The members of the U.S. military's Special Operations Forces—elite teams like the Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces—are like the professional athletes you watch on TV, only the stakes of their life-or-death missions are much higher.
Like pro athletes, Spec Ops members must be mentally focused and physically ready to handle any challenge. Which is why these "warrior athletes" take their fueling as seriously as athletes in the NFL, MLB and NBA.
For proof of the critical importance of nutrition to members of Spec Ops, look no further than The Special Operations Forces Nutrition Guide, by Dr. Patricia Deuster. The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) commissioned Dr. Deuster to write the book, which is over 220 pages long.
Dr. Deuster shares three of the biggest fueling challenges Spec Ops soldiers face, along with tips on how to overcome them.
The Problem: Overtraining
Like endurance athletes, Spec Ops soldiers often push their bodies beyond the limits without leaving sufficient time to recover. Overtraining can lead to poor performance, fatigue, insomnia and injury.
Glycogen is the fuel that keeps your muscles going. Keep your glycogen levels high by fueling with carbohydrates four hours before training and refueling with carbs every 30 minutes until four hours after exercise. During times of intense activity, Dr. Deuster recommends getting 80 percent of your energy from carbs, 20 percent from protein and 0 percent from fat.
The Problem: Bad Habits
Given their hectic schedules and limited food choices, many soldiers fall into the "ine diet"—referring to caffeine, nicotine and vending machine. Over time, poor dietary habits can lead to performance issues, which cannot be resolved by a few days of "cramming" healthy nutrition.
If two or three options seem to offer the same nutritional value, always fuel up with real food instead of pre-packaged meals. For example, when travelling, plan ahead to bring snacks of fruits and nuts rather than protein bars. Keep your body ready during the off-season by adjusting your energy intake to 55 percent carbs, 20 percent protein and 25 percent fat.
The Problem: Heat
Spec Ops soldiers lug around hundreds of pounds of equipment in some of the most extreme conditions on the planet. If they're not careful, they can easily lose several pounds of body weight to sweat in a matter of hours. For a 150-pound man, a body weight loss of as little as four pounds can result in impaired decision-making and a 35 percent drop in physical performance.
Drink one to two cups of fluid every 30 minutes even if you don't feel thirsty. Bring snacks that replenish fluid, such as watermelon, oranges, strawberries and grapes. If you know you're going to be operating in scorching heat, make sure to consume more calories. In temperatures from 86 to 104 degrees, you need ten percent more calories to complete the same task.
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