Introduction to Nutrition

LAST UPDATED: August 31, 2022

The Professional Soldier Athlete

A Professional Soldier Athlete (PSA) is an expert and a volunteer certified in the profession of arms who constantly strives to improve one’s skills and abilities. A PSA is also totally fit—physically ready, nutritionally sound, mentally strong, and confident in their abilities and in those of the members of the team. The Army Operating Concept states, “The Future Army forces require the ability to identify, access, retain, and develop Soldiers with unsurpassed cognitive, physical, and social (moral-cultural) capabilities.” The Performance Triad is designed to fuel, enhance, and sustain human performance. Soldiers are like a complex weapons system. They need to understand both the performance benefits of positive nutrition behaviors and the loss of performance caused by poor nutrition habits.

Soldiers must perform and excel at a professional level, just like any world-class athlete. Performance is a word Soldiers hear frequently throughout their military careers. They are rated on performance in training, on the job, and on the Army Combat Fitness Test. Fueling for success optimizes Soldiers’ training and performance in combat or in garrison.

Transforming Soldiers into the most lethal weapon in the DoD arsenal requires “performance fueling” to maximize mental and physical performance and resiliency without compromising long-term health. Fueling for performance enables top-level training, increases energy and endurance, shortens recovery time between activities, improves focus and concentration, and helps Soldiers look and feel better.

Soldiers are our most complex weapons. Eating or fueling for performance enables top level training, increases energy and endurance, shortens recovery time between activities, improves focus and concentration, and helps Soldiers look and feel better.

Nutrition for performance

The quality and quantity of food you eat plays a role in your physical, mental, and emotional performance in the gym, during the mission, at home, and everywhere in between. Premium fuel gets you premium results.

Performance fueling requires “nutrient rich meals” and builds on nutritional fitness. Eating nutrient-rich foods supports muscle growth, recovery, tissue repair, immune function, and will improve mental and physical performance. In addition, good nutrition can help Soldiers maintain an appropriate weight and help reduce the risk of chronic disease. By eating the right balance and variety of foods, Soldiers will get all the nutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals) they need for performance and health.

Another component of performance fueling is “nutrient timing,” which applies to the tactical timing of fuel (nutrients and fluids) matching the work performed. Eating regular meals along with pre/post training (exercise) fueling helps your brain and muscles receive the energy they need to perform at their best.

Performance benefits of optimal nutrition

  • Enable you to train and perform at your top level
  • Increase your energy
  • Increase your endurance
  • Shorten your recovery time between activities
  • Enable you to stay calm
  • Increase your motivation
  • Improve mental and physical performance
  • Prevent chronic disease like diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Help maintain appropriate weight

Just as it takes weeks or months to build your strength and endurance, nutritional fitness is the result of consistently good eating habits. An ideal eating plan supports you through daily activities and exercises and incorporates the correct type and amount of food. Eating plans will also take your personal eating habits (how often, how fast, and how consistently you eat) into consideration.

The physiology of refueling after exercise

Exercise is catabolicit breaks things down. Energy is used, and micro-tears occur in the muscle. The recovery phase is the anabolic or building phase. During this phase, you recover what was used (muscle is refueled, repaired, and built). Exercise and proper recovery nutrition make the body stronger through this breaking down and building-up process.

During the recovery phase, hormone levels (like testosterone) are in the right combination and at the right levels to help the body’s rebuilding and refueling process. If the body is not refueled during this phase (30–60 minutes after a workout), recovery will take longer, performance will be degraded, and it will negatively impact the next day’s performance. Repeatedly missing this recovery window will limit your performance gains.

How to get started with performance nutrition

  1. Learn what foods and eating habits contribute to optimal performance
  2. Evaluate your food choices
  3. Build a performance nutrition plan that fits your schedule, physical activities, food availability, and preferences
  4. Know what barriers are preventing you from eating right and how to overcome them

General nutrition tips:

  • Fuel your engine. Eat enough calories to be lean and energetic but not gain undesired body fat. Your body needs enough calories to support your minimum health requirements (called the resting metabolic rate). You can estimate this calorie need by taking your weight in pounds and multiplying by 12 (for men) or 11 (for women). Then add the calories needed for daily activities and exercise to estimate your total for the day.
  • Eat carbohydrates (especially complex carbohydrates). They are your body’s first choice for energy.
  • Choose healthy fats in moderation: they are good for your heart, your cholesterol levels, and your overall health. Too much of the bad fat feeds your fat cells, not your muscles or brain.
  • Fine tune your protein intake: enough, but not too much. Protein is required to support growth, repair, and maintenance of body tissue. Studies have shown that you can only absorb about 20–30 grams of protein at a time.
  • Stay hydrated with water to maintain body fluid levels.
  • Plan for 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. Try not to skip meals or go more than 4–5 hours without refueling.
  • Escape the rut: eat a variety of foods to get a balance of nutrients.
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