By Jenna Stedman, MS, RD, CSSD – Tactical Dietitian and O2X On-Site Specialist (Massachusetts National Guard)
The nutritional needs of the tactical athlete are, at their core, very similar to regular humans. That said, tactical athletes do have additional requirements due to their higher work demands.
Essentially, everyone requires good foundational nutrition, and the tactical population also requires good operational nutrition habits. A few challenges tactical athletes may face when trying to get the proper nutrition include: not choosing the proper nutrients, not eating enough, and not eating and hydrating consistently throughout the day. The best practice in fueling for performance is to focus on the quality, quantity, and timing of nutritional patterns.
Here are a few “hacks” to help tactical athletes properly fuel their bodies.
Hack #1: Hydration reminders
I always say that a hydrated body is a happy body. Just a 1% loss in body weight from sweating can negatively impact performance. Many of the tactical athletes I have worked with do very well setting reminders on their phones or on their watch that cue them to drink water every hour or every two hours. This is an easy tool to help train your mind to remember to drink enough daily.
Hack #2: Keep an eye on fiber content
Fiber is one nutrient we can only get from carbohydrate-rich foods, and it works wonders for the body. If you are looking for longer and sustained energy during the day, aim to include foods that are higher in fiber in each meal and snack. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend about 30g of fiber daily for adults. We have evidence to support even more health benefits from eating well above that amount. Try to make at least half of your daily grain choices whole grains. Aim for at least a third to a half of your meal to be fruits and/or vegetables. Try adding beans to more of your meals. Bonus – fiber-rich foods also help to support a leaner body composition and can help to lower cholesterol levels.
Hack #3: Two food group snacks
This means instead of eating just one food group at your snack, increase the nutrients by eating at least two food groups. For example, eating an apple is great, but adding peanut butter is even better. This is a great way to help you get enough calories each day. Eating two food groups ensures you get more nutrients than if you were to eat just one. It is even better if you can make a snack with some fiber and protein; this will help keep you fuller. On days when you are training, and your protein needs are higher than on rest days, protein-rich snacks can help you meet those needs.
Hack #4: Pairing foods
Some nutrients help the absorption of other nutrients. Vitamin C helps us absorb iron. Try a little lemon juice to sprinkle on and flavor the beans. Vitamin D helps with calcium. Look for fortified foods that list both vitamin D and calcium on the nutrition facts panel or mushrooms with dark leafy greens. Dietary fat helps us absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Try using a little olive oil on salad or roasted vegetables. If you are eating most food groups at each meal, then you are probably pairing food well already.
Hack #5: Always be prepared.
This simply means looking ahead at what is coming up and planning for it. Keep non-perishable snacks in your vehicle or on your desk. Trail mixes, granola bars, dried fruit, and peanut butter pretzels have been favorites of my tactical athletes. Doing so can help you be prepared in case you find yourself without a meal or needing a snack before or after training. Cooking large batches of grains, proteins, or vegetables for the week can also help set you up for success. There are a lot of versions of meal prepping that could work well for you as well.
There are a lot of nutrition hacks on the internet that may or may not be necessary for everyone. The bottom line is that we need to be eating and drinking enough during the day before we worry about the details of our nutrition pattern. Aim to include more whole foods, as they are the most nutrient-dense. Be sure that you are eating and drinking enough each day to fuel the work that you are doing. Think about the timing of your meals and snacks, so you are fueling consistently during the day. As always, if the resource is available, working with a tactical dietitian can help dial in your nutrition goals.
About O2X On-Site Specialist Jenna Stedman
Jenna Stedman is an O2X Nutrition Specialist currently working with the Massachusetts National Guard Holistic Health and Fitness (Warrior FIT) program. Prior to this, she worked with the Indiana National Guard’s H2F Team to develop tactical-specific medical nutrition therapy protocols. Jenna has helped hundreds of Soldiers reach their ACFT goals, achieve their desired body composition, and prepare to fuel for schools and field trainings. Jenna received her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics and Nutrition Science from the University of New Hampshire and her Masters in Nutrition and Human Performance from Logan University. She completed her Dietetic Internship at the White River Junction VA Medical Center and is a candidate for her Doctorate in Clinical Nutrition from Kansas University Medical Center, expecting to finish her research and graduate in 2023.
About O2X Human Performance:
O2X Human Performance provides comprehensive, science-backed programs to hundreds of public safety departments, federal agencies, and the military. O2X works with clients to elevate culture, improve mental and physical wellbeing, support healthy lifestyles, and reduce healthcare costs associated with injuries and illnesses. Driven by results and cutting edge research, O2X programs are designed and delivered by a team of Special Operations veterans, high level athletes, and hundreds of leading experts in their respective fields of human performance.
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