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. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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