Nutritional Fitness | Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind
Think you might need to lose a little weight?
You’re not alone.
Even in the military, where maintaining physical fitness remains a job requirement and a key component of military readiness, thousands of service members struggle with weight.
But physical fitness is more than just a set of scores measuring your body-mass index, run times, or how many push-ups you can do. Optimizing your physical fitness starts with a combination of good diet, healthy lifestyle and exercise serving as the foundation for increased strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance.
Yet keeping a healthy body weight is correlated with all those components and is essential for long term health, fitness and personal readiness..
Among the first things that professional dieticians and nutritionists are likely to tell you is to avoid “fad diets“, like Keto, intermittent fasting, Paleo and others.
Many people attempt these diets as quick-fixes, but these diets may not be healthy or effective for long-term weight loss. For some people, these diets can fuel frustration because people try them and then revert to their old eating habits, gaining even more than their initial starting weight.
Fad diets can be severely restrictive; they’re not something patients can maintain long term, said Air Force Lt. Col. Tracy Snyder, the nutrition consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General at the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency, in Falls Church, Virginia.
Severely restricting a specific food group could be problematic.
“Once their diet goes back to baseline, they quickly regain any weight or body fat that they lost and potentially get into a negative cycle of weight loss, weight gain, weight loss, weight gain, from one extreme to the next,” Snyder said. “That’s how we end up with yo-yo dieting.”
In addition to not being healthy, that cycle fuels frustration and makes patients feel like they can’t achieve their goals and their efforts are pointless.
Consuming a balanced diet rich in nutrients can “help prevent stress fractures and other anomalies that prevent military personnel from being ready for duty,” said Army 1st Lt. Cara Adams, a registered dietitian and the chief of outpatient nutrition at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital in Missouri.
Good nutrition goes beyond just calories and protein, she pointed out. “Our bodies were created to absorb and use nutrients from whole foods.”
She suggested service members “start with the basics” by simply taking an honest look at what they eat and drink every single day. “Are you setting your body and your health up for success by consuming a variety of whole foods?” she asked.
Whole foods are foods that are not heavily processed or refined, like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, whole grains, meat, fish, and eggs.
“Unfortunately, our current food environment seems at odds with healthy eating,” she said. “The evolutionary discrepancy between our brain’s desire for calorie-dense foods to ensure survival and the ultra-processed food, sedentary living, and stressful lifestyle of today’s culture creates the perfect storm for constant cravings, weight gain, and poor health.”
Moreover, many fitness-oriented service members are focused more on cure-all dietary supplements rather than their core diet.
A good rule is to avoid any “diet” that is not truly stainable, Adams advised.
Many want quick fixes to weight loss. “They want to go vegan or vegetarian simply to lose weight, yet chicken and fish are their favorite foods. I remind patients that they do not have to completely eliminate any of their favorite foods to achieve their health goals. In fact, I encourage them not to.”
The most important goal is a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
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