Filed under: Fueling
Many people only think about performance nutrition in terms of what to eat just before or after a competition. However, the effect of nutrition on your training and performance starts long before. Performance nutrition really begins during training, when you consistently fuel your body with the proper amounts and kinds of calories and nutrients. The nutrition information in this article is meant to provide a solid foundation to help you train for sporting events, military operations, training events, or rucks lasting longer than 60 minutes. Read more...
One of the best but most-overlooked ways to prepare for your Physical Fitness (PFT) or Physical Readiness Tests (PRT) is to make sure your body is well fueled. Proper fuel and a good workout strategy can get you ready to take on the challenge!
- Keep hydrated. Drinking enough fluids will help your body function at its highest level. These amounts can vary depending on weather and location. Don’t restrict drinking water because you’re worried about weigh-in. This can backfire at test time.
- Eat something light. You’ll need enough fuel to perform well, but too much can slow you down. Proper fuel should come from a high-carbohydrate source about 200–300 calories such as cereal, fruit, and milk. Or a slice of whole-wheat bread with egg or nut butter. Yogurt and fruit are nourishing pre-test snacks too. And try to eat 30–60 minutes before your PFT/PRT, if possible.
- Avoid trying new foods. Try new bars, chews, gels, or other foods during training, but not before your test because you could experience gastrointestinal upset. Give yourself time to use the bathroom before too.
Daily exposure to cold weather increases your nutritional needs. But if you only PT outside for an hour or so a day, workout in a gym, and spend the rest of your time indoors, your daily food and fluid needs don’t change much—even when it’s cold outside. If you’re training in the cold for long periods of time, such as during field deployment or cold weather operations, here are a few ways to help maintain peak performance:
- Calories. Moving through snow and icy terrain while wearing heavy gear causes your body to use more energy. Consume three to four standard MREs or three MCW/LRP rations per day to meet your energy needs. (At times you may have to force yourself to eat.)
- Carbohydrates. Carbs are your body’s first choice for energy. When your caloric needs increase, you’ll need to eat more carbs. Be sure to eat high-carb foods such as rice, noodles, bread, First Strike Bar, fruit or sports bars, crackers, granola, pretzels, and carb-fortified drink mixes from your MRE or MCW/LRP rations. Store snacks in your pockets so you can fuel on the go, between meals, and before bed.
- Hydration. Yes, you can still get dehydrated in the cold. Cold temperatures increase your fluid loss through increased urine output, breathing, and sweating (due to insulated clothing and intensity and duration of exercise). Fuel with fluids (excluding alcohol) even when you’re not thirsty. Make sure to monitor your hydration status by checking your urine color.
Remember, this isn’t the time to start a new diet (such as a low-carb diet) or lose weight, so fuel up to perform well.
Getting the right nutrients at the right time can give you the edge you need when it comes to performance. Are you drinking the right kind of beverage to keep you hydrated? Do you know what to eat after a workout to optimize your recovery? Find answers to these questions and more in HPRC’s FAQS: Fueling for Performance.
And while you’re there, be sure to check out our other Nutrition FAQs for more answers to common questions we’ve received about nutrition.
Training for a marathon or some other endurance event? Building your endurance—by making the right nutrition choices—can make the difference between failure and success. HPRC’s performance nutrition strategies—“Going the distance”—provide the information you need to know what and when to eat for endurance.
If you limit carbohydrates and underfuel your body, your performance may suffer. Carbs feed the working muscles and help maintain blood sugar. In addition, carbs help you recover after a difficult workout or mission.
Underfueling by limiting carbohydrates can be intentional—when limiting calories, avoiding gluten, or losing weight. Or you may be limiting carbs unintentionally if you are unsure how many carbs to eat or if you’re are skipping meals or snacks due to limited time or money. And female warriors are more susceptible to under-fueling.
So what type of carbs should you be eating? Properly fuel your body by filling your plate two-thirds to three-fourths with carbs such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and dairy. Choose a variety of fruit and vegetables to maximize vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Whole-grain breads, grains, and pastas provide more performance-boosting nutrients than white-flour and refined versions. Low-fat dairy products contribute carbs along with protein and calcium.
Carbohydrate needs differ depending your activity, type of exercise, and intensity, and your calorie needs and may change from day to day. For more information on carbohydrate needs before, during, and after activities, see HPRC’s An Athlete's Guide to Everyday Nutrient Timing.
Keep on eye on your weight and performance to help you determine if you’re taking in too few carbs. If you’re losing weight without trying or find yourself having trouble performing at your best, you may be underfueling. For more personalized recommendations on carbohydrate intake, visit a registered dietitian.