Six Nutrition Tips for Busy Veterinarians

Don’t let a busy day derail a healthy life. Use these six tips to feel full and invigorated all day long.
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A well-balanced dinner plays an important role in preparing the body for the next day’s busy schedule.

Most days, veterinarians don’t have a moment to spare. From office work to farm calls and at-home commitments, the days pass in a blur. Skipping breakfast or working through lunch appear to be the ideal timesavers, but cutting corners on meals and snacks can leave you feeling sluggish and make it difficult to concentrate.

Conversely, stopping for a hot dog or a slice of pizza, although tasty and occasionally a necessary indulgence, isn’t a great long-term plan. Fried items are quick comfort foods for stressful situations. Unfortunately, these foods are highly processed and loaded with fat, sodium and sugar. These foods are not good energizers. They will often leave you feeling sluggish and craving the next fast food.

“Good nutrition provides our bodies with the necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients we need to stay energized and healthy,” said Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, registered dietitian, sports nutritionist and author of “365 Snacks for Every Day of the Year."

“We need the proper fuel for both our brains and our bodies, especially when we are running around or experiencing higher levels of stress,” she said.

Veterinarians devote their careers to helping horse owners maintain healthy horses based on nutritional needs. Those who also own horses have sourced the highest-quality hay, selected a well-balanced grain ration, considered supplements and, in some cases, added electrolytes to the water. Yet veterinarians are likely to spend far less time thinking about their own nutritional needs.

Luckily, it’s never been easier for busy professionals to consume nutritious foods. A well-balanced diet will help maintain energy levels, keep us focused and nourished, and prevent afternoon crashes or cravings. Try these six tips for boosting your energy and improving your overall health.

1. Fuel Up

A well-balanced dinner plays an important role in preparing the body for the next day’s busy schedule. Athletes know how crucial it is to fuel up the night before a big event; it is an important part of their overall training schedules. Eating a meal that includes lean protein such as wild-caught fish, chicken, beans or lentils, and complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, rice or pasta—along with steamed vegetables or salads—preloads the body with energy for upcoming exertion.

2. Eat Breakfast

Since the time you were a kid, you’ve been reminded to eat your breakfast. It’s easy to skip the morning meal when you’re dashing out the door to your first appointment of the day. Breakfast is literally breaking your body’s fast from the evening before. Glycogen stores will be low in the morning, so it’s really important to eat something that will sustain you.

Oatmeal with fruit and nuts or whole grain toast with egg whites are good sources of energy to carry you through the day. Quick-cooking oats are transportable and ready in a hurry when you’re rushing to get the day started.

These days, it’s easy and convenient to start the day off right. “Even if you’re running late in the morning, stop at a coffee shop and buy something,” said Koszyk. “Most coffee shops sell yogurt, fruit and nuts for a well-balanced, fiber- and protein-packed breakfast-on-the-go.”

3. Plan Ahead

There will always be an unplanned stop at the end of the day or an emergency call that derails the best-laid plans. By pre-planning your meals and snacks, you can be prepared for the “working lunch” or an all-nighter.

Pick one day a week to set up lunches and snack bags. Sundays are a popular day to prepare for the week, but if you don’t follow a traditional weekend schedule, choose one day to prepare for the next five to seven.

Lean meats and nut butters are the key ingredients for making sandwiches that are quick and easy to transport. For example, a turkey sandwich or an almond butter and banana sandwich are small, portable meals that are packed with protein and energy.

One of Koszyk’s favorite midmorning, pre-lunch snacks is dried fruit. “I love apricots or mango with a string cheese or cherry tomatoes with cheddar cheese. It’s a filling combination of carbohydrates and protein,” she said.

When it gets to be late afternoon, but not quite dinner, she chooses nut butter with a banana. “It’s a fantastic, savory snack that is also perfect before an afternoon workout,” she said.

4. Graze the Day Away

Grazing is as good for veterinarians as it is for the horses in their care. Snacking in between meals sustains energy levels, which improves mental acuity.

In recent years, energy bars have become popular, but if not chosen carefully, they won’t provide the needed boost. When choosing energy bars, look for the options that are lowest in fat and sugar but that contain good amounts of carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein. Kind Bars and Clif Bars are two examples that meet these criteria.

A homemade trail mix with a combination of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and dried cereal tossed together is a better option. A piece of fruit and/or hummus with crackers are other alternatives.

“Make five to 10 snack bags depending on what you need, so each morning you can just grab and go with your healthy snack options,” Koszyk said.

While the average person might have a diet that is too high in sodium, most active, health-conscious individuals might actually need salty foods such pickles and olives to replenish the salt lost through perspiration. Talk with your doctor and evaluate your daily routine to determine whether you’re getting enough salt.

5. Drink Up

Consuming water throughout the day is as important as food choices. Veterinarians often restrict their fluid intake because it’s inconvenient to be looking for restrooms while driving or at a client’s barn.

Drink as much water as possible while avoiding sodas, sweet drinks and caffeinated beverages, especially if caffeine makes you nervous or jittery.

If you’re having an afternoon energy slump, instead of turning to the caffeine-based drink that will give you a boost and result in a crash, Koszyk recommends a healthy, combination snack that includes both carbohydrates and protein. “This type of snack will help you stay fueled and energized. Examples include fruit with nuts, yogurt with fruit and granola, and vegetables with hummus,” she said.

She also suggested bringing a water bottle with you wherever you go. “Many times we think we are hungry, but we really may be thirsty,” she said.

Sports drinks are popular choices for replacing electrolytes lost through exertion. Although some brands are beginning to reduce the preservatives and artificial colors in the drinks, not all have. Choose drinks that contain as few artificial ingredients as possible.

It’s better to choose water with some lemon and add a natural sweetener such as stevia.

A good rule of thumb is to try and drink the equivalent of half your body weight in ounces of water each day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, work towards consuming 75 ounces of water to stay hydrated. 

6. Make It Easy

Sometimes finding time to grocery shop and prepare meals can be stressful. Today, there are countless services that will do the shopping and prep for you. Find out whether a local farm has a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share program. That kind of program can provide you with an abundance of fresh, local fruits and vegetables. Depending on the size of the CSA, it also might offer granola, nuts and trail mixes.

If it’s simply the shopping you don’t have the time or desire to do—but you like to prepare your own meals and snacks—check out the home delivery or in-store pickup services offered by many grocery stores. Order online and have the items bagged and waiting (or delivered) to you.

Take-Home Message

Changing your daily eating habits is a lifestyle change. Start with small changes until you find a routine that works for you. That might mean trying new foods or simply bringing along your favorite items from the pantry.

Make the meals you already prepare work for you. Package leftovers into serving-size containers and bring them along later in the week.

Need inspiration? Check out Koszyk’s blog to get started. 

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