Nutrient Timing for Military Performance
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; 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. Besides timing nutrition around training it is important to optimize nutrition for missions which is when performance really matters. 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.
Drinking adequate fluid may have a larger impact on performance optimization then any other single factor. With drill instructors forcing recruits to hydrate large water loads it is understandable that many military athletes don't know that drinking water over time is better absorbed than large amounts all at once. Water consumption is critical with respect to human performance optimization and should be monitored by the tactical athlete. A water utilization test can be administered to give insight into proper hydration practices.
1) get a pre exercise bodyweight without clothes and after urination.
2) exercise or conduct missions normally hydrating as one would normally.
3) get a post exercise weight also without clothes for a more accurate measurement.
Loss of 2% or more of total weight indicates improper hydration during exercise and water intake should be increased. Also indicated is that the natural thirst mechanism is either being ignored by the operator or it is failing to trigger a need for water until after the point where performance will suffer. Water plays an important role in all body metabolic functions so it is of paramount importance for military fitness.
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 an 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.
Fat consumed in the diet are vital to health and fitness in a service member. Consumption of fats should be long before a mission or training event. With respect to the pre deployment meal fat should be kept to very low levels like what one may get from half a peanut butter sandwich. A meal high in fat taxes the digestive system to a large degree and can sap performance. Some fats are absolutely essential such as the unsaturated fats found in fish which help with mental function and body structures. The low quality fats like those in lard and animal products should be eaten at a minimal amount. Fats become important in the military diet due to the fact that they help curb hunger and provide a feeling of fullness. The best time for fat consumption is well before performance requirements or well after refueling has started. When managing fat intake it is recommended that the sources be high quality like those found in nuts, avocados and olive oil with an avoidance of animal based fats. During mission or training their is no scientific finding that support fat consumption as a performance enhancement.
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.