Fit To Fight: Nutrition Lessons From Military Deployment

Whether civilian or military, business or pleasure, every travel experience brings unique challenges to fitness and nutrition.  KINETICOACH Co-Creator Brent discusses nutrition lessons from his recent military deployment. 

“A military deployment presents several challenges to nutrition and health.  Many things can rapidly derail the best fitness routines—many of which we can’t control.  Time zone changes, sleep schedules, and available equipment are frequently out of our control.  And at first glance, nutrition seems out of our hands too.  But after several military deployments, one thing is clear:  it’s absolutely possible to eat a healthy diet during even the most difficult travel situations.

The quality of food choices at deployed military locations has improved in the past decade, but still presents challenges.  While deployed, here’s how I structure meals to stay fit to fight*:           

  • Build meals around Protein first.  Whether eggs, chicken, beef, turkey, or seafood, select your protein first. The quantity of protein varies from person to person, but for the average individual, a serving approximately the size for your fist (or slightly larger) is appropriate.  A common pitfall for soldiers and airmen is to consume much more protein than they need. because they have multiple servings at meals (5-8 eggs for breakfast, 2-3 chicken breasts for lunch, etc.).  Stick to the fist-size rule as a starting point.
  • Fill your plate or bowl with veggies.  Just like mom used to say, “have something green on your plate.”  Military dining facilities (DFACs) always have an abundance of veggies to choose from.  Variety is critical to preventing boredom, so pick multiple colors and types of veggies and root vegetables.
  • Select appropriate fat sources and quantities.  Fat, is not a dietary “enemy,” and eating it with meals is necessary.  However, its easy to over consume fat at DFACs because they cook with industrial oils (including the veggies), and you can literally have all the bacon you want.   At first, add only small quantities of healthy fats (olives, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds), and choose from leaner protein sources (chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef).  If you leave a meal and are hungry 1-2 hours later, then consider adding a bit more fat.  Beware hyperpalitable fat sources that lead to excess calories (bacon, salted nuts, pastries)

Service members don’t always have the luxury of extreme nutritional precision while deployed. Caloric needs are dependent on activity level; some military duties demand much more output and will demand more calories.  But by following these rules for structuring meals, eating only when hungry, and stopping a meal when full, most will get the right amount of calories and nutrients for their activity level and dietary needs.

Overeating during deployment is often a result of boredom and loneliness combined with snack foods available on demand.  DFACs are like 24-hour gas stations -- filled with cookies, chips, ice cream, cake, sodas, energy drinks, and candy -- 300 feet from your house, and everything is free. You can imagine routinely convincing yourself you’re hungry and walking to that gas station.  The convenience of DFACs demands constant self-control and self-awareness.

Quality of life during a military deployment is critical, and I encourage people to have sweets sometimes--sometimes being the key word. I recommend planning one meal, on one day of the week, to treat yourself with a specific snack.  It gives you something to look forward to and provides structure to avoid using snacks as a cure for boredom throughout the week.

A military deployment is the perfect opportunity to establish or continue healthy eating patterns. With self-awareness, structure, and a game-plan at each meal, you move beyond “damage control,” and set yourself on the path to maintain or increase your overall health and wellness."

*This does not account for dietary restrictions due to health issues.  Always contact your physician or a registered dietician for your personal nutrition needs.