Why should a soldier follow a sports diet? Just because you wear combat boots and fatigues instead of Nike® running shoes and Adidas® sports apparel doesn’t mean that the physical and nutritional needs of your bodies are much different. In fact, I would argue that a soldier demands even more from their body since your “playground” is not always climate controlled. You must face elements, natural and man-made, that other don’t.
Soldiers are Athletes and Benefit from a Sports Diet
Maintaining a body that is in training for sport or for military duty requires a sports diet that will keep you performing at optimal levels. There is a science to the relationship between what you put into your body through food and dietary supplements and how well your body responds when it needs to compete. If you fill yourself up with processed and “faux” food, then you’re likely to feel sluggish, run out of energy too quickly, and actually harm the vital organs and systems that you need to stay healthy.
Give your body what it needs, when it needs it, and in the quantities in requires based on your level of training, and you can expect it to respond right on queue.
Aren’t All Calories in a Military and Sports Diet Equal?
Some people may argue that food is food, and calories are calories. After all, there is a lot of misleading information out there that simply says that the key to losing or gaining weight is to simply take in fewer calories than you exert, or take in more than you need.
However, all calories are not created equal. And this is easily proven when you compare a sports diet with the Standard American Diet (SAD). Sorry guys, a 2000 calorie meal of greasy burgers, French fries and a shake is not going to give you the same kind of fuel as a 2000 calorie meal of almond crusted grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, baked sweet potato and side of wild rice.
And while most people think of muscle building when they talk about protein, according to Webmd.com there are more benefits to protein than that. “…a study of 130 U.S. Marines looked at intense exercisers who supplemented their diet with 10g of protein, 8g of carbohydrates, and 3g of fat. They had fewer infections, less heat exhaustion, and less muscle soreness…”
So it’s not just about calories. It’s about the nutritional density of those calories and how those nutrients work with or against you at a cellular level. Because of your unique military lifestyle, you don’t always have the luxury of going to the grocery store to choose the highest quality or organic items. Dietary supplements are sometimes necessary and for military training the over-the-counter brands may meet someone’s daily requirements…but they won’t always meet yours. Not everyone needs to be fortified against things like extreme climate conditions, altitude, possible exposure to radiation, sleep deprivation, and a list of other possibilities.
Military Grade Nutritionals is one line of dietary supplements available for your unique lifestyle. However, many elite athletes also benefit from the science of the military. Sharing of information between military research and sports nutrition benefits both populations (which often cross-over with military personnel who are athletes, and athletes who join the military).
For example, we are seeing collaboration between the NFL and the Military to study head trauma. This is in the equipment used such as sensors in helmets, as well as studying dietary supplements that may enhance brain health.
Let’s Talk About Protein in your Military and Sports Diet
The amount and type of protein recommended in a sports diet will vary depending on your sport or the type of training you are involved in. In general, it’s recommended that you take in protein within 30 minutes after a workout, that “window” where your muscles are most receptive. Over the counter protein drinks are easy enough to find. And supplementation with Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) is another option. Just know that all protein is not created equal.
What are the different kinds of proteins?
Milk Protein–this is a good high quality source of protein
Whey Protein – this is the protein that is found in milk. Because it can be absorbed quickly, it’s a good choice after an intense workout. Some may not be able to tolerate whey protein.
Casein Protein – this is the main protein in milk. It’s absorbed more slowly and could be the reason that some weight loss articles came out with the advice to drink milk right before bedtime to reduce belly fat. In a recent interview with Paul Cribb, PhD, he revealed that taking a slower acting protein source (casein) before going to bed at night can improve your post-exercise overnight protein balance.
Egg Protein – another good source of a high quality protein
Soy Protein – this is considered to be just as effective as any animal based protein. However, because of the added benefits of antioxidants, and because it’s plant-based, some prefer this over an animal-based protein.
And, of course…good ‘ole beef, chicken, and fish! Choosing meat with no hormones or chemicals added is the best choice.
The quality of the protein you’re consuming matters too. Some argue that as long as you’re eating protein, you’ll get what you need. It’s true; you have to get your essential amino acids through food or dietary supplements, because your body doesn’t produce these “essential” protein building blocks on its own. And studies show that the leucine content (EAA) in your protein is an indicator of the quality.
The myth is that consuming protein will result in muscle gain. This is just not exactly true. What is true is that your body’s ability to absorb protein will determine the fitness results you get. So it’s important to consume the right kind of protein at the right time to get the results you’re looking for.