Why does nutrition matter for military athletes?
Nutrition is an important tool that can help you with your fitness. In addition to overall health benefits, eating better can help you get more out of your workouts. When your goal is to get as fit as possible, it’s important to examine the different areas that can help you achieve that. In addition to overall enhanced performance, proper nutrition has several other benefits:
- Injury Prevention and Recovery: Military athletes are susceptible to injuries due to the strenuous nature of their activities. Optimal nutrition plays a crucial role in injury prevention and recovery. Consuming adequate protein helps repair damaged tissues, while nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium support bone health. Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables aid in reducing inflammation and promoting faster recovery. This is part of the reason that proper eating in the months before really strenuous events like Ranger School help your body better prepare for those challenges ahead.
- Mental Resilience: Military athletes often face challenging situations that require mental fortitude and focus. Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidants contribute to cognitive function, memory, and mental well-being. A balanced diet that includes these nutrients can enhance mental resilience, decision-making abilities, and overall cognitive performance.
- Body Composition and Weight Management: Maintaining an optimal body composition is crucial for military athletes, as excess body fat can impede performance and increase the risk of injury. Proper nutrition, combined with appropriate training, helps achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, optimize muscle mass, and minimize body fat.
- Sustained Energy Levels: Military operations can be physically and mentally demanding, requiring sustained energy throughout the day. Proper nutrition, including a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, provides a steady release of energy, prevents fatigue, and optimizes performance during prolonged missions or training exercises.
- Mental and Emotional Well-being: Military athletes face high levels of stress, both during training and active duty. Proper nutrition can positively impact mental and emotional well-being by supporting the production of neurotransmitters and hormones involved in mood regulation. Adequate intake of nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, and magnesium can help promote a stable mood and reduce the risk of mental health issues. When we feel good, we can train our best!
Based on all of the above, nutrition is very important. But when you’re new to it, it can seem overwhelming. The goal of this blog is to give you a starting point to begin improving your nutrition. This blog doesn’t offer a complete solution, but that’s okay. We typically see people fail when they try to go from zero to attempting to eat perfect.
Match your fuel intake to your energy output. As you work out longer or harder, you’ll need to eat more as a result. Calories, by definition, are units of energy. The key is to match your calorie intake with your calorie expenditure. Meeting your energy needs will allow your body to recover effectively from workouts and train harder in the future. If you start to add a couple workouts per week, you may have to increase your calorie intake to support that.
So, what does eating to match your training look like? Here are three examples of how you can fill your plate based off your activity level.
Protein helps you feel full. It’s important for growth and maintenance of muscle, fluid balance, and for biochemical reactions in the body. Choose lean protein options like chicken, turkey, beef, pork, fish, or eggs. If you’re vegetarian, there are other protein-rich foods like low-fat dairy products, soy-products, beans, plant-based protein powders, lentils, nuts, or seeds that are good options. Protein should always make up around a quarter of your meal.
Fruits and Vegetables:
Fruits and vegetables are a necessary part of any healthy diet. They contain important vitamins, minerals, and fiber which are essential to good health. Plants produce antioxidants which help keep the immune system strong and can lessen muscle soreness after hard workouts. These should be a part of your diet no matter how much or how little you are exercising.
Starchy Carbohydrates provide your body with energy for exercise. These come from foods like bread, pasta, rice, cereals, and vegetables like potatoes, peas, and corn. As you train longer and harder, your body requires more starchy carbohydrates to fuel your exercise. So, as exercise increases, so will the amount of starchy carbs you’ll need to consume. These foods also contain many important nutrients like B vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These foods should never be completely left out from your diet, even on rest days. The amount you'll need will fluctuate based off your activity level.
Dehydration can negatively affect exercise performance in several ways. Heart rate increases in an effort to supply working muscles with oxygen. Sweat rate decreases, meaning your body is less able to effectively cool itself. This leads to an increase in core body temperature, putting the body at risk of heat injury. While dehydrated, it becomes more difficult to exercise at the same intensity. To account for this, your body will run through its high-intensity fuel stores (glycogen) more quickly. All these factors lead to a decrease in strength, decrease in work capacity, and early onset of exhaustion.
Go into your workouts well hydrated. Keep a water bottle close by that you can drink from. If you’re doing a longer workout (60+ min), a challenging cardio session, or exercising in the heat, it may be helpful to use a sports drink that provides simple sugars and salt. These drinks help keep you hydrated for longer and replace what you’re losing through sweat.
After your workout, it’s important to kickstart your body’s recovery. Drink enough fluids to get back up to your pre workout weight. Help your body recover faster by having a recovery drink like chocolate milk or a smoothie with Greek yogurt.
Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on supplements hoping to improve their health. While supplement claims seem promising, most supplements aren’t well regulated and may even contain harmful ingredients.
Supplements should be just that, supplements. They have less of an impact on health and performance than your overall diet. In most cases, it’s better to save your money. You’ll see a bigger return from focusing on other aspects like proper nutrition, sleep, and stress management.
Blue / Green Training designs comprehensive fitness guides for military athletes. Our goal is to enable success and capture potential. Our guides include carefully designed fitness programming and explanations to help our athletes understand the concepts behind it all - something we haven't seen anywhere else. We inspire confidence in our athletes by teaching them effective physical training so they can continue their progress after our programming ends. We guarantee you'll get value from our material.
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