Top 5 Nutrition Tips for Army Soldiers

We live in extremely demanding times.  Let’s face it, most days there are just not enough hours in the day to get everything done.  Finding the time to hit the gym or running track often gets pushed to the side as we deal with work deadlines, our children’s soccer game or any other number of things.  As leaders and Soldiers, we must maintain the Army standard…this means passing your APFT and your Height and Weight standard.  As time becomes a precious commodity, we often load our bodies full of sugary drinks, fast food and other indulgences that make us feel rewarded for our hard work.  As we step up to take the challenge to do PT every day, here are my Top 5 Nutrition tips to ensure that you remain a lean, mean, fighting machine.

#5. Skip the Alcohol: We all enjoy a drink, especially after a long, hard day.  However, drinking alcohol significantly impairs your performance.  Alcohol is bad because it decreases growth hormone and Testosterone production, (these are hormones critical for muscle growth and development), increase storage of body fat, increases cravings for fatty foods, increases protein breakdown and dehydrates your body.  Now, I am not of any illusion that this is difficult for some so if you must drink: Drink a glass of water between drinks to stay hydrated, avoid mixing liquor with juice, soda, or tonic water to avoid extra calories (Stick with clear liquors (i.e. Vodka) and mix with diet sodas or Club Soda), choose light beers instead of regular or dark beers.

#4. Stop Drinking Sugary Drinks and DRINK WATER!: Soda (yes, even DIET), juices, coffees and our Soldier’s favorite ENERGY drinks are LOADED with sugars and high fructose corn syrup.  This type of simple sugar is metabolized by the body and almost instantly transformed into fat.  Diet sodas are full of sugar “alternatives” which seem healthy, but in reality, are chemicals that are not natural.  The best thing you can do for your body and waistline is cut out these drinks.  Drink water! Even mild dehydration can reduce your physical and mental performance. Water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. Every system in your body depends on water. Water flushes toxins out of vital organs and carries nutrients to your cells. Drink at least 2 liters a day!

#3. To boost energy, consume complex carbohydrates such as fruits and whole grains: We all feel the effects of a decrease in energy.  Typically we reach for that “5 Hour Energy” or cup of coffee, but we all know that doesn’t last and often make us feel worse than before.  No, the answer to long lasting energy lies in what foods you are putting into your body.  Complex carbohydrates are the best sources of energy for our bodies.  Our bodies take longer to metabolize these complex carbs and as a result, they are there for us to burn.  Try simple things like eating a hearty whole grain bread rather than the white Wonder Bread.  Eat a sweet potato rather than a standard one.  Reaching for a candy bar? Grab an apple or mango instead.

#2. Respect Your Body After Exercise: After exercise your body is working hard to rehydrate, to store carbohydrates for your next workout, to repair fatigued muscles and to reduce inflammation to promote recovery from exercise. Make sure that you eat a solid meal after your work our that focuses on unprocessed and colorful foods to make a balanced recovery.  Ensure that your post-workout meal contains plenty of protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins/minerals and of course, fluids!

#1. Take Twice as Long to Eat Half as Much: an old saying that I ran across that actually makes some sense.  Quite often we are rushed when we eat.  We do not properly chew our food and therefore, our bodies do not properly digest that food.  When rushed we also often eat until we feel full (and by that point we have over eaten).  You would be surprised how many calories you can consume in the time it takes you to “feel” full.  Display some discipline and reduce your portion sizes.  Try eating 4-6 small meals throughout the day rather than 3 huge meals.  Slow down and actually enjoy the food you are eating.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Because a Soldier’s level of physical fitness has a direct impact on his or her readiness, a Soldier in the Army must be mentally and physically fit.  It is important that Soldier-athletes eat well-balanced meals and remain hydrated in order to achieve optimal health and performance. Following these 5 simple tips can help improve our physical readiness and performance.  As a leader, I urge you do research on nutrition and become familiar with all the nutritional information and resources the Army offers.  Educate your Soldiers and help them make good choices!  And, make a few yourself…

Do you have any added advice? Any questions? Please post them below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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22 thoughts on “Top 5 Nutrition Tips for Army Soldiers”

  1. These are all good tips, especially the one about the sugary drinks. My downfall is my gigantic mug of coffee in the morning. Or should I say, the gigantic mug of cream and sweetener with some coffee poured on top. I drink alcohol rarely, but I do not exercise as much as I should. As I get older, I need more and more exercise to maintain, yet I have less and less time to do so. One thing on this list that I could do is eat more slowly. Having three active children, I find that most of my lunches consist of whatever I can get my hands on, and then bolt down as I am racing from one place to the next.

    1. Being on the go and busy all the time definitely doesn’t help much. I also agree that the creamer and sugar in the coffee isn’t the healthiest thing to do, especially if you use a lot of it.

  2. I love where one of the comments stated, “This isn’t rocket science.” It is so true, just stay away from those fast food drive thrus, eat and drink properly and exercise and you will be fine. Personally, I have never had a weight problem, and I eat like a hog at times, but I eat healthy and do exercise.

    Just some healthy suggestions for you: fruits and vegetables need to be a huge part of your diet. Since moving to Puerto Rico, I practically live off bananas, papaya, mangoes, plantains, oranges, and the many root vegetables they grow here. I feel healthier than I did when I was 30.

    I just have to ask though. You mentioned coffees are loaded in sugars. In all my searching I don’t find that, unless we add sugar to it. I guess I am defending myself since I am a coffee addict, and man oh man, this Puerto Rico coffee is the best.

    Great post.

  3. The thing about staying in shape ultimately comes down to eating healthy and having a regular exercise program. It’s not rocket science. Most people simply don’t have the discipline to eat healthy and workout on a regular basis. It can be tempting with all the fast food restaurants and all the junk food in the grocery stores.

  4. My best nutrition advice is to eat healthy. Most Americans eat a horrible diet and are borderline malnourished. You need to eat three healthy meals a day and eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. It’s also a good idea to supplement your diet with a multi-vitamin.

    1. I agree that most Americans have a horrible diet, especially with all the processed foods and junk foods. You can’t go wrong by eating more fruits and vegetables and taking supplements.

  5. For nutrition, eat three healthy meals a day, avoid the junk food, and try to eat lots of fruits and veggies. Do all things in moderation.

  6. Amy Skalicky

    I am glad you mentioned respecting your body and proper nutrition. What you do before and after your workout is just as important at the workout itself. While some find it tempting to subscribe to the “more is more” philosophy, it is imperative to take days off and allow your body to recover. Recovery is critical to the building of muscle–working out tears it down and recovery allows it to repair and build. Proper nutrition provides the fuel for the entire process. The emphasis is on “proper” and refraining from overdoing it on some things, like protein, and skimping on others, like the fruits and vegetables. Balance is key.

    1. Good points, Amy. The bottom line is that we all need a game-plan and the discipline. You can run on the treadmill for hours each day and not lose any weight or improve your fitness. You need to mix things up, eat right, rest when needed, and have some type of plan to follow.

  7. Katelyn Hensel

    The sugary drinks thing is the one that trips me up. I’m addicted to soda. True, it’s diet and so has “no calories” but it still contains plenty of chemicals and fillers that aren’t exactly healthy for me to be consuming, particularly on the level that I consume them. I drink at least 5 cups of soda per day (including at meals, and as a drink at my desk) Soda has become a staple instead of the treat that it used to be, and drinking soda (or juices, energy drinks, etc) instead of water is a hard habit to break, but a healthy one.

    1. Quitting soda was one of the hardest things I ever did. Most people consume a large percentage of their daily calorie intake from soda and other sugary drinks. It’s really sad. Add in the caffeine and you definitely have a recipe for failure, especially if you are trying to lose weight or get in shape.

  8. These are actually some great tips that if applied really work. From personal experience I can tell you that simply drinking water, removing the sugar from my diet, and eating slower allowed me to shed almost 20 pounds in two weeks without any additional exercise.

    On a separate note I noticed that by drinking 1/2 my weight in water each day I not only felt better but my headaches were significantly reduced in frequency and intensity.

  9. The “taking longer to eat half as much” is a gem. Chewing is a key for me. It reminds me to actually taste the food and seems to give the brain time to realize that I’m eating. Rehydrating after exercise is essential, but so is hydrating during a workout. Maybe not technically a “nutrition” tip, but giving up smoking has to be somewhere on any good health list. I ran competitively while still a smoker but watched my times improve drastically after giving up the smoke habit.

    1. Good points, Larry. I eat really fast and pay the price for doing so. When I quit smoking on December 20, 1999 I immediately gained about 20 lbs and have battled with that extra weight for years. When I smoked, I could run like the wind blows. I’m not so fast any more.

  10. Thanks, Chuck. It is so very true what you are saying. I think these extremely simple tips, while aren’t going to move mountains, will help you control your weight better. I like them because they are simple fixes and aren’t a “diet FAD” or some other gimmick. Appreciate the feedback, Chuck.


  11. Justin,

    I really like your point about eating slower. I tend to eat really fast and end up eating much more than I should. Whenever I take my time to eat, or drink lots of water during the meal, I tend to eat a lot less.

    I also like your nutrition tip about cutting back on alcohol. Most drinks are loaded with carbs and sugar. Also, when you drink booze, you tend to snack a lot.

    I think anyone could follow your advice and get in shape in no time. Thanks for sharing.


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