By: George McNeil, BS, NR-P, LP, ISO
Firefighters traditionally have not had the best nutrition and consequently our physical health has suffered because of it. The numbers alone prove that our physical well being has suffered due to a lack of proper nutrition. Statistically, 50% of all line of duty deaths every year are caused by heart disease. While nutrition can’t be blamed as the only factor driving this rate it plays a big part. Think of it like this, the human body is a machine — when you fuel the machine with junk it will run like junk, when you fuel the machine properly it will run like a formula one race car.
The answer to firefighter nutrition problems is not an overly complicated as some originally may have thought. In the first article in this series I talked about my struggles with yo-yo dieting and trying to find a way to get myself in shape: Enter flexible dieting. Flexible dieting is the solution for the hectic lives that we fire service and emergency service personnel have, because it allows us to be unencumbered by fad diets and lets us eat based on what our bodies needs to function. Fat, protein and carbohydrates are the three fuel sources that the human body needs to function. By adjusting the amount of each that you consume daily; you can modify your body composition and improve your performance.
The question you have to ask yourself now is: What do you want to do with your body?
Sadly, with all of the fad dieting that exists today, some people see the macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) and run screaming for the hills.
1. Carbohydrates are not necessarily bad for you; in fact carbs are the first source of fuel that the body needs to function, so adequate but appropriate carb intake is crucial.
2. Fat is not harmful to you either; it also does not necessarily “make you fat”. Fat provides a secondary source of energy for the body and also allows the body to digest certain fat soluble vitamins.
3. Protein is the most essential nutrient next to carbohydrates, because it is what the body uses to build and maintain muscle. When we as a tactical athlete’s train; we incur micro muscle tears and fatigue our muscles. The body breaks down the amino acid chains in the protein source and allows you to recover from those injuries.CAUTION: Don’t think that just because you are going to figure out your macros that you can still eat anything anytime. You still need to eat whole food sources and leafy greens to get other necessary nutrients. If you eat irresponsibly even though you’re watching your macros, the machine is still not going to function at optimum efficiency.
In the next flex nutrition article we will learn how to figure out your macros and talk about how to tweak your intake based on what your performance needs are and what your body composition goals are. We will also discuss some of the best ways to track what you eat and why it’s important to “listen” to what your body wants to eat as well.