Nutritional Considerations For The Tactical Athletes

Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. British Army Physical Training Instructor.  


The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) is an association of sports nutritionists, sports scientists, and other individuals involved in the study and application of sports nutrition to athletic performance.

Its mission is to enhance the science and application of sports nutrition through research, education, and advocacy.

Their publications are often considered the gold standard of information, and as such are used extensively by professionals in the sports science areana.

I have used their guidance to write this article to help direct the tactical athlete towards a comprehensive nutrition plan.

Physiological and Energy Demands of Military Training

The demands of military training are diverse. These can range from basic physical and psychological stresses to high-intensity exercises.

They can include long periods of load carriage, repetitive lifting, and environmental extremes.

Military training imposes high stress on individuals and may disturb immune and endocrine function. It also impairs indices of health and performance.

Basic military training includes strength and conditioning, circuit training, obstacle courses, and swimming.

While there is little direct evidence for the effects of this training on immune function markers, it has been shown to impair the body's ability to defend itself against infections.

Energy deficiency is a widespread problem among military personnel while on operations or exercises. Many studies have measured total energy expenditure, body mass, and energy balance and try to use the data to help avoid soldier burnout, injury and fatigue.

In an energy deficit, the axial skeleton loses bone mass. This reduction is accompanied by decreases in whole-body bone mineral content.

It is unclear whether low energy availability directly leads to stress fractures. However, it is important to note that physical fitness is a strong predictor of musculoskeletal injury.

Low energy availability can impair immune function, gastrointestinal health, and endocrine function. Furthermore, it can interfere with cognitive function. Soldiers in energy deficiency suffer from numerous disturbances of endocrine and metabolic processes.

50-80kcals per kilogram of body weight is recommended, although this can go higher for musch heavier individuals who are extremely active.

Nutritional Strategies for Tactical Athletes - Avoiding Stressors

Tactical athletes need a well-crafted physical preparation program to succeed. This may include things like load carriage requirements, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other environmental stressors.

In addition, they face the challenge of performing at optimal levels when they are deprived of sleep and/or nutrition. The challenges posed by these conditions can be both physical and psychological.

A robust nutritional strategy can help tactical athletes avoid the pitfalls associated with these environments.

Nutritional strategies for tactical athletes should include a comprehensive hydration plan. Despite the best efforts of athletes and support personnel, dehydration can be a major source of performance loss.

Some of the perks of hydration are increased stamina, improved mental focus, and reduced risk of injury. 

Other nutritional requirements for tactical athletes include strategic nutritional supplementation.

There are numerous dietary supplement products on the market. However, these may not be appropriate for all tactical athletes. Having a comprehensive and standardized nutritional strategy will help ensure that all tactical athletes get the right amount of nutrition at the right times.

It will also help reduce the possibility of a mishap or reduction in performance.

Special Nutritional Considerations For Military Personnel

The physiological, psychological, and environmental challenges associated with the demanding physical and mental demands of the military make it important to consume an appropriate diet. 

A key challenge of optimizing dietary intake is interpreting data from studies. In particular, the volume of evidence suggests that tactical personnel fail to meet energy and carbohydrate recommendations.

These dietary deficiencies can impair daily functioning and increase the risk of injury.

For example, a high TDEE can cause fatigue, weight loss, and decreased bone density. In addition, inadequate energy intake can delay recovery time and reduce lean muscle mass.

To prevent these maladaptive effects, appropriate dietary strategies can help to optimize the body's ability to use its stored energy.

Although a large body of evidence supports the consumption of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, it is unclear whether the recommended macronutrient intakes for military personnel are met.

Optimal vitamin D status is also critical. Studies have found that an optimal level of vitamin D is related to neuromuscular coordination, maximum oxygen consumption, and optimal muscle protein synthesis.

Vitamin D requirements are not different for men and women. Iron supplementation has a positive effect on cognitive performance.


Carbohydrates are essential for high-intensity athletic performance. A 185-lb male athlete should consume about 420 to 840 grams of carbohydrates a day.

In addition to carbohydrates, you should incorporate the best sources of proteins. Protein is important for muscle repair and development.

Depending on your age, your personal preference, and your job, you should aim to consume about 0.8 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. 

carbohydrates for exercise

Carbohydrates For Athletes

Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy. These building blocks support many functions in the body, including anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants.

They also help the nervous system perform efficiently, making them a vital part of an athlete's diet.

Athletes should consume about 30 grams of carbohydrates before they begin a workout. This will help maintain muscle glycogen levels.

The same amount is necessary during exercise, but athletes may need to increase the intake to compensate for increased intensity or duration.

An ideal sports diet will contain a mixture of complex and simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrate sources include vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. Simple carbohydrate sources include sugars, grains, and sweets.

To figure out the amount of carbohydrate you need, multiply your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms then based on that you'll need 6–10g of carbs per kg of bodyweight. If you have an intense or long workout, you'll need more than 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour.

In addition to providing the body with energy, carbohydrates can provide the body with vitamins and minerals.

For example, dried fruit is a good choice because it contains fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Adding dried fruit to cereals and salads is a great way to boost your intake.

Many athletes have difficulty with recovery after a hard workout. This is often because their body isn't getting the right amount of nutrients.

By supplying the body with a sufficient supply of carbohydrates and protein, the process of recovery is accelerated.

Protein Needs For Athletes

Protein has several important roles in the body, and is needed for growth, muscle repair, and recovery. It can also help you build lean mass.

A recent study found that athletes have an increased need for protein. Researchers measured how much athletes ate in grams per kilogram of body weight. The results showed that they need more than the recommended daily amount.

For example, an 180-pound athlete would need about 130 grams of protein per day. This is about twice what an average person needs.

Endurance athletes also have an increased need for protein. Endurance exercise changes the body's metabolism, which in turn alters the amount of protein required.

When it comes to building lean muscle, branched-chain amino acids are particularly important. Amino acids enhance the process of building muscles, and they help facilitate quick recovery.

Although many athletes may not be aware of their specific protein needs, there are guidelines to guide their diet. In the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' position statement, athletes are advised to consume 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Fat Requirements

Fats are an important part of a healthy diet. They play a crucial role in energy production during exercise. Moreover, they support bodily functions. Athletes need fats for optimum performance and health.

The type of activity that an athlete engages in also affects their fat requirements. For example, endurance athletes need a higher proportion of fat to fuel their exercise. However, fats are not as effective in high-intensity exercise as carbohydrates.

Fats have been stigmatized in the past, but they are actually essential to our health and performance. In fact, they are the body's most efficient fuel during low-intensity exercise such as hiking.

Fats also provide insulation, prevent fatigue and regulate hormone production. If you have an event the day after you have eaten a meal containing fat, this may affect your ability to perform. Therefore, it is best to eat your meals at least two hours before your event.

There are two main types of fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6. Both of these are important for brain development and cognitive function.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish and plant sources. Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation

Athletes require 0.5-1.5g of fats per kilogram of bodyweight daily.

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Personnel can be subject to unique physiological and psychological stressors. Their physical and cognitive performance is often compromised by the intensity of these stressors.

Fortunately, supplementation in some cases has shown to help mitigate these effects.

Adequate nutrient intake can improve the health and performance of warfighters. Research suggests key supplementation strategies that can be implemented in the field.

In addition to macronutrients, there are other nutrients that may be beneficial to soldiers. These include essential amino acids (EAA), omega-3 fatty acids, caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, vitamin D and l-tyrosine.

Combined with an adequate energy intake, these can help soldiers achieve their desired occupational goals.

Essential Amino Acids

EAA are important to maintain whole-body protein homeostasis. Free-form amino acid supplements have shown significant anabolic properties in skeletal muscle. Optimal delivery of EAA can mitigate the loss of whole-body protein and stimulate protein synthesis. Similarly, high-calorie rations can attenuate energy deficits.

3-6g of EAA taken before or after exercise can improve muscle protein synthesis.


L-tyrosine is a proteogenic amino acid that has been shown to increase performance during periods of sleep restriction and stress. It is a precursor to catecholamine synthesis. Interestingly, the human brain does not convert enough tyrosine from phenylalanine.


Beta-alanine is another potentially beneficial nutrient for soldiers. Beta-alanine has been shown to reduce muscle soreness and neuromuscular fatigue, two important factors that limit high-intensity exercise.

It can also increase muscle carnosine, which is a key cellular buffer that prevents muscle fatigue.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). They are essential fatty acids and play a role in the growth and maintenance of cells.

In addition to this, they are associated with a reduced risk of many diseases and disorders, including heart disease and cancer.


Caffeine is an antagonist of the adenosine receptors in the brain. By blocking these receptors, caffeine can affect the body in various ways. Besides acting as a mood enhancer, it can also increase energy levels, and improve the function of the heart.

100 to 200mg are recommended to combat fatigue, although 300mg has demonstrated to improve marksmanship and reactions.


Creatine is an organic compound that is present in human muscle and brain tissue. It is made up of three amino acids: L-arginine, L-methionine and glycine. Taking creatine orally increases muscle strength and endurance.

It also helps improve cognitive function and mental performance. Research has shown that it can increase mental capacity and boost memory. 

20g daily for 5–7 days followed by about 3–5g per day.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a group of fat soluble secosteroids that promote calcium absorption in the intestine. It also helps regulate the body's immune system, muscle function, and cell growth.

Deficiencies in vitamin D can result in osteomalacia. This type of bone disease causes soft, brittle bones and dental abnormalities.

1500 to 2000 IU vitamin D is recomended to be taken on a daily basis.

Hydration For Athletes

Keeping up with hydration is critical for all types of athletes. It helps to maintain proper blood circulation and helps to deliver nutrients to the muscles that are working.

For example, an athlete who has been dehydrated may experience headaches, nausea and vomiting, which can cause the athlete to lose performance.

Typically, water accounts for about 70% to 75% of a person's body weight. However, this can vary depending on age, activity, climate and other factors. Water is also important for lubricating the joints and regulating the body temperature.

When athletes exercise, they can lose up to 10% of their body weight through sweat where even a 2% rate of dehydration can have a negative impact on performance.

This is the result of the combination of water and salt that is lost through perspiration and even respiration.

Athletes should drink fluids before, during and after exercise, you can learn more about the importance of hydration, here and how to calculate your 'sweat rate'.

If an athlete is training for an hour or longer, they should consider replacing fluids with electrolyte-containing beverages. Sodium is a key element in promoting hydration.  

Fueling Strategies For the Tactical Athlete

Fueling strategies for the tactical athlete can be complicated. The main components are carbohydrates, proteins, and antioxidants.

These are all important to the overall health and well-being of a tactical athlete. Aside from maintaining absolute strength and endurance, tactical athletes are subject to a number of stressors and challenges.

The best fueling strategy for the tactical athlete is a well-balanced diet. It should contain the usual suspects, such as lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, it should include a few non-perishable foods like nuts and dried fruit. 

The International Society of Sports Nutrition recently published a position stand on fueling tactical athletes.

A recent study showed that glycogen supercompensation strategies can offset changes in exercise training.

Using the right nutritional strategy can improve your overall physical performance and reduce the risk of injury, fatigue and illness.

A nutritional strategy is a nifty little concept in which a group of nutrients are consumed at predetermined times.

This is particularly useful when fueling your body during periods of high stress and strenuous activity. Fortunately, it's a simple matter to execute. Some of the best known time-tested tactics include carbohydrate loading, consuming foods rich in antioxidants, and using sports nutrition supplements.

For instance, a recent study from the University of Colorado found that a carbohydrate loading regimen could boost physical performance by up to 4%. 

One of the most exciting developments in sports nutrition is the creation of individualized, tailored programs.

Rather than attempting to duplicate the successes of the proverbial masses, these approaches enable a qualified professional to assess what the real energy demands of a given training session are. This allows for a better chance of optimizing performance.


A tactical athlete's nutrition plan should emphasize protein, carbohydrates, and fluids. These nutrients are needed to fuel energy and to build new muscle tissue. It is also important to limit fat and fibre intake.

Carbohydrates are the most important fuel source for athletes. The body uses glucose as glycogen for quick energy. Good sources include milk, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Protein consumption is essential for muscle repair. Athletes should eat a protein-rich meal before exercising, and consume a recovery meal within a couple hours of exercise.

An investigator developed a TANS tool, or Tactical Athlete Nutrition Score, to identify nutrition risk in tactical athletes.

Through a systematic literature review, an expert judgment exercise, and an analysis of firefighters' diets, the investigator created a tool to determine the specific nutrient intake in tactical athletes.

The TANS tool is a valuable resource for physicians. It allows them to identify critical nutrient intake in the military, fire, and law enforcement personnel, as well as individuals in other high-risk occupations.


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