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How Performance Nutrition Can Help You Maintain Readiness

Image of A person serving himself a salad. An airman fills a salad to-go box with a variety of fresh vegetables as part of his lunch at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, March 24, 2022. (Photo: Karen Abeyasekere, Air Force 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs)

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Performance nutrition is not just a part of the military lifestyle; it’s the linchpin to mission readiness.

“We define [performance nutrition] as having high-quality nutrition — the appropriate amount at the right time for the right event for our service members,” said Patricia Deuster, who holds a doctorate in nutritional sciences and biochemistry and serves as acting director of the Consortium of Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) at the Uniformed Services University.

CHAMP hosts the Human Performance Resources by CHAMP program, which has resources on performance nutrition.

“You want to make sure the nutritional quality is high, that the amount is adequate, and that it's readily accessible,” said Deuster. “It's about really optimizing the performance of our warfighters through the appropriate fueling.”

This approach fits into the paradigm of the ‘whole’ person, she explained.

“You need to feed your body properly by giving it the right fuel if you want to be able to perform optimally cognitively, mentally, psychologically, and physically.”

Creating an Environment for Easy, Healthy Choices

To help service members enhance their peak mental and physical performance, Deuster said CHAMP facilitates the development of a military nutrition environment that “really” supports performance nutrition and healthy choices.

“It's a challenge, especially for our enlisted and our recruits, to get the right nutrients that they need,” she said.

CHAMP supports that environment by working with military dining facilities to use the Go for Green performance-based nutrition program. CHAMP also works with on-base and off-base exchanges to encourage them to offer healthy choices to service members, Deuster explained.

Additionally, CHAMP works with vendors so that vending machines offer up healthier choices.

The team has created a ready-to use database of commercial off-the-shelf products encoded using the Go for Green program to encourage better choices. Food items are labeled according to their nutritional level:

  • Green for high-performance fuel foods
  • Yellow for moderate-performance fuel foods
  • Red for low-performance fuel foods

“We would love for that database to be used in the vending machines, as well as in the exchanges and other venues selling food,” Deuster said.

However, there is no one single color-coded system across all food outlets, which would make food choices easier for all service members.

“We're building relationships with external vendors to make that happen,” she said. “That way the service member can see it’s obvious: ‘This is Green, this is Yellow, and these are things that I can eat. If it's Red, I want to think about it.’”

It would be ideal if check-outs had ready-to-grab healthy items, she said. That way, “if the first items you see are healthy, you're going to grab something healthy.”

It means “making the healthy choice the easiest choice and one that’s not in the red zone.”

Commissaries have joined in the effort, she said. They have offerings labeled Dietitian’s Choice highlighting high-performance foods on commissary shelves.

Helpful Resources

Deuster pointed to the Air Force's Lifestyle and Performance Medicine Working Group Charter as a model for the entire Military Health System.

“They're really trying to push healthy nutrition and healthy living for airmen, through Total Force Fitness and human performance optimization," she said.

“If this lifestyle and performance medicine concept would be more MHS-medically oriented, then they [could] merge into a continuum where the MHS encourages healthy eating."

For more information, talk to your health care provider and check out the following CHAMP HPRC’s nutrition resources:

What is Performance Nutrition?

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