In honor of Veteran’s Day, I wanted to do my first post from the Coach’s point of view on Nutrition for those of you serving in the Military. Let me first preface this by saying that I have been married to a Marine for over 10 years and have had interaction with the military as a spouse in social situations and as a trainer. I have so much respect for what our men and women in uniform do every day. I wanted to take the time to address some of the common issues/questions I get from military folks regarding nutrition and how to simplify it during their day.
So, to the Military guys/gals….
Kick the “energy” drinks to the curb. I get this question a lot, and it’s usually because of concern from someone that their Soldiers/Marines are fueling their day with Monsters and Red Bull. They are filled with sugar and will do you more harm than good. I know you are exhausted, and sleep can sometimes be tough to get, but focusing on dialing in the quality of the food you are eating will help alleviate a lot of that “crash and burn” feeling you get. Learn to drink coffee and tea instead (without the sugar or artificial sweeteners). These energy drinks aren’t only crappy because of the sugar content, but they are also inhibiting your ability to get sound sleep, think clearly, and cause heart burn/acid reflux, and a host of other GI issues.
Keep a food stash. I know that a ton of you are living in barracks and have teeny tiny fridges, no stove to cook on, and if you’re lucky, a microwave. You get the bulk of your food from a chow/mess hall and those operate on limited hours generally with a breakfast, lunch, and dinner being served and even more limited on the weekends. So, keeping a stash of food can come in handy. You can do really well with food that needs little to no refrigeration.
Food Stash Staple #1: Jerky – Keep a supply of jerky on hand. This can be in your barracks room, but also in your pack during the day. Try to get the brand with lower sodium/carb/sugar content.
Food Stash Staple #2: Nuts – No Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine should ever be without a can of nuts. Get them as natural as you can and roll with some almonds or cashews. I know they can be a little pricey, but they are cheaper at the commissary than they are off base, so stock up on payday. Many of you are putting out a lot of energy during the day, so this fat will help fuel you.
Food Stash Staple #3: Hard-boiled eggs – Most grocery stores will sell hardboiled eggs that are already cooked and peeled in a bag. “Egglands Best” makes them and sells them in bags of 6 and 12. Once opened, they must be used within 7 days, but this shouldn’t be tough to accomplish. It works well if you didn’t have time to get to the chow hall for breakfast or if you need a snack during the day.
Food Stash Staple #4: Sweet Potatoes – These are great to use in smaller quantities for your carb source. If you have a microwave handy, all you need is a sweet potato and some plastic wrap. Bundle the tater in the plastic wrap (don’t poke any holes in the wrap) and pop it in a microwave for about 7 mins (a little longer if it’s big). I recommend cutting it in half and eating half then and half later in the day or after your workout or a period of heavy physical output.
Food Stash Staple #5: Fresh Fruit – Oranges are easy to cart around and you can usually find an orange or an apple in the chow hall or 7 Day Store/Shoppette near the cash register. Eat the fruit in moderation, but keep some on hand as a better more quality choice than chips and cookies.
Pre-Make your snacks/meals – This can save you a ton of time. Take a handful of jerky, one or two handfuls of nuts, and throw them in a Ziploc bag. Pre-make a couple of these so that you have them ready to go. Then, all you have to do is grab a bag and maybe a piece of fruit and head out the door. If you feel like dropping some dough on it, you can buy a box of Paleo Snax, or Paleo Kits.
Know your chow/mess hall. It is not tough to eat well here. There is always a source of Protein, Carbohydrate, and Fat to be found within the walls of the chow hall. Stay away from the starches like rice, potatoes, and the bread basket. Go for the meat and veggies. If you don’t have your can of nuts handy, head over to the salad bar and grab a salad with some oil and vinegar on it or a full fat salad dressing (prefer the oil and vinegar). You don’t have to leave that place feeling guilty about your food choices. If you stick to the most natural unprocessed food there, then you can still make smart choices.
Avoid the “Food Court”. If you can’t avoid the food court, you can still make “smarter” choices there too. I know for a fact (because I’ve been a dependent for over 10 years) that you will find one or more of the following on any military installation when you visit a food court: Charley’s Steakery, Robin Hood (sandwiches), Popeye’s, Subway, Pizza Hut or Anthony’s Pizza, Taco Bell, Burger King. Stay away from Taco Bell, Pizza “anything”, and Popeye’s. Stick to the places where you can do a salad with meat, or meat only with veggies.
Teach your Junior Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to make smart choices. It is so important to lead by example here. At first, they will look at you like a weirdo for breaking out jerky, hard boiled eggs, nuts, etc… as a snack, but they will also be curious. This is your chance to affect their life in a positive way regarding their overall health and well being. It’s not about making them super athletes, but instead, keeping them from being overweight, foggy headed, and prone to sickness. Our military men and women need to know how to make smarter food choices because mentally and physically, their job depends on them being “On Point” all the time. Good nutrition can give them a mental clarity that they have never before experienced.