich combo
  • Add veggies where you can: your body needs antioxidants to combat cell breakdown and keep you healthy. Don’t worry too much about portions but add extra veggies to your meals.
  • On hot days, when you’re sweating and trying to stay hydrated with water, be sure to replenish sodium with an electrolyte beverage or mix, such as Hydrolyte tablets or a bottle of G2
    • Sodium is the most lost electrolyte in sweat and helps keep you hydrated
    • Sodium depletion causes nausea, dizziness and mental and physical fatigue
    • Sodium and water can help prevent or reduce the severity of muscle cramping
    • Add 1/8 tsp of salt to 500ml coconut water for sodium replacement