9th August, 2022
Construction workers need more calories than most, but they don’t always have access to a kitchen, or even a microwave. Here’s how much you should eat and drink on a building site, plus a few healthy lunch ideas!
Construction work can be one of the most labour-intensive careers. Whether you are laying bricks, carting waste to the skip, or plastering a room – you’re burning calories.
An hour of construction work can burn over 500 calories, and if you’re chopping or digging, you can burn over 1000!
It’s certainly not a job to get into if you fancy an easy life!
And just like your equipment and vehicles need fuel to run, so do your workers.
How much should a construction worker eat and drink? Here’s a quick guide, but read on for more details.
These are not exact figures (in fact, they are just the recommended amounts). Because how much you need to eat and drink can depend on how active you are, the type of work you are doing, the environment, and even your age.
In this blog post, we will cover eating and drinking in construction, including:
Let’s start with drinking. Dehydration happens when you lose more fluids than you take in. The NHS advises the average person to drink around “6 to 8 cups or glasses of fluid a day”, which works out at just under 2L.
But construction work isn’t your average job.
If you’re working outside in the height of summer, doing some real labour-intensive work, like chopping or digging, you’ll sweat a lot. All of that sweat is your body losing water. You need to drink water to replace it and avoid becoming dehydrated.
And that could mean needing up to 1L every hour!
When working hard or at a high rate in heat stress conditions employees should consume around 250 ml (half a pint) every 15 minutes.
So that’s why we say 2L+. You will probably need more water than the average person when doing active construction work. But there’s no hard and fast rule. Base your water intake on the level of physical activity, the heat, and how you feel.
The best drink for a construction worker is… water! You can also treat yourself to other healthy alternatives like low-fat milk and sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee.
Tea and coffee breaks are a crucial part of a builder’s day. A warm drink can be a welcome treat and helps to warm you up in the colder months. But watch out for your caffeine intake, which might have you running to the site toilets mid-way through your task.
Bear in mind, though, that caffeinated drinks can make the body produce urine more quickly.
Sports/energy drinks can be useful when you need an energy boost and can also replace some lost calories. However, these are high sugar which can contribute to tooth decay.
It’s better to drink water to keep hydrated. Avoid having sugary drinks too often.
To stay hydrated, you need to replace water as you lose it.
Chugging a 2L bottle at the start of your shift won’t keep you hydrated until the end of the day. And you certainly don’t want to over-hydrate which can also be dangerous by lowering sodium levels in your blood.
The best way to stay hydrated is to drink regularly throughout the day, increasing your intake during periods of high activity (or high temperatures).
Ideally, you should be able to drink (and have access to drinking water) throughout the day. The CDM regulations make it a legal requirement to provide drinking water on construction sites.
But in construction work, there might be times when it isn’t possible to drink. For example, when wearing RPE or working with contaminated ground or hazardous materials. You might need to wait until the end of the task or a break to decontaminate first.
In these situations, make sure you drink before the activity and when you take a break.
an alternative approach is drinking 500 ml of water per hour before work commences and encouraging the drinking of 500 ml of water during their rest periods.
The NHS advises men to eat 2,500 calories, and women to eat 2,000 calories, daily (on average).
On average, women should have around 2,000 calories a day (8,400 kilojoules) and men should have around 2,500 calories a day (10,500 kilojoules).
But construction work is varied. On some days, that might be enough for you. But at other times, you might need a lot of energy to complete a task. If you are carrying heavy materials or doing a strenuous activity, you’ll be burning through calories (up to 1,000 per hour!).
That doesn’t give you the freedom to consume all you can eat every day. But it does mean that on the days you are more active, you might need to increase your calorie intake.
Some professional athletes eat 5,000+ calories a day due to their active lives. But you’re probably not Michael Phelps level active – even though it might feel like you’ve worked really hard some days!
When you are doing a lot of physically demanding work, you will need to increase the number of calories you consume to maintain your energy levels.
4,000 calories a day is ok for manual workers but this largely depends on what it is they are eating.
It’s a bit of a stereotype that many construction workers live off junk food. And while the odd fry-up or chip butty can be a nice treat, it’s certainly not the best type of food to be consuming daily.
Many construction workers choose to take a packed lunch to work, especially if the site location is fairly remote.
Healthy lunch ideas for construction workers include:
Most of these foods can be eaten cold, but sometimes it’s nice to have a hot lunch, especially in the winter. If you have access to a microwave or oven on the site, you can heat your lunch, and have something hot like a sausage bap, lasagne or even a jacket potato!
Construction workers should have access to a place to sit, eat and prepare food. Find out more in what temporary facilities do you need on construction sites?
Food can count towards your water/fluid intake too. For example, a hot bowl of soup can provide calories, fluids, and warmth, perfect for a cold winter’s day on a construction site.
It’s normal to eat 3 meals a day in the UK, breakfast, lunch and dinner. But for a standard construction shift, that would only give you one meal at work (lunch).
If you know your day is going to be physically demanding, then it’s likely you will need to have at least a couple of extra snacks, around mid-morning and mid-afternoon, to keep your energy levels up.
Chocolate, crisps and biscuits might be a quick fix, but you can introduce healthier snacks too, like:
Skipping breakfast is never a good idea. And construction work on an empty stomach is an even worse one!
Construction work is dangerous. You need to be able to concentrate on the job at hand, not a rumbling stomach.
The Olympic Delivery Authority found that providing breakfast improved health and safety. They provided a healthy breakfast, and accident levels were reduced.
The workers were coming into work for three hours suffering really low blood sugar. We had canteens offering porridge for a £1 and accidents in the morning went down.
So don’t skip breakfast before you head to work!
Just like skipping breakfast is a bad idea, so is skipping meals, especially when your work is physically demanding.
Food is the fuel you need to get through a hard day’s work.
The food you eat can help keep you productive, alert, and even warm. And if you’re working in cold conditions and trying to survive a winter out on site, you need your fuel.
Try to eat every few hours. Having enough energy will help you stay productive, alert, and safe.
All construction sites need welfare facilities – it’s the law. And where you put your facilities can impact cost, productivity and convenience. Find out more in the best location for your construction site office and welfare facilities.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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