By: Ryan Provencher – CRACKYL’s Executive Fitness Advisor
3 Simple Strategies for Fueling Firefighter Performance
We have been talking recently about firefighters as tactical athletes, and strategies to develop the “Athlete’s Mindset”. The third consideration in developing the Athlete’s Mindset is to look at food as fuel. Proper nutrition is the foundation for wellness and performance. There is a lot of nutrition information out there, and it can be difficult to know what the right meal plan may be for you. With that said, here are three simple strategies you may consider for fueling your firefighter performance:
Increase Foods that Support Firefighter Performance
Build your meal plan around whole foods. These are foods that have not been processed or refined. Eating foods as nature made them without additives, sugar, and chemicals provides a solid foundation for your firefighter nutrition.
Make sure you are eating high quality proteins such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. These proteins contain all essential amino acids, and they have a high digestible value. If you are following a plant based diet, it is important to consume a variety of protein sources to ensure that you are getting enough protein in your diet. The NSCA recommends 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. For example, a firefighter weighing 80 kilograms/176 pounds would consume approximately 100 – 140 grams of protein per day.
It is also important to eat colorful fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Different colored plants contain higher levels of specific nutrients and health benefits. Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables may contribute to decreased inflammation in the body while decreasing the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Decrease Foods that Hamper Firefighter Performance
Processed foods are everywhere, and are often an easy “go to” for us on and off shift. It is nice to push the easy button at times, but processed foods contain high amounts of poor quality fat, sugars, and other additives with a negligible amount of beneficial nutrients. Higher consumption of processed foods does not contribute to improved performance, and may increase the risk of many different diseases.
Sugar in particular may increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Sugar is often hidden in foods that we may think are healthy such as granola bars and fruit juices. Be sure to look at nutrition labels to determine the amount of sugar in the foods you are eating.
Alcohol use can have negative effects on our health and performance for many reasons to include increased caloric intake contributing to obesity, increased cancer risk, disruption to sleep, and more. Alcohol is often socially acceptable, and may be viewed as a way to “blow off steam”. It is important to be mindful of how alcohol consumption may impede progress towards achieving your performance goals. Consider consuming alcohol in moderation, or eliminating it entirely.
Hydration is also essential for firefighter health and performance. Many times, we are mildly to moderately dehydrated when we begin our shift, and the nature of our work will lead to severe dehydration if we are not paying close attention. To ensure sufficient hydration, work up to drinking one half of your bodyweight (pounds) in ounces of water each day. For example, a firefighter weighing 80 kilograms/176 pounds would consume 88 ounces of water each day. Be sure to increase water intake to account for workouts, firefighting operations, etc.
Ryan is the Training Division Chief, Health/Safety Officer, and Wellness/Fitness Coordinator in his department, founder of Firefighter Peak Performance, and Executive Fitness Advisor for CRACKYL Magazine. He has a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science with a minor in Nutrition from Washington State University. He has worked as a Volunteer Firefighter, Firefighter/EMT, Firefighter/Paramedic, and Company Officer before promoting to his current position. Ryan is grateful to combine his love for firefighting and physical fitness over his career of nearly 30 years. You can get in touch with Ryan by email [email protected]
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