This is a question that we hear over and over again. One of the reasons that individualized, online coaching works with military athletes is because they are constantly moving from base to base, on course, on deployment, in the field and on leave.
On a good day, it can be difficult to control your nutrition when the meals provided on base can be less than ideal. This only gets worse when in the field or on deployment. Although many soldiers resign to eating what food is provided, you don’t have to be at the mercy of the rations when it comes to hitting your nutrition goals.
Some of the issues with the rations that militaries typically provide their soldiers is that the meals are typically:
High in processed carbohydrates
Low in Protein
Not enough healthy fats
When looking at the issues there are two options: do nothing or do something. If you aren’t motivated to do something, we can’t help you. If you are looking to improve your situation, below are a list of foods you should bring with you to keep your nutrition on track while on deployment or out in the field.
Sources of Carbohydrates
The issue with the carbohydrates sources provided with military rations is not the quantity, but almost always the quality. Highly processed carbohydrates are great at delivering calories to your body fast and cheap – ideal from the military’s perspective. Conversely, this can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Below are some alternatives to the carbohydrate sources provided in rations.
Dried Fruit: This is a favourite as it provides a high quality food that is light weight and required no preparation. Dried fruits can be bought in stores with some of the more common fruit being: banana, apricot, raisins or mangos. When shopping for these its essential that you get unsulfured dried fruit, this will be specified on the packaging.
Instant Oatmeal: If you are mechanized or in a more stable position with access to electricity bringing some non sweetened, instant oatmeal can be a great alternative to some of the more processed carbohydrates offered with rations.
Dark Chocolate (85-90% cocoa): Dark chocolate has been shown to be a relatively healthy way to boost energy and increase alertness. This is a huge benefit for an hour or so after a meal with a lot of simple carbohydrates and the food coma sets in.
Sources of Protein
Opposite to carbohydrates, the next biggest issue is ensuring that you bring enough protein. The body has a pool of amino acids from which it pulls to rebuild broken down muscle tissue. If protein intake is reduced the body will break down healthy muscle tissue to rebuild broken muscle tissue. Think of it as tearing down the wall of your house to cover the windows during a storm – not productive. Adequate protein intake will prevent this. A good rule of thumb for improving performance is to ensure that your body is never wanting for protein.
Beef Jerky: Jerky is a lightweight source of protein that requires zero preparation and can actually be quite tasty. When shopping for jerky ensure that you buy products without soy in it. Soy has been shown to have the potential to increase estrogen levels within the body, which for us is a bad outcome.
Protein Powder: Hands down one of the easiest protein delivery systems is your basic whey protein powder. When looking for protein to bring to the field with you there is no need to spend hundreds of dollars on protein with glutamine and BCAAs and other additives. In this instance protein powder is a simple way of ensuring you get enough protein into you. A simple way to bring protein powder is just in a zip log bag or, if you want to spend the money, these Power Towers from MyProtein are pretty handy. If you are intolerant or sensitive to dairy products, beef protein can be bought from True Nutrition.
Sources of Fat
As combats athletes are aerobic athletes due to their work demands, proper fat intake is essential for performance, energy and a consistent hormonal profile.
Sunflower Seeds: Seeds are a great source of fat. Seeds are lightweight and on top of that actually can help pass the time during some more mundane parts of the day. When looking to buy any seeds look to buy the unsalted variety.
Macadamia Nuts: Nuts of all varieties can add some healthy fat and protein to your diet and can help stay hunger in between bigger meals. As with seeds, look to buy unsalted nuts.
What To Eat When You Return From The Field
When a combat athlete returns from the field, especially if they were only eating their rations, odds are that their guts are sending them some “please stop feeding me crap” messages. A very simple way to counter this is to cut your carbohydrate intake to 100-120g of carbs per day. Oftentimes people think of caloric intake as a 12:00am – 11:59pm intake period. However, if your body has excess carbohydrate stores then it is alright to cut your carbohydrate intake so that those stores get used up and allow you to return to a normal level. Depending on how long you have been in the field, this carbohydrate depletion period could last from 1-3 days. You will know when you are back to normal because the bloated feeling will no longer be there in your guts.