Tactical Athletes should have a strategic approach to their dietary needs. When should the military member eat, what should the meal be, and how much should be consumed are all important questions when considering the caloric needs to optimize human performance in a tactical environment. Before during and after training; missions and recovery cycles the nutrient and caloric needs are varied but unfortunately only the most elite military units are given any training or direction on optimum nutrient timing and consumption regimen. Breaking down the times to eat and what to eat can be simplified by pre exercise, during exercise and post exercise as well as types of nutrients required.
Hydration is one of the few areas that get proper respect in the basic military training schools. Any military member you come in contact with will most likely be able to tell stories of forced hydration and constantly being told to drink water in basic training. Few service members are ever trained in how and how much water they should consume; generally they are just told more is better and are sent on their way. A test that has found to be useful in the athletic performance arena is the sweat load test, which is as follows:
- Weight your self on a scale in the nude before exercise and record.
- Exercise under the conditions you generally train or plan to execute a mission.
- After exercise re weight and note the difference in body weight.
You should not be losing more than 2% of your body weight between the beginning and end of your routine for performance optimization. If you lose more than 2% of total body weight then you are not consuming enough water during exercise to counter your sweat load. Contrary to what may have been trained in basic training consuming small amounts of fluid more often is better than large amounts at once.
Protein makes up a large number of the structure in the body and plays a major role in the performance of military personnel. The reasons protein use is so poor in the military setting are vast. Protein is expensive compared to other calorie sources and as such facing budget cuts the department of defense can replace high quality protein with low cost carbohydrates and improve the bottom line. The protein requirements of service members vary greatly from the sedentary administrative specialist to the hard charging infantry trooper. The Tactical Athlete can expect to use about 1 gram of protein per day, per pound of body weight this is and estimate but the math is made simple with this calculation. Proteins vary in type and use, from fast absorbing whey isolate to slow absorbing Casein as well as the very complete and digestible egg protein. Before training or a long mission it has been shown that small amounts of protein can be beneficial but large protein meals just before performance can actually hurt performance because of the digestive process requirements placed on the military member. After training or during the post mission recovery it is highly advised that protein is made available to help the rebuilding process and decrease the damage suffered by sustained exercise. Protein can only be absorbed at a moderate rate through out the day so it is vital that the protein intake of a top performing elite military member be spread out through the day for maximum effect.
Carbohydrates play a crucial role in all military pursuits from kicking in doors on the direct action assault to a giant soda that the UAV pilot drinks while remotely flying the drone for 12 hours. Unfortunately, carbohydrates have recently become very misunderstood in the arena of military fitness. An elite tactical athlete needs to understand that carbohydrates are a fuel used for all activity, even fat calories are burned on the fire fueled by carbohydrates. Not all carbohydrates are equal, just as a bowl of beans and spinach may have the same calories as a lollypop one also has the nutrients to help you recover and repair while the other is just empty calories. Pre mission fueling starts 24 hour before the mission, and 15 minutes before rolling out of the wire a 35 gram snack of carbohydrates has been shown to preserve 39 percent of muscle glycogen 90 minutes into the mission. When possible during patrols eat small amounts of carbohydrates from quality sources to maintain timing, speed, concentration, power, and tactical skills. Recovery should start as soon as you return to base and the 3 R’s should be included in your priorities of work; refuel, rehydrate and rest. As soon as possible after a big mission or training exercise the tactical athlete should consume about 1 gram of high glycemic index food per 2 pounds of body weight. It can take as many as 20 hours to replenish the glycogen stores in your muscles so it becomes very important for that military operator to focus on maintaining a good diet all the time. The timing of these carbohydrates is extremely important some carbohydrates are slow and some are very fast. Getting fast absorbing carbohydrates like brown rice is important when you are in a deficient states and slower carbohydrates like beans will give you a lasting boost in energy.
Dietary fats also play a critical role in the over all performance optimization of the tactical athlete. Fat remains in the stomach longer than proteins and carbohydrates and isn’t as readily absorbed into the blood. The long absorption time of fats and the fact that digestion is slowed during exercise minimizes the need for fat consumption directly before and during exercise. Saturated fat such as the fat found in bacon and coconut oil should be kept to a minimum while unsaturated fats such as fat from fish and olive oil are an important part of an athletes diet. Fat also contributes to a feeling of fullness and will help with satiating hunger. The best time to eat fats for a high performing athlete is well before exercise or the mission and sometime after completion of the mission because directly after mission your food priority should be protein and carbohydrates to recover more efficiently. This is not to say all fats should be avoided before mission on the contrary a half a peanut butter sandwich can go a long way to provide a feeling of fullness during the mission just remember to keep it small or you risk damaging your performance potential.
Vitamins and minerals do not in themselves provide energy for work and as such do not require specific timing to achieve the goal of performance optimization. The exception to the timing of vitamins and minerals is of course sodium potassium and other electrolytes that maintain the proper fluid balance for peak performance in an athletic and tactical setting. Vitamins and minerals are fat soluble or water soluble and getting the them with a meal will increase the over all uptake of these vital nutrients. Vitamins such as B vitamins help with metabolism and as such an active Tactical Performer may need slightly more than a sedentary counterpart.